Jewels of Stockton: Samson Juniors

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Samson Junior engines were the smallest engines built by Samson Iron Works, Stockton, Calif. Rated at 1- HP, they were available in either a pump jack or a belt model. The belt model is represented here.

The Samson Junior is a first generation design and was developed by John M. Kroyer. Featuring a unique distillate vaporizer built integrally with the governing mechanism, it is a tank-cooled engine with low-tension igniter ignition.

I've admired these little Samson engines, with all their wonderful bells and whistles, for many years, and some years ago a friend of mine was very fortunate in acquiring the little Junior you see here.

This particular engine came out of a pump house in Columbia, Calif., which is in the heart of California's gold country. According to several people familiar with this particular engine, it was complete and original until someone in the area stripped the governor, igniter and pre-heater from it, leaving its 'bones' behind. From this point it went through several hands until I received it through a trade. Thank you Chris Tomasovitch, Columbia, Calif.

Chris had this little Junior for a number of years, all the while searching for its missing parts but not having much luck. It tugged at Chris' heart every time he passed the little Junior, stripped and naked as it was, so he went to work and manufactured the necessary fittings and adapters to fit an old Ford Model T carburetor to the Junior. He also fabricated an adapter plate for a spark plug and a set of wipe contacts to provide ignition. Chris was finally able to run the Samson, but found it would load up on oil having quite a bit of blow by, but would run slowly just idling along. He had made a runner out of it.

Chris knew I really wanted that little engine, and I finally came up with something he wanted more than the Junior - it was finally mine.

Engine collectors are the luckiest people. During the same time period I was attending a swap meet when a good friend, John Jarrett, came over and said, 'The fellow over there has a Samson governor, Les, and you better go look.' I certainly did go look, and sure enough there it was - a complete, early-style governor/vaporizer assembly in solid bronze. Amazingly it was tight, in almost new condition. I bought it, of course, but at the time I wasn't sure if it was for the 1- HP or 3 HP size Samson. As luck would have, it fit the little Samson Junior.

The mixer was originally fitted with a preheater (presently missing on Lester's engine) running from the exhaust to the bottom of the mixer. The hot air circulating around the mixer aided in fuel vaporization, allowing the engine to run low-grade fuels.

I did, as it turned out, have to fit a -inch thick spacer bushing between the timing gear and flywheel so the pulley groove machined into the flywheel hub would align with the driven pulley on the governor, but that was a small price to pay for using this beautiful, original governor/vaporizer assembly.

Getting further into the engine I found that the piston rings were shot, so I replaced them with new rings after running a ball hone on the bore. I cleaned the engine with kerosene and fine steel wool, leaving what was left of the original green paint and a nice patina.

I re-shimmed all the rod and main bearings using copper and brass shim stock. The basic engine is in pretty good condition, and it was probably still running when it was taken out of service.

I ran the Junior, ironing out the carburetion and governing bugs, but I still had to do something about that Japanese spark plug that was firing the engine. All the Samson N Series engines with one-piece igniters use the same igniter setup, so I removed the igniter from my 5 HP Samson and transferred all its dimensions to a print. I laid out the body dimensions on sheet copper and made a template, and using that as a pattern I built the igniter body from 3/4-inch thick steel plate. After about 12 hours of drilling, grinding, welding, etc., I had an igniter. I then built the trip rod and turned the locking collars, put it all together and fired it up - it took right off and it works perfectly.

Only problem was, now everything was new and shiny on the ignition system. That just wouldn't do, so I went to a hobby store and bought a bottle of 'black brass' solution. This stuff colors brass black and it colors shiny steel like century old cast iron. I found this out by accident, but it works wonderfully. I used it on the Junior's ignition system and it blends in perfectly with the engine's original patina.

Amazingly, the original nameplate was still on the engine, and why it didn't disappear along with the rest of the parts years ago I'll never know. Showing serial number N841, this engine is probably from around 1904. It's a beautiful running little Samson Junior. It clicks, clacks and trips right along, and it's worth noting there are no counter balances on the crankshaft or flywheels, yet it's still a smooth runner.

There is one other item missing, which is the cast iron pre-heater that draws warm air from around the exhaust pipe and into the bottom of the fuel vaporizer. The correct pre-heater will have a casting number with a 'B' prefix, and if you even suspect you may have one I'd like to know about it as it would complete this unique little Samson.

Contact engine enthusiast Lester Bowman at: 175 North Santa Ana, Modesto, CA 95354.