HOW I FOUND THE ALAMO

An old engine

An old engine

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870 S. Cody St., Lakewood, Colorado 80226

Did you ever hear one of those stories that only seems to happen to someone else? Well, this time I guess I was that someone else, because it happened to me.

It all started one Saturday when we had some engines, tractors and threshers and stuff at the Keensburg Fair. Harold, a friend of mine, was telling me that he had been tinkering with one of his engines in his driveway one day, when this guy that worked for Public Service had stopped and told him that he had seen an old engine like that at an old gold mine up in the mountains a few years ago. I guess this guy was one of those rock hounds that climbs mountains, and looks for gold and iron pyrite and stuff like that when he's not doing any thing else. Anyway he had told Harold how to get to that old mine-sort of. So Harold wanted to know if I wanted to go 4 wheeling the next day to see if we could find that old mine, and see if that engine was still up there.

I told him I couldn't, that I had too much other stuff to do-like mow the grass and clean the garage and things like that. Sunday morning about 6:30 the phone rang and it was Harold-he quickly convinced me that mowing grass and cleaning the garage wasn't as important as looking for old engines, and that he'd be by to pick me up in about 20 minutes, so that settled that. My wife wasn't quite as convinced as I was that looking for old engines was more important than mowing the grass, but we won't go into that right now.

So off we went. That old mine was supposed to be somewhere on Guanella Pass, up above timberline, so your turn on this side of the creek, go up till you get to a little pond that has rust colored water in it, turn right and follow the trail till you get to a lake with blue water in it, then you look across it up the mountin side, and you'll be able to see that old mine! Sounds easy enough, but when you get up in them hills, somehow things aren't quite like you had them visualized while you were still at home.

Anyway, after a few dead ends and back tracking and almost getting stuck, we got to that old mine- maybe-we're not quite sure it was the same one the guy told him about. But it was an old mine, and it looked as if they had been in there with bulldozers and cleaned everything up, and there was no sign of an old engine.

Being quite disappointed, we headed back down the hill. On the way down Harold wanted to know if we should go over the pass through Georgetown and take the interstate into town, or should we go back on Highway 285. Having traveled Highway 285 quite a bit over the past years, I had seen some old iron and junk in a pasture just off of the highway, on the other side of the fence, and I thought maybe we should go back that way and see if we could check it out. I had seen a couple of old washing machines in that pile that I had been wanting to look at, but it seemed like every time I went by there the gate into the property had been locked and nobody seemed to be around. This time, however, the gate was open, so we drove in. We drove down quite a long lane, across a little bridge, up to the house. I went and knocked on one door, but nobody answered, so I went around the corner to another door that didn't look like it had been used for quite a long time, and knocked again, and this time a teenaged girl answered. I told her what we were up to, that we would like to look at that stuff out there in the pasture, and she said to go ahead, and that her dad-Steve-was out looking at some cattle he had on open range, but that he should be back anytime. She gave me the phone number just in case we should miss Steve, and if we did find something down there that we wanted. On the way out we met Steve's wife walking in, and told her what we were up to, and she said we could have anything that was out there except maybe that one old washing machine with the wooden tub-she had thought about restoring that herself sometime. While we were looking at them old washing machines-there wasn't much left of either one of them-I stumbled across an old feed grinder- a little Letz with a pulley and a neat little flywheel-I told Harold I'd sure like to fix that up so I'd have something to belt one of my engines to.

About this time here comes this guy walking across the pasture-he seemed to be walking pretty fast and we thought he might be mad because we were snooping around on his property. It was Steve, and after we told him that we had been up to the house and had talked to his daughter and also his wife, he wasn't mad at all. We got to talking to him, and he turned out to be one of the nicest guys you'd ever want to meet. I told him about the little grinder, and asked him if it might be for sale. He said we could have it if we promised to haul it away that same day.

Then he started to tell us about an old pump house down along the river and how, when he was a kid, he'd have to take care of an old engine like the ones we'd been talking about. He said that old pump house was still down there and he was about 99% sure that that old engine was still in there, but that the beavers had piled it full of sticks, and he hadn't seen it in years.

By this time Harold and I were getting quite excited, and trying our best not to let it show too much and hardly believing what he was telling us. But he went on to say that that old pump house was nothing but an eyesore, that it was leaning over at about a 45 degree angle and about to fall into the river, and that he'd like to get it out of there. So he said if we were interested in tearing it down and cleaning up the location, he was about 99% sure we could have that old engine, if it was still in there! He said he would have to check with one other guy that was in charge of the water department up there, since that old engine had been used to pump water for the Bailey water supply at one time, but since it was on his property he didn't see any problem there.

We told him that we'd be interested, and could we go have a look? He said sure, but it might take about a half a day's work to get enough of those beaver sticks out of there before we even knew for sure if that old engine was still there. By this time it was getting a little late, but we said we'd go down and have a quick look anyway. We got his phone number again and told him we'd get in touch with him in a week or so. We went out and around and down to the river as close as we could drive, then we had to walk the last 50 or 60 feet down the bank to this old tin shed that really looked like it could fall into the river any time. I was the first one to get to it, and I could see where the tin had sort of torn loose on the back side, near the bottom, so I leaned over and, nearly standing on my head, I looked, and there I saw just the very back side of two flywheels. I jumped up and shouted-it's still in there. We were about as excited as two grown men can get. Harold got down to look, and reached up through the sticks and stuff and felt around and said that it was an open crankshaft engine!

What a day. A trip that we had given up on as a wild goose chase had turned out pretty good after all. We had a little grinder in the back of the truck, and the prospect of going back after an engine still ahead of us. We didn't know what kind it was, or how big it was, but we did know it had an open crank and two flywheels, so we were pretty happy as we drove back to town.

Harold had company coming the next weekend, and I was planning to go to Kansas to a sale the weekend after that, so it would be 3 weeks anyway before we got back up there. That's the way it turned out. Three weeks later, armed with crowbars, hammers, ropes, and a couple of come-a-longs, we went back to get the engine. We tore off some of the tin siding and threw out some beaver sticks, and there she sat! A big 6 HP Alamo. Now we didn't know what to do. It was too big to carry up the bank and lift into the back of the truck. We thought about taking it apart and carrying it up piece by piece, but that sounded like an awful lot of work. So we decided we'd go into town, since it was lunch time anyway, and see if we could get a tow truck to come out and winch it up out of there, and onto the pickup. Sure enough, we found a tow truck and the driver said he'd be glad to help, for a fee of course, but the cost of the tow truck was well worth it because by 2:30 we had the thing loaded and ready to head for home.

Well, that old Alamo was really in good shape. Of course it had been in that shed all those years and covered up with sticks. It's probably a good thing those beavers did cover up that engine or some fisherman would have gotten it years ago.

Would you believe that the piston wasn't stuck and the mag was good and hot and about all I had to do was clean it up. When I got some of the old grease and stuff off of it, you could still see some of the original blue paint and gold pin striping on it. The spark plug was gone and the mice had built a nest in the combustion chamber so I had to pull the head off. The valves were stuck and kind of rusty so I had to do that anyway. After freeing up the valves and grinding them I put it all back together. I had been working on it a couple of hours after work each evening all week. (Work sometimes interferes with things I'd rather be doing). Anyway, this was Saturday, a week after I'd gotten it home, and my stepson was over and helped me with it. We got a priming can full of gas and squirted some gas into the carburetor and I told him to hold the intake valve open until I got it to spinning. The crank had been in the water hopper right where it was supposed to be. I cranked it about 3 times and told him to let go of the valve, and about 2 more times over that thing fired off. The crank kind of stuck and about took me around with it. It fired about 6 or 7 times real fast and was jumping around pretty good before the gas in the carb ran out. It's always exciting to get one of them things to fire for the first time in maybe 30 years or so.

Anyway, we had a running engine and after mounting a small temporary gas tank on it and loading it onto a ski mobile trailer I had, I proudly displayed it at the annual Front Range Antique Power Association at Cider Days Show the next Saturday and Sunday.