Collecting Big Engines

Longtime engine collector Chris Kabele loves big engines – and the bigger, the better!

Buckeye oil engine

One big engine: Chris Kabele’s 1925 125 hp Buckeye oil engine.

Photo by Bill Vossler

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When Chris Kabele of Jackson, Minnesota, had an auction in 2004, the now-82-year-old sold off his excess engines. Three hundred of them. Why? “I didn’t have room to keep them in good condition,” he says. “I sold everything I didn’t want, and some I did.” By this time, he had taken a larger interest in the big engines anyway. “The big ones are more impressive to people. They like to hear the engines air-start, and run.”

Chris still has 13 engines, all easily described as large. “I restored them at home,” he says, “adding new bearings and grinding the valves on all of them, and when our Butterfield group found out I had them, they asked if I would bring three of them here to the grounds. They decided to build a building so other people could bring their engines, but nobody else did, so they asked if I had any more, so I brought my others.” Those “others” now fill the building on the grounds of the Butterfield (Minnesota) Threshing Bee.

Collecting Engines

Chris, who was raised in the country, began collecting gas engines in 1970 through his junk business. “That’s how I got interested. People would bring engines in that didn’t work, and then they started to bring in those that worked, and I decided to save them. Then I started saving the engines that didn’t work, too.”

Most of the engines were used in the oil fields, and many of the details about the engines have been lost to time, Chris says, such as when he got each of the engines, yet this basic information about Chris’s 13 big engines remains.

Black Bear 25 hp

According to C.H. Wendel in American Gasoline Engines Since 1872, Black Bear engines “were designed especially for the Pennsylvania oil fields,” by Oil Well Supply Co. of Pittsburgh. In its heyday in the early 1900s, Oil Well Supply Co. had 2,000 workers. The company became a subsidiary to U.S. Steel in 1930.

The Black Bear featured a heavy-duty design and sideshaft valve gear. “I got that from a guy in western Montana, from an oil rig he was changing and updating, putting in a different engine,” Chris says. “I used my own outfit to haul it back here, taking a wrecker winch and just winched it up and chained it down, like I did with all of the big engines I got.” A 1920 catalog notes that the 25 hp engine sold for $1,325. According to Wendel, ignition options included “a hot-tube system, low tension make-and-break, Bosch magneto ignition, or Wico magneto ignition. Black Bear engines were marketed primarily in the oil fields and were rarely used in farm applications.” According to Chris, this engine runs on producer gas.

An interesting item is a plaque on the side of the engine giving instructions on how to start the force-feed lubricator: “In starting new lubricator loosen stuffing gland nuts, screw adjusting nut to top of plunger; operate lubricator until stroke shaft is at highest point, work pump unit by hand until oil flows from discharge connection.”

Operators were also warned to use only new oil, and to tighten the nuts “only enough to prevent leakage.”

Buckeye 125 hp oil engine

Though at least four Buckeye companies made gasoline engines – including Buckeye Engine Co., Salem, Ohio, Buckeye Gasoline Engine Co., Aurora, Illinois, and Buckeye Motor Co., Columbus, Ohio – this 125 hp Buckeye Oil Engine was made by Buckeye Machine Co., of Lima, Ohio.

Wendel writes that the company was offering heavy-duty engines by 1926, from 50 hp to 260 hp. “Single-cylinder engines were built in 50, 67, 75, 90, 220, and 235 HP.”

Chris says he got the engine in Kentucky, where it had pumped irrigation water. “A friend in Louisiana worked for the government as an inspector in the oil fields for oil wells, and he found several engines for me, including this one. I had to put new rings in it, but that’s about all I remember about it.”

Fairbanks-Morse 25 hp and 1904 80 hp

Chris says the 25 hp engine has an interesting history, having been used in the Pima copper mines east of Tucson, Arizona, to pull iron ore cars out of mines on a winch cable. Bill Rundall of Tucson sold it to him.

The 3-cylinder 4-cycle 80 hp engine was sitting in a junkyard in Wyoming when Chris came across it. “I bought it from this guy that owns a pipeline scrapping yard east of Upton, Wyoming. It was short a couple pieces, but I heard about a guy in Oregon who had an 80, and I needed a couple of small pieces on the ignition system. He sent me the pieces from his machine and I had them made.” This 80 hp Fairbanks-Morse starts on gasoline, and when it gets warm, switches to thin diesel fuel with water injection.

Fielding 42 hp

This British engine was manufactured by Fielding & Platt Ltd., of Gloucester, England. The company was started in 1866 by Samuel Fielding and James Platt, their firm manufacturing a variety of items like milling machines, drilling machines, and cast iron saw benches, according to Stephen Mills in Fielding & Platt: An Innovative Gloucester Engineering Company. It began manufacturing engines in 1882, and a semi-diesel engine was introduced in 1898, followed in 1912, Mills says, “by the first patent heavy-oil engine.”

The earliest Fielding engines were heavily criticized in A Practical Treatise on the “Otto” Cycle Gas Engine by William Norris, who wrote in 1896, “It is difficult to understand why, when designing an engine to combine the many advantages of the girder frame, engineers should nullify those advantages by arranging the bearings so that the force of the explosion has to be taken up by the bolts, when it is as easy to arrange that the main casting shall be utilized for the purpose. ... this (Fielding & Pratt) firm, like others have fallen into this error.”

About the turn of the century, “Low-tension magnetos were fitted with moving contacts for the spark, this proved very satisfactory and was used on all F&P gas engines until they stopped their manufacture.” That happened in 1938, when they were sold to Petters, and became part of the Brush Group. “It has side flyball governors that go around, and a spring that you set to keep it from running away on you,” Chris says.

J.G. engines

Though no information on J.G. engines is listed in references about Titusville Iron Co., of Titusville, Pennsylvania, suggesting the company did not even manufacture J.G. engines, Chris’ pair of J.G. engines beg to differ, as their tags clearly state, “The Titusville Iron Co., Builders J.G. Two Cycle Gas Engine, Titusville, PA.”

Perhaps it got lost in the shuffle, as according to Wendel, “There is no doubt that all three companies [Olin Gas Engine Co., J. W. Ruger Mfg. Co., and Titusville Iron Co.] were under the same corporate blanket – Hiscox. Gas, Gasoline and Oil Engines of 1898 notes that Olin engines were being built simultaneously by all three firms.” But there’s no mention of J.G. engines. Chris says his pair, which appear to be 7 hp engines (the markings are very weak), “came from Poison Spider Ridge, Wyoming, way out in nowhere, west of Casper, Wyoming. These engines belonged to a lady from California.”

Miller 150 hp

After the Miller Improved Gasoline Engine Co. was incorporated in 1898, they used as their basis the first Miller engine invented by C.A. Miller the year before. When Miller died in 1909, the trio of incorporators with him left the business and Elmer Watts designed a new Miller engine, and in 1913 invented another new engine and compressor combined.

The location of the flywheel – at rear end on Chris’ engine – suggests this Miller engine can be dated as an early one, as C.H. Wendel illustrations under “Miller Improved Gas Engine Co.” in American Gasoline Engines Since 1872 show that engines after about 1910 had the flywheel in the center of the engine.

According to Wendel, “(Charles A.) Miller’s patent covered a unique gas engine design. Obviously designed for heavy duty stationary service, the engines utilized a side crank and crosshead design reminiscent of steam engine practice. For 1905, Miller’s Improved gas engine was available in 35, 50, 75, and 150 horsepower sizes, all employing a double cylinder design.”

According to Chris, “This 2-cylinder, 4-cycle engine ran on producer’s gas, and came from St. Marys, West Virginia. It was used to pick up natural gas from small oil wells and then pumped it into a main gas line.”

Pattin 60 hp and 90 hp

“From its earliest beginning,” Wendel writes, “the company [Pattin Bros. Co.] built special equipment for the oilfield industry.” Chris’ 60 hp engine is a 1-cylinder, 4-cycle unit of undetermined year, with a compressor mounted on the back. The Pattin was used to collect natural gas from small oil wells, and came from a little place called Wingett Run, Ohio. Purchase was made possible by Bob Marshall of Wingett Run.

C.H. Wendel in American Gasoline Engines Since 1872 says, “Direct driven compressors were available with Pattin 40, 50, 60, 75 and 90 horsepower engines, and were available in either single stage or two stage, with a pressure range of 50 to 350 PSI. They could handle either air or gas. The use of Meister patented feather valves made the compressors practically noiseless.”

Reid 40 hp

Chris’ Reid 40 hp is a 1-cylinder 2-cycle engine that “ran on producer’s gas from the oil fields of Osage, Wyoming,” Chris says. It belonged to George Kisling of Osage.

Reid engines were touted in periodicals and ads as the best and most popular oil field gasoline engines: “There are many reasons why there are more Reid gas engines used in the oilfields in any other. There are reasons why producers who are using today the first hundred Reid gas engines built. Reid gas engines that have been in daily service for 20 years are doing the work required of them today; and in most cases, they are pulling bigger loads now than when first installed. Users will tell you Reid engines do their work faster, with more certainty and with less expense than any other. One user tells us of running his Reid engine daily for nine years without one cent’s expense for repairs. There are users who are operating 100 and more Reid engines whose repair bills have not averaged over $.89 per engine per year,” said one Reid ad.

One user said of his company’s pair of Reid engines in Fuel Oil Journal in 1915: “We have had these engines in use about 14 years and they run 24 hours per day. One operates the air compressor, the other the pump. It is very seldom that either of the engines are shut down. We start them by tramping, although we have a gas tank in reserve, but very seldom find it necessary to use it. The writer has had experience with several different makes of gas engines, but has found none that equal the Reid. Signed, Chief Engineer, Mannington, West Virginia.”

An article in Fuel Oil Journal said, “The Joseph Reid Gas Engine Company, Oil City, Pennsylvania, is sending out an attractive folder stressing the advantages of its reverse clutch for drilling purposes, pulling rods, tubing, casing, and also its all-metal band wheels for pumping powers and eccentric geared pumping powers. This company was the first in the field with reverse clutch gas engine for drilling purpose. The company now has over 9,000 gas engines in use in the oilfields of the world.”

Superior 40 hp

This 4-cycle sideshaft engine was purchased at Oscar’s Dreamland in Billings, Montana, after it had been used on the Yellowstone River to pump irrigation water, Chris says.

C.H. Wendel notes: “With a history dating back to about 1898, Superior Gas Engine Co. emerged as a recognized builder of high quality, heavy-duty gas engines. Designed especially for the rigorous requirements of oilfield and industrial service, these engines were available in either hit or miss or throttling governor design. Superior apparently found a ready market for their engine without doing a lot of advertising in engine trade journals – finding a Superior advertisement is quite unlikely.”

Other old metal

Not surprisingly, Chris is also interested in other old iron. “I’ve got 80-some old tractors, too. I like the hobby of collecting old stuff like tractors and gasoline engines.”

Contact Bill Vossler at Box 372, 400 Caroline Ln., Rockville, MN 56369 • Email