I have discovered that there were several heretofore-unknown gas engine and equipment manufacturers who, for want of a proper name, were unsuccessful in a highly competitive industry.
The following accounts of these individuals and companies have been slightly embellished for hysterical accuracy.
In previous articles to GEM, I have mentioned two gas engines that faded into oblivion--The Snort & Wheezer Engine and the Shivers & Knox Engine. Often just the negative connotation that the name might give was enough to cause the manufacturer to fold. A case in point is a light plant developed by an optimistic entrepreneur named Harley Neff. After perfecting his home lighting plant he made one tiny error by adding his middle initial, and as a result the Harley E. Neff Light Plant was never a commercial success. Too late he recognized his error and renamed it after his two daughters as the Dawn-Saralee Light Plant but by now prospects for recovery were dim, and Harley decided to pull the plug on further production.
A good idea but a poorly chosen name was also the downfall of a Mr. Smedley Hoover. He lived in Lake Lactose, Wisconsin, deep in the heart of dairy country. Impressed by the design of the Taylor Vacuum Engine, he decided to develop a gas engine specifically for milk production, and it was an excellent machine but for the fact that he named it the Hoover Vacuum Engine. It was not on the market very long when rumors started to circulate that cows were suddenly and mysteriously disappearing in conjunction with his equipment. It can be accurately stated that udder hysteria soon brought production to a standstill. Mr. Hoover was completely baffled by this turn of events, not knowing what to do. Then the solution hit him like a bolt out of the blue. . . 'Eureka! I'll change the name!' And so he did. (You already guessed, didn't you?) You can still find an occasional Hoover, aka Eureka, vacuum engine; in fact some are still in use--but not for milking, but rather for cleanup around the barn.
It is said that imitation is the purest form of flattery, but in the case of Roscoe Stickly, it was more an opportunity for thievery. Roscoe wanted to make a quick killing in the gas engine business. At that time, the Stickney engine was very popular because of its excellent design and superior construction, so he decided to design a cheaply-built copy and capitalize on the Stickney name. He recognized that the two closely spelled names, STICKNEY and his own, STICKLY, would undoubtedly fool the buyer, so he decided to have his name cast into the flywheels and on the engine block. Because he did not have the startup capital to build a manufacturing plant, he placed an order for the first hundred or so castings to be produced at a local foundry. They were soon delivered to his small shop where he quickly and haphazardly assembled them. He was just putting the final coat of paint on the last engine when he noticed it. The foundry had forgotten the 'T' in his name and he now had 100 'SICKLY' engines to unload, and, believe me, potential buyers did notice.
Due to a design flaw, 'The Freewheeling Engine' lived up to its name in a totally unexpected way!
The same holds true for a Mr. Nathan Goode, who lived not too far from Free-port, Illinois. It did not go beyond his notice that the Stover manufacturing plant was selling gas engines as quickly as they could make them, each one bearing the logo 'Stover's Good Engine.' Recognizing the similarity to his last name, he decided to build a cheap knockoff. To his misfortune, he decided to use his nickname. The 'Nat Goode' engine quickly lived up to its name. He decided to turn the business over to his son, Noah. . . and. . . well, you can see where we're going here.
Some individuals understood that they had the wrong last name for a product. Such was the case of Buford Ulysses Mudd. He lived in the little village of Fig, Iowa, which was located near the Maytag Factory. He had noticed how successful that little gas-powered washer was, and decided that he wanted a piece of the action. After a little research and development he had produced a very satisfactory gas powered washer. Knowing full well that he could not use his last name (Mudd) in connection with a washing machine, he decided to use his initials instead. And so the B-U-M washer went into full production. Soon the public reverted to calling it the 'Bum' Washer. This greatly agitated Mr. Mudd, but he decided there was no use wringing his hands over it and decided to go with the flow, as it were. Sadly, the whole project became one big soap opera as Buford watched sales go down the drain. He tried catchy sales pitches such as: 'Ladies, let the Bum do the laundry for you' and (my favorite) 'Give that Bum one or two firm kicks and you'll make your washday blues disappear!' What was intended to make housework easier seemed to be causing marital stress! It was no use, Mr. Mudd and his venture were. . .Well. . . I wouldn't say washed up, because that would be too obvious, but financially, he was certainly hung out to dry.
Did you know that there was one woman, Ima Klunker, who briefly went into the gas engine business? No, you probably did not.
Poor choice of a name was not limited to gas engines. There were a few cultivators and tractors manufactured that had good performance but a bad choice of names. One man from Feeble Creek, Michigan, had developed the world's first and only six-wheel drive garden cultivator. On the day that he was performing its first field test there was a rather large crowd that had gathered to watch. No minimum tillage here! With six-wheel drive, this contraption could plow its way to China and back. One of the onlookers was heard to exclaim, 'Wow! That thing sure can slug its way through that hard-pan!' The inventor thought that this was a good description and decided to name it. . .The Garden Slug. Bad choice. Very bad choice. Prospective buyers thought that it would be a very slow machine. A huge ad campaign was tried in an attempt to improve their image. ('Nothing runs like a Slug.') It didn't help, and production soon slowed to a snail's pace.
There were some folks who were destined to failure because they didn't use common sense. Wally Schmedlap is a prime example. He lived just down the block from the Schmidt 'Chilled Cylinder' Engine Works. In what should have been a classic case of one-upmanship, Wally decided to make an improved version and capture the local market. He cast and machined about fifty engine blocks. Now comes the strange part; he filled them with water and then hauled them off to the local icehouse for storage. It seems that Wally did not completely grasp the concept; he thought that if a Chilled Cylinder was good, then a Frozen Cylinder had to be better. There is only one example of a Shmedlap's Frozen Cylinder engine in existence. It's in pieces.
Sometimes both the name and the idea were excellent choices except for an unforeseen twist of fate. This was true for Curly Furrows, of Sakapatayta, Idaho, the inventor of the Gee-Haw Tractor. Early developers of the farm tractor had found that many farmers were comfortable doing things the old way, so to ease the transition from mule to machine, a few of the manufacturers used reins to guide and steer their machines instead of levers or steering wheels. Curly thought that an even better way would be for the tractor to make the decisions when to speed up, slow down, and turn the wheel left or right. He reasoned that since field work was often long and tedious, this would help the farmer concentrate on the job at hand. Let's face it, that's why all the modern equipment has a monster stereo system in the cab. Well, to get back to my story, Curly designed a tractor in which the farmer was put into a harness. The tractor would give a tug on either rein to make a change in direction and the farmer, receiving this signal would turn the steering wheel as directed. To stop or slow the vehicle, both reins would pull back and the farmer would react accordingly. To start forward or speed up, it would simply 'apply the leather' on the farmer's shoulders and back as necessary. Now here is where that unforeseen twist of fate comes into play. The first year of production of the Gee-Haw tractor was also the wettest spring on record. The machine's shortcomings were soon apparent. Farmers were being whipped to death by their tractors. While attending a farm show a few years back, I observed a Gee-Haw competing in a tractor pull. It was brutal.
Remember that despite their inherent weaknesses, these are very collectable tractors and gas engines. Mind you, they are very hard to find. Indeed, a few of them were so poorly conceived that they never reached the prototype stage. These are especially sought after by collectors. In conclusion, there are many more strange engines and tractors, they just haven't popped into my head yet.
Okay, here comes the commercial. Look for these unique engines and tractors (not that you'll find them) at the Batsto Country Living Fair, Batsto, New Jersey, on Sunday, October 21, 2001. Want to know more? Write to: Bob Miller, Bob's Hardware, 550 Rte. 530, Whiting, New Jersey 08759. Or call: (732)-350-5300. Or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.