Foos-Itis: The Elusive 15 HP

Foos-Itis, 15 HP Engine'

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2600 Shoshone Street Idaho Falls, Idaho 83401

A couple of years ago, an older fellow came into my shop to have a cracked cylinder head repaired (that's what my shop does: repairs all types of broken cast iron). As he was looking around the shop, he spotted some of my old engines being repaired, or sitting upstairs in storage, and he came up to me and said, 'I know where a big one of these is.'

He told me that he remembered seeing such an engine run when he was a young man. It had been on a ranch about 400 miles from Idaho Falls, Idaho. Before he left, he gave me enough information for me to start my quest for this unknown 'big' engine. He didn't remember the make or size, but he gave me the number of someone who might know more.

About five minutes after he left, I called the number, and reached the person. He told me that there was indeed an old engine of some kind, way up in the mountains, about 70 miles from the nearest paved road. I asked him for more information on its make, etc., but he knew only that it had still been there the last time he had been up. That had been several years before. I asked him if I could buy it, and he told me to give him some time to think about it, and call back in six weeks.

Six weeks to the day later, I called, but he was not in. He wasn't in for the next nine or ten weeks, although I called every week or so. Finally, I called and he answered the phone. For some reason, he told me I had to wait until the end of summer (seven more months!). He said he wanted some 'old-timers' to see it before it got away.

So, the whole process started all over again, and after seven months I started calling again, and again, and again. I finally got through to him, and after all this, he told me, 'No.' Well, I nearly had apoplexy, because I knew that the engine would probably just sit right where it was, until it either rusted away, or was cut up for scrap. I asked him for an explanation, and he said that while he didn't have any personal attachment towards it, it was part of the ranch history; sort of like having a family album full of people that you didn't really know, but you still didn't want to let it go to a stranger.

I told him I could understand that, but I was really sick about it. I've seen so many pieces of old machinery that people wouldn't part with, and then someone else buys the place, or the grandkids they're 'saving' it for don't want it, and it goes for scrap. I decided to make one last-ditch effort to get this engine (remember, I still don't even know what it is). I asked him how he would feel if this hypothetical 'family album' were going to be lost forever if it weren't passed on to someone-even a stranger. Wouldn't it be better to see that it was saved?

I asked if he had ever even gone to see the old engine since I had first called him, and he said he hadn't. I asked him what was preventing the engine from being vandalized, and if it was protected from the elements. After a long, long silence, he said, 'Come and get it.'

I left the very next day; somehow I knew that if I waited, I might not even get to see it. I took another man, because I wasn't sure how big this thing really was. After hours of driving and backtracking to find the spot, we got there, and nearly fell over when we saw this thing! We looked at each other and said, 'We'll never get this thing out of here!' It was in the back of an old building, 50 feet from the closest place I could get to with my truck and trailer, and the flywheels were nearly five feet tall!

We thought about coming back later, with more help, but it just didn't seem like a good idea. After hours of back-breaking effort, and the help of prybars and a lot of chain, we managed to free it from its base without having the shaky old building cave in on us. We got it worked around to where I could get it hooked to my 4-wheel drive Ford, pulled it out to where the winch cable on the trailer would reach it, and get it loaded onto the trailer. Getting it out was a lot harder than I can describe, as many of you collectors can imagine. All this time, I still didn't know what it was, because it was covered with bird and animal droppings.

We finally got it winched onto the trailer (wrecked the winch in the process; this engine we later found out weighs about 4500 lbs.), and started back down the mountain. About halfway down, I noticed the engine listing sharply to one side. This weighty bugger had gone through the floor of the trailer with one flywheel! After a lot of blocking and re-positioning, we took off again and got it home with no further problems.

The next morning, with it still on the trailer, I really got a chance to look at it, and found the tag that said '15 HP Foos Mfg. Co.' Now I was really excited, and hauled it down to my shop, where it took all my employees and some customers riding the back of my hyster to unload it.

As time permitted, restoration began after the shop closed at night. After the usual scraping and disassembly, I found out that all the brass fittings except the tag had been removed, but most disheartening, the wipe spark ignition assembly was gone. The piston was stuck tight, and the cylinder pitted too badly to use as is.

This piston is eight inches in diameter, and after soaking it about a month, heating it, and doing all the little 'tricks' we all learn, including about 500 strokes with an 80# bar, applied to a 1' plate, the piston was out. Since this is a full-service machine shop I own, I bored and sleeved the cylinder, completely disassembled the engine, hot-tanked all pieces and sandblasted them, and primed and painted and reassembled the engine onto a cart that I made. My hyster wouldn't lift more than a piece at a time, but I finally got it on there.

Now came the hard part: the missing brass, and particularly the wipe spark ignition. With a little luck and a photo of a Foos I saw in GEM that had the address of its owner, I contacted Mr. Edgar Miller in Westminster, Maryland. He very graciously loaned me a complete wipe spark unit, which, although it was off a smaller engine, gave me something to copy. I machined one for my engine complete, and have now returned Mr. Miller's to him. Many, many, many thanks Edgar!

The rest of the restoration was pretty routine-buy, find, make, assemble. I was finally finished on 1-4-92. Put gas in it, two guys on the flywheels, and it started the first full revolution of the flywheels. The engine was so beautifully machined and balanced by the original factory, it barely moves the cart when it starts. It took a long time, and more than a little money and patience, but what a feeling when it finally ran!