Hail! Minnesota

Built or badged, they still call The Land of 10,000 Lakes home


Robert Geiken’s 20 HP Flour City engine, one of many Minnesota-made engines in his collection.

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A lmost all Minnesota gas engines are rare, says Robert Geiken, longtime collector and aficionado of Minnesota engines from Hastings, Minn., who owns eight of them. "They're not well-known like your John Deere or McCormick-Deerings. Most Minnesota gas engines were manufactured by small builders." Minnesota engines in general can be divided into two groups: those badged in Minnesota but manufactured elsewhere and the rare, Minnesota-built engines.

Minnesota-Badged Engines

Crane-Ordway: Built in Waterloo, Iowa, by the Waterloo Gas Engine Co., the Crane-Ordway engine was rebadged for the Crane-Ordway Plumbing Co. of Minneapolis. Robert has a 3 HP version of it, which contains some original paint and part of the decal on the water hopper.

Hudson & Thurber: A Minneapolis hardware store of the same name sold its own line of Hudson & Thurber engines, which were actually rebadged Acme engines manufactured by Acme Engine Co. of Lansing, Mich. H&T sold agricultural supplies and in 1906 bought a Chicago City Brand sprayer plant. Little else is known about Hudson & Thurber and its engines.

Peerless: Sold in Winona, Minn., the unique Peerless engine was built by LaCrosse Tractor Co. of LaCrosse, Wis., and sold by Peerless Co. of Winona. What made this 3 HP vertical engine unique was not only its double pistons, but how they were used. The top, or power piston, sits atop the second guide piston that brings up oil through a poppet valve and mixes it with gas to lubricate the upper cylinder. "Though the carburetor is throttle-governed," Robert says, "it has to suck oil into the intake manifold and mix with the fuel to lubricate it." This Peerless engine contains the name of engine designer William A. Sorg on the nametag.

Raymer Equipment Co.: Northwestern Steel & Iron Works of Eau Claire, Wis., made Raymer engines for this St. Paul, Minn., company. Though it's unclear what size Raymers were badged, Northwestern made engines from circa 1905-1913 in 1-3/4 to 12 HP. Robert has a 4-1/2 HP Raymer, which was originally used on the banks of the Mississippi River in south St. Paul to winch logs out of the river.

Minnesota-Made Engines

Diamond Iron Works: This Minneapolis company manufactured at least two different gas engines: the American, starting in 1912, and the Sorg oil-gas engine in 1913, designed by the same William A. Sorg involved with the Minnesota Peerless engine. After its 1885 organization, DIW was heavily involved in tractor development by 1900, and manufactured the American engine originally for their Diamond Jr. tractor. They turned their attention to the stationary engine market devoted to electric plants, pumping stations, dredges and hoists. The 4-cylinder American had a 5-bearing crankshaft.

The Sorg oil-gas engine came in 3, 5, 12 and 18 HP sizes and had a special cylinder head, developed by Sorg, which allowed the use of kerosene along with electric ignition. Patents for the Sorg were owned by Gas Corliss Co. of Minneapolis. The 5 HP model sold for $265. This engine was built in a unique fashion, as the piston was stationary, and the cylinder revolved around the piston.

Faribault: Robert says at least three Faribault engines still exist, two in Minnesota. The company was a 1904 consolidation of Winnebago Machine & Foundry Co. and Winnebago Gas Engine & Construction Co., both of Faribault, and Polar Star Electric Co. A circa-1910 company catalog expresses its goal for the Faribault engines: "A GOOD gasoline engine is one that is good in every respect and it is this conviction which prompted the thorough study of this subject, resulting in the Faribault Engine, which combines all of the elements of a good engine, and at the same time eliminates the faults so common to gasoline engines in general. … We have studied, and worked to produce an engine second to none in strength, symmetry and beauty of outline together with durability and smoothness in operation."

They added, "On our larger engines the balance weights are bolted on the crankshaft, instead of having the balance weights on the flywheel, which will balance the engine perfectly at all speeds, with less strain on the crankshaft. Our trucks are made with heavy oak or fir beams, extra heavy maple axles, and steel wheels with sufficient wide tires. All steel trucks can be furnished if requested."

The catalog says only two things can be changed in the engine: spark and speed. The engine was said to be so easy to use that anybody could operate it. Faribault engines came in 3, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 15, 18 and 20 HP sizes, weighing from 1,030 pounds to 5,000 pounds. "Faribault" is often misspelled "Fairbault" in several references.

Flour City: Though many Flour City tractors of various sizes were built by Kinnard-Haines Co. of Minneapolis, they did not build many stationary engines. A 1904 article in an unmarked agricultural magazine says it had built an 8 HP gasoline engine "for use on huskers, shellers, shredders, hay presses, small separators, etc. This is a new size for the Kinnard-Haines Co., made especially for the season of 1904."

Flour City engines ranged from 3 to 25 HP. The 3 HP, C.H. Wendel says "was unique from one end to the other," because of the truck sills comprising the engine frame and an odd cooling tank, among other features. It was designed for pumping water, sawing wood or grinding feed, according to the company. It cost $350 for the 1,200-pound machine in 1902.

Louis Stuff of Jamestown, N.D., says he threshed 7,500 bushels of wheat from August-November in 1898 with his 7 HP Flour City engine. Portable engines like this one were mounted directly to heavy steel channel iron rather than cast iron.

Another testimonial for the Flour City, this time an 8 HP model, came from J.P. Cook of South English, Iowa, who said his total operating cost was less than 10 percent of his total earnings from Feb. 9 to Oct. 29, 1900, sawing wood and shelling 68,000 bushels of corn.

Red Wing: These engines were manufactured by the Red Wing Motor Co. of Red Wing, Minn., starting about 1907, when the company announced they would deal in engines and motorboats exclusively. In 1911, 2-cycle Red Wing engines were built in two types: high-speed and standard, in 1-, 2-, 3- and 4-cylinder models of 1-1/2 to 60 HP. Four-cycle engines of 2-, 4- and 6-cylinders were also built from 8 to 80 HP.

Perhaps the largest engine from the company was a 100 HP inboard Red Wing Thorobred Hiawatha installed in the Nellie Bly, a 42-foot houseboat that ran on the Mississippi River during the 1930s. It is still in dock today.

The Thorobred engine was touted as "The engine with power to spare." Few Red Wing engines are found today, partly because few were built, but also because of extensive scrap drives during World War II, according to C.H. Wendel in American Gasoline Engines Since 1872.

L.E. Spear: Only one engine manufactured by this Northfield, Minn., company is know to exist, and belongs to Robert Geiken. "At least, it's the only one that's out in the public," he says. He's heard rumors of a second one existing, but has never seen it nor has anyone actually verified it. His engine is a 1-1/2 HP horizontal engine without a serial number and may have been a prototype.

Stickney: The Charles A. Stickney Co. of St. Paul, Minn., manufactured perhaps the greatest number of Minnesota engines of all the companies. C.H. Wendel's book dedicates four full pages to the Stickneys, and Robert concurs that they are more common than many of the other Minnesota engines. "If I have a part broken on one of the Stickneys, there are enough of those around that I can find another collector who has them, and if I needed a part I could borrow it and have it cast." A wide variety of different Stickneys were made in 1-, 2- and 3-cylinder models from 4 to 25 HP. Double-cylinder Stickneys ranged from 16 to 100 HP, and the triple-cylinder models ran from 125 to 300 HP. Early Stickney engines, especially, used unconventional designs. The early single-cylinder examples from the turn of the century used a short cross shaft, mounted directly over the crankshaft, instead of a straight-line valve gear. The combination pump and engine was also unconventional, with the pump mounted directly to the frame instead of adjacent to the engine. Other Stickney engines included the Stickney Junior engines, Stickney New Line engines and St. Paul engines. The St. Pauls were designed specifically for use in buildings, and conformed to Fire Underwriter requirements, in 3 to 20 HP. Overall, Stickney engines varied in size from 1-3/4 to 100 HP. Some Stickneys were sold as Sears Roebuck Universal engines. The 20 HP Stickney engines are very rare, with only two or three known to exist.

Stroud-Humphrey: These engines were built in a small plant along the Mississippi River in Hastings, Minn., a building that still stands today. It was advertised in Gas Power Magazine in May 1908, calling it "the little engine with the big reputation." Little more is known about the company. Later, J.J. Raway engines, identical to the Stroud-Humphreys, were built in the plant. Both engines were probably only sold locally, for the most part. The Stroud-Humphrey engines came in 1-, 2-, 3- and 4-cylinder models, and some were out before 1907, Robert says, according to his research of the company.

The owner of Stroud-Humphrey also built a pair of cars in Hastings, and had Minnesota's first driver's license ever issued.

The Few, the Proud

There are many other Minnesota engine companies, about 60 total, which is actually not a large number compared to other states like Michigan with 230; Wisconsin, 150; and Iowa, 120. A few other Minnesota engines not detailed above include the Brown engine from J.C. Shadegg Engine Co., the Onan from Onan Corp., the Russell from Russell Grader Mfg. Co., Imperial by Valentine Bros. Mfg. Co., Underwood by Underwood Machine Co., Imperial by North Star Mfg. Co., all of Minneapolis, as well as others in different parts of the state. Almost all of these disappeared when competition stiffened around 1912, leaving gas engine collectors a difficult task of finding many of these rare Minnesota engines.

Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and author of several books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact Bill at: Box 372, 400 Caroline Lane, Rockville, MN 56369; (320) 253-5414; bvossler@juno.com