Grandpa Foos's Engine

Foos Type J Engine

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W5ll0 E. Elmwood Rd., Menominee, Michigan 49858

My husband's first encounters with gas engines and farm machinery came during the time he spent with his grandfather as a young boy. Grandpa Foos, whose real name was John Joseph Foos, was called Jim. He worked as a catskinner building roads for the county. He started Rick out on heavy equipment as young as one year old. We have photographs of Grandpa holding Rick on his knee while operating a large 'Cat.' Rick spent nearly every weekend at his grandparents house in West Chicago, Illinois. He and Grandpa would work in the garden, go hunting, visit farmers, and occasionally go to threshing meets.

On Sundays, when Grandma and the other visiting grandchildren were getting ready for church, Grandpa and Rick would stay busy and out of the way, trying not to be noticed. Often Grandma would say to Rick, 'I think you should come to church with us.' Rick's eyes would widen in innocence, (Who me ?), but before he could protest, Grandpa would say, 'No, he's going to stay here with me.' Grandpa was rewarded with a smile from Rick, as Grandma sighed, and took the other children to church.

It was only then, after Grandma had left for church, that Grandpa would roll his gas engine out of the garage, crank it over, and let it run. It was loud, and had a strong smelling oil that spattered everywhere as it ran, but they didn't seem to notice. Grandma always did when she got home, though.

Rick must have meant a lot to his grandfather, because when he asked if he could have the metal wheeled wagon that held the engine. Grandpa took the heavy engine off the truck, and gave the truck to Rick, making him promise to always keep it, not to give it away. Grandpa never ran his engine after that. It sat on the floor of his garage. Grandpa Foos died in 1962, when Rick was 13. The engine was promised to Rick's uncle.

Rick always remembered his grandpa's engine, and had told me about it from time to time, but I had no idea what he was talking about until last summer. Rick and I were on a bike ride up the road, when we stopped at a garage sale. The man there, Ted Buyarski, (see GEM Jan. 1992), proudly showed us his collection of 'hit and miss' engines. He even started a couple of them up for us. When Ted asked our names, he said, 'Oh, Foos, like the gas engine! I saw that on your mailbox, and wondered if you were related to the manufacturer of the Foos gas engines.' Rick and I looked at each other in disbelief.

Ted went in and got his copy of American Gasoline Engines by C. H. Wendel, which he called his bible. He showed us the five or six pages devoted to the Foos Gas Engine Company, of Springfield, Ohio. Rick pointed out an engine that looked like the one his Grandpa had. It was a Foos, Jr.

Ted wouldn't loan his bible out to anyone, but he agreed to photocopy the pages for us. This got us to thinking that perhaps Rick's grandpa knew something about the Foos engines that he didn't tell us. We researched both Rick's family, and the Foos family from Ohio. Even though Rick's grandfather had the same name as the owner of the Foos Gas Engine Company, John Foos, if there was a connection between the two families, it must have been before they immigrated to America. We learned many interesting things during the research, though.

I thought the Foos engine was probably just an amateurish attempt at an obsolete and obscure product. I was wrong! As Rick and I read over the pages, we saw that an advertisement had stated by 1907, the Foos Gas Engine Company was, 'The largest plant in America devoted exclusively to the building of gas engines.' We learned that the Foos engines were considered to be the Cadillac of the line. C. H. Wendel said, 'Without a doubt, the Foos engines represented some of the highest quality design of any engine built.' The engines sold for top dollar when they were new, and have gone up in value since, still bringing top dollar over almost any other manufacturer.

Naturally, by this time, we wanted a Foos engine of our own. Ted let us borrow some of his old issues of GEM, and even though they were several years old, we received a response from almost everyone we wrote to.

Rick bought a 2 ? HP Foos Type J in September. It was missing the control arm, an oiler and had a small crack in the block. It was an early model, probably pre-1990. Rick designed and made the missing arm the first day he had the engine home. It was quite an important piece-it controlled the governor, the spark and valve. As in all his fine quality work, he did a professional job. He was able to match the fine quality work of the Foos Gas Engine Company.

Our 15-year old son Jeremiah got the honor of being the first to try to start the engine. It started the first time Jeremiah cranked it around.

Rick took the whole engine apart to clean, sandblast and paint it. He was amazed at the high quality of workmanship that was put into the casting. When he finished painting the Foos engine, he started on the truck. Under the Foos engine is Grandpa's truck. Rick had kept it for over 30 years. Grandpa's truck finally has a Foos engine sitting on it again.