Domestic Engine Colors

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220 E. Washington St., West Chester, Pennsylvania 19380

What color should I paint my Domestic? Here's a question I'm often asked. It's not a question that has a simple, single answer, but here is some information that may help.

First, Domestic Engine and Pump Co. used one of (at least) three colors on various engines they manufactured at Shippensburg, Pa., between 1904 and 1952, when the last engine was shipped. These were maroon, dark green, and medium gray. (It is important to note that the engine record books, which list many facts about each engine shipped, do not specify the engine's color.) The most widely used color was the dark maroon (sometimes called 'black cherry' or 'oxblood'). I believe this color was used on virtually all of the Type 'A', ignitor-fired engines. This frequently is seen faded to a lighter red. The primer used was often a red lead, and this is sometimes all that's visible of the original factory paint.

The second color, which appeared in the early teens, was a dark green, called 'Brewster green' by some. This has been found primarily on the Type 'F' sparkplug engines, but many of this type, too, were painted maroon. The third color, which I've seen used only on Type 'F' engines, was a medium gray. This color appears to have first been used in the 1920s, and seems to have shifted more toward a blue gray, in later production, based on examination of several 1930s and post-WW II engines.

I've scanned the extensive factory archives obtained when the plant was closed in 1983, and very little information on product color is to be found there. The examination of existing engines with 'original' paint therefore has had to be relied upon, to find good color matches for use in restoration work. The available evidence clearly shows, however, that there was not a single 'Domestic Red,' as there is a 'Farmall Red' or 'John Deere Green.' Domestic Engine and Pump Co. was never a high-volume producer; in their best years, a thousand or so engines were finished and shipped. Paint was purchased in small quantities, and may even have been tinted to suit the taste of the paint shop foreman or individual painter. In the 1910-1920 period, I've learned, three men did most of the painting; when times were slow, one man did painting, along with other tasks.

I've owned several Domestic engines which had most of their original paint, were built in the 1911-1913 period, and had been indoors for most if not all of their lives. No two are exactly the same color, nor do they match other engines from 1905 or 1922, for example. And, as noted above, the shades of gray used by the factory appear to have changed with time as well. I've personally observed fewer green engines, but suspect variations must have occurred in factory-applied colors here as well. All this simply says that there's no single correct Domestic red, green, or gray.

On one other related topic, striping on Domestic engines was predominantly seen prior to WWII. On the maroon engines, it was gold in color. Gold striping was also found on some early green engines, but I don't believe it persisted past the mid 1920s. I personally have never seen original striping on a gray engine; these seem to have predominantly gone to industrial customers, such as the pipeline companies and fisheries. Pictures in the later catalogs may sometimes show striping, but this seems to have been the result of the taste of the artist preparing the advertising art, rather than an indication of factory practice; the engine photos from which the ads were prepared were taken before the engines were painted.

I realize this still doesn't answer the original question, and I'll give some color suggestions in a moment. First, though, I must make a personal plea for moderation in restoration. Unless so little of the original finish is left on an engine that it can't be seen and appreciated at all, don't repaint it! I realize there's a lot of opinion to the contrary, and those who like to see their engines painted better than the factory did originally will continue to do so. It's a matter of personal preference, of course, but we're dealing with historical artifacts here, and paint stripped or painted over is paint lost forever. Of course, an engine that's mostly rust deserves a new coat of paint, but too often good paint is removed to make way for 'better,' and that's what I believe should not be done, at least without careful thought. Old paint can often be cleaned with careful application of kerosene or waterless hand cleaner, and when dry, coated with Butcher's wax. This process will often remove the oil and grease, and provides a deep, rich luster, particularly on the darker Domestic colors.

And now the envelope, please! The following are suggestions based on several years of comparing paint chips with original paint, and while each color noted is a compromise, because of the variations noted above, I believe these are all faithful to the 'average' of each of the three colors discussed. These are all DuPont colors, which are available from Automotive Refinish Products dealers, and in most cases are available in acrylic or polyurethane-based enamels. In maroon, 143 is my first choice; 32678 and 81372 are good alternates which you may like better, and are also close. In greens, 7666 or 5378 are both good matches. The gray is the most difficult; to my eye, 96709 is about the best match I've found. As an alternate, some have used Rustoleum Brine-proof Navy Gray; this may be closer to the earlier 1920s gray that Domestic used. I'm sure other paint manufacturers offer similar colors; I found DuPont, which is local to me, very helpful in providing paint chips and suggestions, and their products are. I believe, available nations

So, preserve if you can, but if paint you must, these are colors that you won't have to apologize for using. Which basic color you choose should be based on remaining fragments of original paint; look under the name-plate if no other finish exists.