Gas Engines and Motorcycles Mix it Up at California Show

Pairing Classic Engines and Bikes a Natural


Ignition and timing components on a Standard Cream Separator.

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Several years ago, one of the oldest motorcycle engines in existence was found in England - being used to power farm equipment! An Ariel engine, it was built in about 1898 and fed with a surface carburetor. It originally powered a three-wheeler, but had been used by the farmer as a stationary power device for many years.

Many improvements to the internal combustion engine were equally applicable to stationary gas engines and motorcycles, and many companies produced both. In the U.S., the Shaw company made engines for both motorcycle and farm applications from 1903 to the early 1920s. Cushman, of Lincoln, Neb., started making engines in 1901 and only went into scooter production in 1936.

Given this affinity between early motorcycles and gas engines, it seemed only natural for a vintage motorcycle show interested in widening its appeal to add gas engines to the mix. Bator International, the organizer of the May 21, 2005, Hanford, Calif., Antique & Classic Motorcycle Show &Swap Meet, put out the call for gas engines in the May 2005 issue of Gas Engine Magazine, and turnout was reasonable for a first effort.

Hanford, located in California's Central Valley 40 miles southeast of Fresno, looks like a transplanted Midwestern town, complete with cannons on the courthouse lawn, a real downtown to walk around and the Superior Ice Cream Dairy, where white-haired waitresses serve sundaes too large to be finished by anyone not a 14-year-old athlete. The 37th annual show and swap took place at the Kings County Fairgrounds, a large facility with a lawn for show displays.

Jeff Slobodian, a well known California collector, presented an attractive display that included grandfather clocks and antique bicycles, many with motor attachments. "I love engines, all sorts of engines," explains Jeff. "I have a good time with all of these things." Jeff builds his own varnished wooden stands for antique engines in need of some kind of support. These stands, along with some duplicates from his extensive collection, were for sale.

A Standard Cream Separator in Jeff's collection was supported by its own stand, a rare item. It is a 1915 overhead valve model neatly enameled in red, with an outside flywheel cast with fins that direct a cooling breeze to the cylinder. "They were always sold with stands," explains Jeff, "but the stands got knocked around, and many were detached. This one also came with all the cream separator stuff."

An Elgin Hafa Hors utility engine, dated 1910, sat on one of Jeff's varnished stands. This is an unusual unit. Not only were there very few 2-stroke engines built at this time (although the 2-stroke internal combustion engine had been invented between 1877 and 1878 by Dugald Clerk), but the mechanism is inverted: The crankshaft is over the cylinder, and the whole unit works upside down.

There were two Briggs & Stratton FIs at Jeff's booth, an earlier model from the mid-1920s with vertical fins, and a somewhat later model with horizontal fins. These were used for garden tractors, rototillers and washing machines. Each came equipped with its own kickstarter, allowing you to kickstart your wash if you were stuck at home with the housework instead of off riding your motorcycle.

Jeff also displayed a Briggs & Stratton Model PB with inlet-over-exhaust valve configuration from the late 1920s. It was originally used to power a Moto Motor, an early lawnmower. In addition to the classic bicycle engines from Holland and England, there was a restored Maytag washer engine and a Dragonfly 5 HP outboard engine, 1950 vintage.

Both Harley-Davidson and Indian built stationary engines during the 1930s, and Scott Misner showed up with a 1936 Indian starter engine, made for the Navy. This 3-1/2 HP unit was probably used as a starter engine for Seebee equipment. Scott thinks it displaces 90cc, and it had relatively high compression for the era.

Indian had been an exponent of sidevalve top end configuration from 1916, and this engine is very similar to the ones in the single-cylinder motorcycles Indian built in the 1920s. Mix was provided by a Schebler carburetor modified for this application. It was started by wrapping a rope around the outside pulley and giving it a good yank.

This is Scott's only Indian. He owns a lot of Harley motorcycles, and normally, Harley people don't like Indian, and vice versa. "I collect antique stuff," said Scott with a sheepish grin. "And this is so unique, I couldn't pass it up."

Another booth displayed a 1 HP Titan, circa 1911-1912, built by International Harvester. This hopper-cooled, make-and-break engine with hit-and-miss governing is very rare. Bob Boyd, the owner, says this little unit was used to power washing machines, cream separators and pumps.

Bob brought along fellow gas engine enthusiasts Linda Fuller and Emmett Ashley. Linda owns a 17 HP Ruston & Hornsby, which, in its previous life, was the motivating force for a grain elevator. Unfor-tunately, she left it at home. Emmett brought cash, which was quickly transferred to Jeff Slobodian for one of his Briggs & Strattons. "I have Fairbanks and Maytag engines at home," explained Emmett. "I'm a boilermaker by trade, and I keep tinkering with them. I just like history."

Bob Boyd fired up the Titan, and it happily putted away for a knot of interested showgoers. Many antique bike people like any kind of old engine. "It's so fun to watch it run," said Linda.

Bob does a series of school nights, where he brings his engines and runs them for the local kids. "They are fascinated, even the girls," he stated proudly.

Rounding out the transportation theme of the show were several antique outboard and bicycle engines. Mike Smith normally concentrates on unrestored American V-twins from the World War I era, but he couldn't resist a 2-stroke Evans direct-drive unit that may have been made in New York between the teens and early 1920s. "People who come through have said it runs well for such a small engine," he said. The Evans rides on top of the rear bicycle wheel and works by friction; there is no clutch.

Jeff also brought a 1922 Caille outboard, designed to lay flat in the bottom of a boat, with the drive extending horizontally from the engine. The device was intended to be transported on the running board of a 1920s automobile to favorite fishing spots. The shaft and engine come apart, and the Caille was sold with a special bracket intended to clamp the shaft to the running board.

Cushman motor scooters were powered by a single-cylinder flathead engine, which was also developed for stationary applications. Tim Mitchell, a Cushman enthusiast and restorer, was motivated by the announcement of a gas engine display at the meet to bring a 1948 Cushman Husky, which once powered an air compressor. It was original and complete, except for the reproduction muffler, the original of which now graces a step-through scooter. The current popularity of Cushmans (the California club alone has over 500 members) is making the location of parts increasingly difficult. "Love those Cushman parts," says Tim, "but when they run out, they're gone."

Jeff has a solution to the parts problem - he has located a reliable company to re-cast parts. "I can get almost anything from a Briggs & Stratton supplier. Other parts turn up at engine shows, on eBay and at flea markets."

"I usually try to buy complete stuff, so I don't have a problem with parts. Having simple parts re-cast isn't too expensive, but cylinders are prohibitive."

Jeff also had the definitive word on restoring and collecting: "I have always been a restorer. It's nice to resurrect stuff that has been beat up and misused. I have always been a kid, and I will always be a kid, and I intend to restore stuff until I can't lift a wrench."

For information on next year's 38th Annual Antique &Classic Motorcycle Show & Swap Meet, contact Bator International at: 338 Montana Road, Ojai, CA 93023; (805) 646-9566;;