Family Ties Built on Old Engines

Family ties lead Missouri man to old engines, but his impressive collection is all his own.

IH Engine

Craig Babington’s 1911 12 HP International Harvester Famous engine at the 2013 Midwest Old Threshers Reunion.

Photo by Bill Vossler

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Family is what got Craig Babington into engines, and the hobby’s way of enhancing family ties has kept him collecting. It all started when as a kid Craig spent a lot of time with his grandfather: Craig attended shows with him, saw old engines, and the die was cast.

But it wasn’t until his grandpa passed away in 2007 that Craig, 37, of Revere, Missouri, thought seriously about collecting antique gasoline engines. “My mom got one of his engines, and her brother and sisters each got one, but there were three leftover ones that I got at auction,” Craig says. “I remembered going to shows with Grandpa and those engines, so I wanted them. They all ran.”

Those first engines were a 1923 6 HP Fairbanks-Morse, a 1917 1-1/2 HP Sattley, and a 1932 1-1/2 HP Limited. Because winter was coming when Craig acquired the engines, they all ended up in a shed until spring. Then Craig and his brother Mike fired the engines up, and Craig began searching the Internet for engine shows. He found some, and that’s where other family ties came in. “My uncle had some engines, so all that summer he and I went to quite a few shows,” Craig says.

By that time Craig had heard that once you buy an engine you have to buy more, so it didn’t take him long to get into the swing of it.

Engine collection

Craig bought his first big engine soon after those original three. It’s a circa 1917 7 HP Sattley, wearing serial no. 17896. There’s no real way to determine the manufacture date of early Sattleys, Craig says, “so I’m just going off the tag on it to get an idea of the year.”

The Sattley was manufactured by Racine-Sattley Co., Springfield, Illinois, and was probably sold by Montgomery, Ward & Co., which added the Sattley line to its extensive farm equipment offerings in 1916. The flywheels on the Sattley are 37-by-3 inches, and the hit-and-miss engine has a bore and stroke of 6-by-8-1/2 inches. Craig says the hopper-cooled engine was in good condition so he didn’t have to do any work on it. The Sattley has an igniter with a Webster magneto.

“With my farming, I don’t have a lot of time to mess around, so I like to buy engines that work, that run,” Craig says. “I like to get engines that need a little paint job. When I’ve bought some engines missing this and that, they just sit around. It takes me three years to find the parts for it. So I like to buy engines that run. Or engines that are all complete even if they don’t run.”

One of Craig’s more unusual engines is his 1911 12 HP Famous engine, built by International Harvester “Corp’n,” as is written on the engine’s tag. The Famous is serial no. N1173 and is hit-and-miss governed with 45-by-3-inch flywheels. It is screen-cooled and igniter-fired.

“When I bought it, I didn’t know a lot about engines,” he says. “I didn’t have to do too much to the engine, but it ran fast. I like engines that run slow.”

On the third day of a full weekend showing the Famous at the Midwest Old Threshers Reunion in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, a couple of engine aficionados came over and gave him pointers on how to get it to run slower. “They hadn’t wanted to step in at first, but on the third day they did, and I’m glad they did,” he says, “so I could get it detuned and running slower.”

The collectors showed Craig a little set screw on the rocker arm that could be adjusted, as well as how to slide the cam roller over so you could run it off. “Back in the day they started them by sliding that roller over the cam. But I found out you can keep it that way all the time, and make it run slow.”

Craig says it’s a big engine for a 12 HP, weighing approximately 5,000 pounds. While not super rare, the Famous isn’t something you see every day, he says. Thanks to its big body, easy-starting, slow-running and reliableness, the Famous has become Craig’s favorite engine. “It’s one of the few that you can get to run really slow and quiet,” he says. “Just a nice engine.”

Curiously, although a great deal of information is available on most IHC engines, very little is available on the 12 HP Famous engine. C.H. Wendel mentions it in 150 years of International Harvester and American Gasoline Engines Since 1872, but not with much information attached.

Another nice original engine in Craig’s collection is a 4 HP Christensen engine still wearing its original patina. The Christensen’s flywheels are 30-by-2 inches, while the bore and stroke is 4-1/2-by-19. It’s a sideshaft that runs slow and quiet.

“It’s spark plug-fired, hit-and-miss, with a vertical flyball governor, and is hopper cooled,” Craig says. “There’s nothing not to like about it. It’s right up there as one of my favorites.”

Craig loves how slow it will run and says even veteran engine people will often listen to the engine and say it’s going to die, but then it goes “poof,” and it hits and takes off again. “They usually say, ‘I can’t believe how slow it runs.’ I could sit back and listen to it run for hours,” he says. “I prefer these big engines because they are the ones that you can usually get to run slow. The smaller ones are harder to get to run slow because of the small flywheels and short rods.”

Despite the size of many of his engines, Craig still takes them to shows. He keeps things fresh by rotating which of his 30 engines he takes to different shows. “At shows around here there aren’t a lot of engines,” he says. “So I try to bring different ones every year so people that go to the shows can see something different.”

Rare engines

One engine Craig especially enjoys showing in the area is an unknown-year 6 HP Quincy engine. “I live in Revere, Missouri, and always wanted one that was built close to home,” he says. “A friend of mine had a 6 HP Quincy engine that was built in Quincy, Illinois [about 50 miles from Revere], by the Quincy Engine Works. It took about three years for me to convince him to sell it to me. He didn’t want it to leave the area. It’s pretty special because he’s a good friend of mine, and it means quite a bit to me. The engine has a tin water pot and is scarce. Only one other engine has one.”

C.H. Wendel writes in American Gasoline Engines Since 1872 that the engine was so rare that he could not find a usable picture of the Quincy engine. “... these extremely rare engines have occasionally been displayed at an exhibition of vintage engines. ... From all appearances, the Quincy engines from this Illinois firm were marketed primarily on a local basis — not one shred of advertising has been found.”

Another unusual engine Craig owns is his 1916 7 HP Abenaque engine. “It’s got so much moving stuff on it, and is just a complicated engine, even compared to some engines that were built later,” he says. “I just sit and wonder how they came up with all of that.”

It’s an unusual dual-fuel engine, taking either gasoline or kerosene. The Webster mag, igniter-fired engine is all original, with its 36-by-3-1/4-inch flywheels, and 6-by-26-inch bore and stroke. It’s hopper-cooled with a horizontal flyball on it. “On the exhaust and intake valve, instead of having springs like other engines,” he explains, “it’s got a leaf spring that comes from the exhaust over the intake valve, and then underneath a big V-shaped rocker arm.”

This engine required a little more work than his others, including recharging the magneto, fixing a leaky fuel tank, rebuilding the fuel pump and replacing the fuel lines.

Surprise engine

While Craig and his wife were at an auction near Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he had his sights set on a particular engine, which he won. After a while, he realized his wife was bidding on a 1913 2 HP Leader-Domestic engine, and she won it. “After she got it, she told me it was my fifth wedding anniversary gift,” Craig says. “I couldn’t believe it. It’s the first sideshaft I’ve ever owned, and she knew I wanted one. It surprised me that she had done that. It’s pretty neat.” The Leader-Domestic carries serial no. 5102, 24-by-2-inch flywheels, and a bore and stroke of 4-by-12 inches. It’s igniter-fired with a battery and coil.

The anniversary engine is one of Craig’s favorites. “When I got this one home, I cleaned the gas tank and did some adjusting to get it to run slower,” he says. “That’s all I did to it.”

Craig recently built a new shop, which means the space of the old shop can be used to store some of his growing engine collection.

One of the reasons Craig likes engines is the mechanics. “The 1913 is over a hundred years old, and I thought of all the stuff they did in 1913 to make this engine run,” he says. “They’re so crude, and yet so simple in how they run.”

Craig says one of the reasons he has so many engines is to fire them up and see the mechanics of them. “Something that kills me is how all these manufacturers made their engines,” he says. “Each one is different, or runs this way or that, and that’s why I have so many engines: to see how each one runs different from the others.”

Craig finds his engines in various places, but a local shopper magazine is how he acquired his 1913 6 HP Galloway engine. “You never see engines in there, but one day Dad called and said there was a 6 HP Galloway for sale in there, so I looked it up,” he says, “and sure enough, there it was.” He went and took a look at it, and bought it.

One of the major reasons Craig loves his engines is the opportunity to spend time with family members. “My wife, Laura, and I will go to Mt. Pleasant for the week,” he says. “We go to shows with other family members — my dad has a few, my brother has some, my uncle — and we meet a lot of nice guys through the hobby.”

Craig also enjoys going to Travis Benner’s annual fall engine get-together at his house.

All these shows have led Craig to host his own. “I had one here at my shop in March, where I invited 60 people who showed up with 35 engines,” he says. “We had a potluck dinner and had another good time.”

Contact Bill Vossler at Box 372, 400 Caroline Lane, Rockville, MN 56369 • bvossler@juno.com