If you were familiar with George Archer's engine collection of twenty-five years, you know that this was going to be a special auction-not one for the faint-hearted. It was held at the State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, Iowa, on April 22. A perfect place-a large building with open sides to spread out George's collection of over 115 gas engines. There also were consignments of at least fifty more. After seeing the advertisement for the sale by Nixon Auctioneers in GEM, my husband Ken and I decided we wanted to take this opportunity to view a wonderful collection of many rare engines. I've always heard good things about George and was anxious to meet him.
This was George's day and to him it was a big party. He definitely was the 'man of the hour,' enjoying every minute of attention from his friends and fellow collectors. There was always a group of people surrounding him, some waiting a while to visit with him. Asking many collectors to tell me about George, the answer was always the same. He's a man with a good sense of humor, a hard worker, a devoted club member, and a mentor to many. Overall, I would say he's definitely a well-respected man in engine land. One gentleman said that George was instrumental to others just starting in the hobby.
People think of George as synonymous with Waukee, and there's good reason for that thinking! It all started when he was attending a parade and saw a collection of engines belonging to Merl Gaul, who still lives in Iowa and is now 94 years old. Merl really got George hooked to the hobby. One of the first things George decided to do was to join the Living History Farm in Des Moines. Central Hawkeye Gas Engine & Tractor Association used these grounds to hold their events before creating their permanent grounds at Hawkeye Antique Acres in Waukee. George joined the group in 1972 and was instrumental to the development of Central Hawk- eye at Waukee. You will find many large engines belonging to him housed on the grounds. One such engine is a Corliss steam engine that ran the current for the Fort Madison prison. Yes indeed, it ran the power for the electric chair. There were only two of these engines built. This was the only one in the United States. George purchased it about three or four years ago and restoration has been an ongoing project. They just completed it last year.
This rare restored 5 HP Crabb engine was built by the Crabb Gas Engine Co., West Union, Iowa. It had a hopper made of copper so it wouldn't rust out when farmers forgot to drain the water for the winter. This wonderful engine sold for a whopping $13,100! The Crabb engine found a new home in Canada.
I sat with George and his friends listening to their stories and their 'gentle' ribbing of each other. He told me some things about his life. His line of work was refuse, surely not an easy job. He pointed out family members and talked very lovingly about them. George can adopt me any time, how could you resist! He definitely was a true collector, he didn't just stop with just engines. He was selling advertising items, a Maytag Racer, steam whistles, lots of other miscellaneous items, and one of my favorites-a collection of salesman's samples. George said he still has other collectibles he's still enjoying. These include toys, musical items, and other advertising. Maybe another auction could be in the works? George always has that twinkle in his eye, so I didn't know if he was kidding or not, but he told me that he had his collection of engines in his basement. He was quick to point out that he was keeping eight engines. He looked down at his Fairbanks engine and told me he hated to get rid of this one, then looked over at another one of his engines and said the same thing. I'm sure it was hard to choose eight out of 115. It wouldn't surprise me if he has already acquired more since his auction. I asked him whether he could remember any special story about any of his engines. He couldn't think of anything specifically other than times when he had difficulty transporting his engines!
This restored Eli was built by the Moline Pump Company of Moline, Illinois (company later acquired by John Deere.) The brass tag reads #1010, 400 RPM, Patd. 11-11-02. Only four or five are known to exist. This cross-head engine was on trucks and had its original ignitor. It sold for $5,700.
Restored Webster Improved Gas Engine built by Webster Mfg. Co., Chicago, Illinois. This inverted hot tube engine sold for $7,000.