Engine Ambition: Air-Cooled Engines Capture Collector's Interest

Rudy Adrian shows off his air-cooled engine collection.

1916 1-3/4 HP Galloway engine

One of Rudy Adrian's air-cooled engines is this 1916 1-3/4 HP Galloway gas engine, serial no. 4521.

Photo by Nikki Rajala

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Rudy Adrian’s foray into gasoline engines began at the Mennonite Heritage Village in Steinbach, Manitoba, Canada, when he was 14 years old. “There was an older gentleman, Henry Isaac, with a trailer filled with engines, and I asked a lot of questions,” Rudy says. “After that I helped him every year with that old hay trailer with 10 gas engines on it. He would work in the blacksmith shop and I would help him run the engines. I learned a lot from him, and got interested in the hobby. Every summer during Pioneer Days, until I was 17, I went and helped him out.”

Rudy started working on a 1960 3 HP Briggs and Stratton in 1977. He didn’t buy his first engine until he was 35, after he overheard people talking in the town restaurant: “The owner had a 1915 3 HP Fairbanks-Morse Z he didn’t know what to do with,” Rudy says. “I perked up. That evening I went down and bought it. It was missing the carburetor and ignition system. At home my wife said, ‘That’s kind of neat. What are you going to do with it?’ I said, ‘It’s interesting, and I only want one.’”

The rest of the story is predictable: “After that, I went crazy. I bought engines all over the place, until I owned 125. I was full of ambition and had time to work on them.” Without a tractor to maneuver larger engines, he sold every engine larger than 8 HP; they were too large to take to shows. Today the 51-year-old’s collection has been whittled down to 90.

Into the air

Rudy’s favorite engines are air-cooled. “The older, air-cooled engines with fins intrigue me, and they’re really neat-looking. They’re different, and there aren’t a lot of them around. I don’t know whether they were successful or not.” He has 14 different brands and models of them.

The Waterloo

One of Rudy’s favorites is an original 1912 Waterloo. Seven years ago at a show a guy saw Rudy’s air-cooled Associated on his trailer and said he had a similar engine in his barn. He didn’t know the make, but it wasn’t for sale. “I gave him a card and forgot about it,” Rudy says. “A few years later he called saying he’d sold the farm, so the engine was for sale. I was totally shocked that he had remembered me. It was completely caked with grease and sawdust, but we made a deal for it.”

The owner’s father had bought it to cut rough lumber on a table saw for barn rafters. After cleaning it up with a power washer, making ignition repairs, cleaning the rings and fiddling with it, he got it to run.

“I left it exactly as it is because of its history,” Rudy says. “It has all the farmer repairs, like the governor held on with nails instead of cotter pins, and a crude wooden box holding up the gas tank. It’s a fairly rare machine, with not too many around. They’re spendy because of the John Deere roots.”

Goes Like Sixty

Another of Rudy’s air-cooled machines is a 1910 Gilson 1 HP “Goes Like Sixty” engine. “What makes this engine unique is that it’s a 1 HP, and doesn’t have a cooling fan. The fan was optional. The very early models, like this one, had no writing on the base like the later ones, which said ‘Gilson Port Washington.’”

The Gilson, serial no. 1108, has a bore and stroke of 3-3/4 by 4 inches, a high-tension jump spark, a hit-and-miss governor, 15-1/2-by-2-inch flywheels and is air-cooled. Rudy had the base, cylinder and head; finding the rest took patience and time. “I kept looking until I found the parts,” he says. “On the internet I found a guy in California that had a cylinder head and base for sale and bought them. Another fellow in Ontario had flywheels, a crankshaft broken in half and a mixer. That’s what I like about the hobby: for me, the biggest thing about it is the networking. I buy engines in rough condition that don’t run. I don’t buy running engines unless it’s something I really want.”

Rudy’s received a great deal of help over the years from another collector, Rudy Hildebrand, as well as Lee Anderson of Frazee, Minnesota. “(Lee) has been a real big help to me in the gas engine hobby. He has many of the same engines, and is a very talented machinist who can make about anything.” Lee offered parts from his Gilson for Rudy to have cast. They required grinding, drilling, boring and reaming. “The hardest part was getting the gears to mesh properly, which is fairly common with cast parts,” Rudy says. “Only the crankshaft needed to be welded by Lee. The engine took me a couple of winters, but it was a really fun project. I like challenges. A lot of people don’t want a machine with parts missing. I hunt down the missing parts. You have to have patience. You get to meet a lot of people and talk to them. That’s basically how you find parts.”

Rudy doesn’t see many Gilson air-cooled engines around. “With no cooling fan, it had to be used in light duty, churning butter, or running a sewing machine or washing machine. Not heavy duty, like cutting wood for five hours in the heat.”

Chapman engines

Rudy also owns a pair of water-cooled Chapman engines. They were manufactured in different countries (U.S. and Canada) and are not related to each other. The American-made 1915 2 HP Chapman Economizer, serial no. 578, has a bore and stroke of 3-1/2 by 4-1/2 inches, low tension igniter, hit-and-miss governor and flywheels of 20 by 2-1/4 inches. Its owner, Vince Chapman – no relation to the manufacturer – asked if Rudy was interested in the engine. He was. “I had no clue,” Rudy says. “I didn’t know if parts were missing or not. Chapman had the engine for 30 years. It was totally torn apart, rusted, and some parts were covered with a thick layer of red auto-body primer. It is water-cooled, with an original tin hopper, and a very complicated governor system. I’m amazed that it works. It has a lot of little levers and linkages and moving parts, so you can’t have any wear on them or it won’t work properly.” The engine was manufactured by Henry Chapman of Marcellus, Michigan, and the casting was very, very crude.

Vince Chapman gave Rudy a stack of photos of another Chapman Economizer Rudy could use. “I spent four years assembling it from the photos. I fabricated many ignition and other parts that were missing, and made most of the hardware I needed. Its bolts had really odd-sized threads, so I used a thread-pitch gauge, made the bolts and nuts, and bolted the engine together.”

Rudy was hesitant and scared to start it. “I didn’t want it to run away, so I had my hand on the ignition system ready to stop it.”

He cranked it; it caught and ran well. “I was really amazed that it ran good because it’s a very crude engine, very early. The intricate governor and ignition runs it slow, so it’s hard to believe that it all works. A lot of things that weren’t wrong could go wrong, but it runs.” Because it was put together from so many varied parts, he decided to paint it the factory color.

His second water-cooled Chapman, a 1912 2 HP Type A Chapman, serial no. 92906, was manufactured in Dundas, Ontario, Canada. This is one of Rudy’s favorite engines because it was built in Canada. As C.H. Wendel writes in American Gasoline Engines Since 1872, “A Chapman catalog testifies that these engines were totally designed and built in Canada. Perhaps these statements struck a patriotic chord, since a great many foreign engines dominated the Canadian market.”

The engine was sitting outside under a tarp three miles from Rudy’s house. “My friend told me about it, and I said if it was ever for sale, to let me know,” he says. “I waited and waited and waited, until a few years ago just before Christmas my friend said the engine was for sale. So in the dead of winter I went over there and saw this ugly orange and gray model without a carburetor. All the original mixer fuel pipes were gone, but everything else was there. The engine is unusual in that it used an overflow mixer without a fuel pump like most engines have. It uses the engine vacuum. That was all missing when I got it.”

After a lot of research and talking with people, Rudy found a complete mixer, which looks like an elephant trunk and is difficult to find unbroken. It came from the same person who sold him Gilson parts. “It was pretty worn,” Rudy says. “After that I was just missing the fuel lines. The Dennis Rouleau registry in Quebec gave me the specifications for black fuel pipe that must be fit exactly and precisely.”

Rudy rebuilt the carburetor, made the fuel line, and (with its complicated system) had a heck of a time getting it running. “It has to be run on 3/4 choke or the engine doesn’t have enough vacuum to suck the fuel out of the fuel tank in the base. All of us guys run our engines slow, so when the Chapman 2 HP says its rated speed is 500 and we run it slow, that changes the whole fuel mixing.”

The Dundas Chapman has a bore and stroke of 3-3/4 by 5-1/2 inches, high-tension jump spark ignition, hit-and-miss governor and 19-by-1-1/2-inch flywheels.

Two into one

Another of Rudy’s water-cooled engines is a 1914 De Laval, built as a Frost King Jr. by John Lauson in New Holstein, Wisconsin, and sold in Canada by De Laval. “I got two of them, with many pieces missing or broken, from a gentleman in Brandon, Manitoba. I had to get it unstuck and have a cam gear cast, which took a lot of filing and grinding, but it still didn’t work well until I found an original from a young guy in California.”

Rudy takes his trailer of engines to three shows a year – two local, and the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers’ Reunion in Rollag, Minnesota – alternating some engines every other year. “Not all of them are in running condition,” he says. “Some are still a work in progress.”

Rudy’s overall favorite is the 1910 Gilson “Goes Like Sixty” air-cooled 1 HP engine. “It starts so easy and runs so nice,” Rudy says. “I got tired of poor gas that goes bad after 90 days, so I tried 100 octane airplane fuel, which solved all my sour gas problems. I get it at a municipal airport. It’s a little expensive, and it’s not an issue for polluting when you run the engines maybe one hour a year.”

The most difficult part of collecting gasoline engines is if the bore is bad, it’s difficult to find people who will bore and sleeve. “Most guys don’t want to work on old stuff,” Rudy says. “But the rest of it isn’t too bad. I pour my own babbitt and do my own machining – except for what I have Lee Anderson do – and some foundry work. The biggest requirement is patience. As soon as you get too excited and anxious, you start breaking stuff. If you don’t get it done today or tomorrow, there’s always next year. Having more than just one engine, there’s always stuff to do on another one. That’s the biggest thing that I’ve learned over the years.”

Rudy adds that it’s sad to see that the older engine guys are getting to be few and far-between. “They were the ones who knew what everything was used for.” Rudy is often asked what the old engines were used for, so he now has a sign on his trailer that tells people.

The most enjoyable part of collecting gasoline engines, for Rudy, is the challenge of getting something running that hasn’t run for years. “To me it’s not exciting to go buy a gas engine that runs. I like to buy junk that people walk away from. Meeting people and talking to them and all the networking to get the parts and get the engines running – that’s the fun part.”

For more information:

-Contact Rudy Adrian at 204-326-6497; by email: oldiron@mts.net