I Know Where This One Came From ...

Mid-1930s engine full of family history


While this engine has been used for many purposes, it is now a treasured piece of family history.

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I have several engines in my collection, all but one of which were acquired from swap meets and auctions. For the most part, I do not know the history of these engines.

But I do know the history of my Maytag Model 72. According to the serial number, 824522, it was manufactured in October 1937. It has a Bakelite air intake cap. I understand this cap had a short life because of problems with cracking. They were only used in the early life of the Model 72.

This engine was on a square tub Maytag washing machine that my dad bought in 1938. He was fortunate enough to be working for the Shawnee County, Kan., Highway Department. Times were tough and the only way he could afford to buy it was if he could buy it on time payments. I believe the price was around $250, because my dad said he could buy a new car for the same price. I am sure he was just using that as an example of the high cost. Until this machine was purchased, my mother did all the washing with a scrub board and a plunger, and rung it out by hand.

At that time electrical power was unavailable in most of rural Kansas, so gasoline engines were in great demand. This machine was used with gasoline until 1942.

Because of World War II, we moved to Kansas City, Kan. The government built townhouses for the employees of the North American Bomber plant to rent. My mother still used the Maytag washing machine with the Model 72 engine. My dad and most of the neighbors worked the night shift at the plant and slept during the day. Because of the noise, the Maytag engine soon became unpopular.

Nonessential items, unless they were manufactured before the war, were very hard to obtain, but somehow Dad found a motor and electrified the washer and removed the gas engine.

Like a lot of these engines, they became surplus as electrical power continued to become available throughout the rural areas.

As kids we played with it and dreamed of putting it on a go-cart or using it for some other project.

In my senior year of high school I found plans in Popular Mechanics on how to make a power mower out of used parts. I was in a shop class and got the idea of using the Maytag engine to power my yet-to-be-made lawn mower. After I made the mower, I installed the engine on it. It didn't take long for me to find out it was not powerful enough for a belt-driven lawn mower. It was removed and stored away again.

In 1953 I was older and smarter (that was questionable), and I built a small cart using wagon wheels and a 2-by-6-inch board about 4 feet long. I attached a large pulley to one of the back wheels. Being anxious to see if the engine had enough power to run the cart, I had to try it. The weight of the engine would tighten the belt and I tried no other method to release or control the power after this. Crazy? Yes it was. But I was only 18. I was too large to ride it but I had a brother six years younger. I talked him into riding it, which wasn't too hard. Then I started it and used the weight of the engine to tighten the belt and it took off. It got to moving so fast, and with only the rope to steer it, my brother got scared and stuck his feet down to try to stop it. The front wheel turned too sharp and got caught under the center board and the Maytag fell off and hit the concrete. The engine stopped but the flywheel kept going. It had broken off the crankshaft. So it went into storage again, except this time it was in pieces.

When I got interested in old engines in the early 1980s I retrieved it from my mother. I found another crankshaft and installed it on the engine. Then I found out the magneto was bad and replaced it.

I still have this engine today. It runs as good as it did when new many years ago, and the paint and decals are still all original.

My mother continued to use the washer until the early 1950s when it was replaced. I hope down the road the little Maytag Model 72 will be cared for and held on to by one of my children.

Contact Robert Best at: 3521 N.W. 60 Terrace, Kansas City, MO 64151; (816) 741-5560; roduebase@kc.rr.com