Discovering Columbus

A WW II-era engine enjoying its retirement in upstate New York


'Right and opposite page: The head end of the engine. Note the propane tanks and the massive proportions, which allowed the engine to run day in and day out with no rest. '

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Sometime last summer, I stopped by Craig Prucha's place in Pavilion, N.Y., to see his latest project, a very beautiful Columbus engine. He had just picked it up in May 2005, and was beginning the work that was needed to get it running.

The 25 HP Columbus (serial no. 25161) ran a machine shop in Chillicothe, Ohio, called the Tip Top Machine Shop. This Columbus was manufactured around 1903. It ran a line shaft that powered the entire shop. During the Second World War, the engine was run 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the duration, to support the war effort. It was run on natural gas during its working life. The engine was removed from the machine shop by the late Nate Lillibridge in the early-1980s.

This engine is one of five makes of engines that featured "cam-stopper" technology. (These include Columbus, where the ignition, intake and exhaust cam is stopped; the Field, where the ignition and the intake cam are stopped; the Callahan, where the entire sideshaft is uncoupled; and the One Minute, a Novo look-alike that stopped the exhaust cam. There is also an Orr & Sembower hopper-cooled engine with an operation similar to the Columbus.) The basic principle is that the cam is decoupled from the camshaft when the engine overspeeds, a very interesting derivation of the hit-and-miss governing, intended to minimize wear on the cams and ignition system. With very little persuasion, I was able to get Craig to disassemble the end of the sideshaft to examine the cam decoupling mechanism. It was interesting to see the lengths the old time engineers went to in order to accomplish a given goal.

The Columbus was mostly apart when Craig got it from Nate's estate. Once the engine was home in New York, his goal was to have it assembled and running for the Christmas get-together at his shop. Well, on Oct. 22, 2005, the 25 HP Columbus came to life. For the get-together it ran great all day, in spite of the below freezing weather. As usual, Craig did a wonderful job in getting the engine running, taking over where Nate left off. Instead of natural gas, Craig converted it to propane in its retirement.

Contact engine enthusiast Woody Sins at: 3 Edna Terrace, New Hartford, NY 13413;