Iron wheeled wagon Engine

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1206 S. Pine, Janesville, Wisconsin 53546

In the fall of 1976 while I was living in the upper Peninsula of Michigan, I drove past a house with an iron wheeled wagon in the backyard. I could see a buzz saw on the back of the wagon and what appeared to be a small shed built on the other end. Would it have an engine in it?

I knocked on the door. No answer, so I took a chance and went out into the backyard to check it out. Sure enough, it was an engine, but what kind? That it was a smallish upright with a large belt driven governor was about all I could see in the dim light of the engine shed.

I stopped back many times before finding the owner at home. He said he wouldn't sell the engine because he needed it to cut wood for winter. Knowing persistence sometimes pays, I visited with him several times, but always received the same answer: 'Someday I'm going to use it to cut wood.'

In June of 1978 we moved from Escanaba and did not return to visit until the fall of 1992 when my son-in-law and I returned for a reunion at the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. After attending services and visiting with our many friends, we headed for the U. P. State Fairgrounds and the annual show of the U. P. Steam and Gas Engine Association. After visiting the many additions to the show built in my absence The Agricultural Museum, The Old Time Village complete with blacksmith shop and general store, the building housing the Steam Powered Shop and the large flea market, and more we spent time visiting old friends and making new ones in the association.

As we set out for home, I told Terry about the old engine and we both wondered whether it was still there. We drove by. It was there, but no one was home.

The next year my wife and I went back for a visit, and I bought a 5 HP Galloway from an old friend, Jerry Snowden, to keep at Escanaba for the annual Labor Day Weekend Show. Once again I went back to the home of the mystery engine, and no one was there.

When we went back to pick up the Galloway, I found that the engine and cart were really too big to fit on my trailer, so Randy Snowden graciously offered to take it into town and unload it at the U. P. State Fairgrounds. After getting it unloaded and removing some parts to take home for repair, we stopped by to check on the mystery engine. This time a young lady was there NO IT WAS NOT FOR SALE!

In January of 1996 I decided to stop by on my way home after attending the annual club dinner. This time a young man about 30 years of age met me at the door. He explained the engine had belonged to his wife's grandfather and he had been going to fix it up but he guessed he never would. Would I care to make him an offer. I did, but he wasn't impressed.

In May of 1996 I went to the bank and got some cash to take with me to the club meeting. I was determined to get that engine. I stopped by early in the day, and the wife said that her husband needed money to fix his tractor. What would I give? I made her an offer to which she replied that her husband would be back in two hours come back then. I came back and after some negotiations became the owner of the engine. But what had I bought?

It was a small upright engine, 24' tall with 21' flywheels. Having been protected by the rotting engine shed, it wasn't stuck or even rusty. It was water cooled with an air cooled head. I couldn't find a nameplate anywhere.

In July, Terry and I went back with my trailer to pick up the engine. I had hoped to salvage the saw rig, as it was an ingenious adaptation using a large belt driven governor connected to the engine with a piece of wire to control the throttle and large countershaft running a conveyor system to remove the sawdust and chips. Being mostly made of wood even with wooden pulleys the ravages of time and neglect had served to make everything unusable. Oh well, I had bought it for the engine, anyway.

When we got home to Wisconsin we soaked it down with solvent and took it to the car wash, twice. What a lot of grease! Still no nametag. Large pieces of strap iron have been bolted to the flywheels for counterweights. There was no oiler on the engine although there was a place for one. A search through American Gasoline Engines showed nothing like it, not even close. If only there were some markings or even part numbers.

A couple of weeks later I was cleaning the plates covering the valve mechanism when I came across a name in the casting on the inside, 'The Detroit Automobile Company.' I called my son-in-law and asked him to try to find some information from an antique car lover he knew. He called back the next day to say that the Detroit Automobile Company was one of Henry Ford's first ventures. They built about a dozen cars and trucks in 1899-1900 and then went out of business.

I had one valve made and the other one refaced. The engine runs well showing little wear. It has buzz coil ignition and a Kingston carburetor. There are no part numbers anywhere. I intend to restore the engine to its original colors red, with green flywheels before placing it in the Agricultural Museum of the U. P. Steam and Gas Engine Association, on the U. P. State Fairgrounds in Escanaba, Michigan.

Is this really one of the dozen engines built for the cars and trucks produced by the Detroit Automobile Company, or did they make a few extra engines to sell to try to keep the doors open?

This rare engine was scheduled to be shown at the 22nd Annual Show of the U.P. Steam and Gas Engine Association Labor Day Weekend, August 30-September 1, 1997.