McIntosh & Seymour Gas Engine Steals the Show

Massive 575 HP McIntosh & Seymour gas engine stars at Le Sueur County Pioneer Power Show.

McIntosh & Seymour Diesel Engine

A side view of the 545 HP McIntosh & Seymour diesel engine at home at the Le Sueur County (Minn.) Pioneer Power Show grounds. The generator unit is shown at front, with the engine at back. Inside the generator an armature spins, creating the magnetic field around the outside, which creates electricity.

Photo Courtesy Dave Preuhs

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The 575 HP McIntosh & Seymour Corp. diesel engine on the grounds of the Le Sueur County (Minn.) Pioneer Power Show may just be set in its ways: It has stayed within a 10-mile radius of where it was originally placed after its birth in 1929. “The city of Le Sueur bought that engine brand new in 1929 to be used in their power house to supply electricity to the town,” says Dave Preuhs, the founder of the Pioneer Power Show, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary in August 2013. “It was retired when they bought newer engines, and this old one was put on as a backup unit until the city got electricity from an outside source, probably in the 1960s.”

After that, all the engines sat idle until the early 1980s, when they were scrapped out. All except the McIntosh & Seymour, serial number 2147.

“This big one,” Dave says, “was donated to Pioneer Power, and of course we had to pay the moving and the trucking expenses to get it to the show grounds.” That was 1986.

Big mama 

The cost of moving a 64-ton monster (128,000 pounds) proved to be considerable — $28,500 ($60,570 today). “We hired local guys who had dealt with bigger stuff like that,” Dave says.

Nick Klaseus, the custodian/main worker with the McIntosh & Seymour during the Pioneer Power Days show, says when the engine was prepared for its move out to the show grounds, some pieces had to come off. “The flywheel, which weighs 13 tons, had to come off in two pieces. We took the main cylinders off, and then the block was split from the base, where the crankshaft is sitting, so we could get to the crankshaft and take it out.”

The generator at the end of the crankshaft was also taken off in pieces when the engine was moved.

To move the engine, they jacked the remainder of the engine up inside the power plant, removed brick and cement block (creating a hole in the north wall), dragged it out through the opening and loaded it onto the lowboy trailer belonging to a member who was a contractor.

It was placed on blocks on the lowboy and battened down. “It had to be jacked up high enough to clear the crankshaft and connecting rods, so when it was blocked up on the trailer, it stood up in the air quite a ways,” Dave says. “But it cleared all the power lines.

It required a long, slow drive through town and out to the show grounds. “We had to go a greater distance to get away from some of the steep hills,” Dave says.

Once at the show grounds, it was pulled off the lowboy sideways onto big 12-by-12-foot wooden blocks, situated right alongside where a hole had been dug for cement. “John Hiniker was one of the masterminds for drawing up blueprints and getting everything formed for the base of it,” Dave says. “And John Klaseus was another one. They were pretty much entrusted with the job of figuring everything out. The city might have supplied us with some forms, too.” Both men have since died.

The cement to hold the 64-ton engine is 5 feet deep. Iron rods and mesh were placed in the concrete to stabilize it, and the concrete had to be cured.

The first year on the grounds the machine remained out in the open. “During the winter months we covered it with big tarps to keep the snow and elements off it, because we didn’t build the shed until a year later,” Dave says.

After the shed was erected, the engine was painted.

Getting ready 

Nick Klaseus took over as custodian of the machine from his father, John Klaseus, who cared for the machine before his death. “My dad and John Hiniker started collecting tractors and gas engines in 1964,” Nick explains.

The men discovered old machinery in the most unique way possible: from the air. “John Hiniker owned an airplane,” Nick says, “and he and my dad would fly around and look for tractors sitting in groves. That’s how we ended up with about half of our personal collection.” Thirteen of the tractors came from one spot, the Seppman Mill, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. “The mill was big in grain and grain threshing, so we also got a 35-70 Minneapolis and a 40-64 Minneapolis separator from them.”

Nick says that being John Klaseus’ son meant he ventured out to the shop and helped scrape grease and clean parts. “That was my earliest interest, which evolved into mechanical work, and into a collection of my own,” he says.

From there it was a short jump to working on the big McIntosh & Seymour. “I’m a diesel mechanic myself, so it always just kind of fit together,” Nick says.

Each year, Nick is in charge of getting the big engine ready for the show. The water tank, water pump and engine have to be drained of water in the fall. “Each cylinder has its own drain, and each head has a drain on it,” Nick says.

In the spring, everything has to be reversed. “We go through and oil and grease everything before we try to start it,” Nick says. “We go through the water pump and repack the water pump bearings.”

Nick adds, “Of course, we have to fill the 1,000-gallon water tank outside, and that’s all done by hand. It takes a couple of days with a hose hooked to the well on the show grounds. We let the water run until we get it full.”

They work over the air compressor, bleed the injectors and pump up the oil pressure by hand, stroking a 28-30 inch lever back and forth until it reaches 50-55 pounds. Once everything is lubricated, they make sure a separate air compressor outside the engine is filled with 1,000 pounds of pressure, which is what is required to start the engine. A second compressor pumps air into the engine to fire diesel through the injectors into the cylinders.

“People often assume this is a 4-cylinder engine,” Nick says. “But it’s a 3-cylinder diesel engine, and what appears to be another cylinder at the rear of the engine is actually an air compressor. It’s actually a piston connected to the crankshaft on the engine. Once the engine is running, it compresses its own air to fire the injectors and shoot diesel into the cylinders.”

Every August at the Pioneer Power Show, the big machine will be started at three or four set times during the day, using the 1,000 pounds of compressed air. “You have to use a big pry bar,” Dave says, “to locate a certain cylinder and make sure it is top dead center, and there’s a hole where the 1,000 pounds of air is shot into it all of a sudden.”

That pushes the piston down, and creates enough momentum with the big flywheel going around to fire the next piston coming up into firing combustion mode. It’s a 4-cycle, 3-cylinder engine with a 17-inch bore and 24-inch stroke.

Dave says the engine has to be inspected at certain times while running, both to make sure the air pressure is high enough and so nothing breaks down while spectators are watching it run. “Reactions from people, especially if they are standing right outside the building on the west side where there’s the big exhaust pipe on the tank, are pretty interesting,” he says. “They all look up at the exhaust pipe and sometimes see it blowing smoke rings. Then they usually hurry inside the building to see it running. They stand in amazement at seeing a guy standing up on the catwalk keeping an eye on it.”

When the McIntosh & Seymour is running, Dave says he just stands in admiration. “You can feel the ground vibrate under your feet, which is another reason why 5 feet of concrete was required to hold it in place,” he says. “People who are seeing it for the first time say it’s quite an experience.”

Dave says many of the Pioneer Power people are so used to it that it’s become old hat, but it still impresses him when it fires and takes off running. “They had darn good engineers back then to work with that stuff,” he says. “A lot of smart people way back when.”

As far as Dave knows, no other McIntosh & Seymour engines exist. “I don’t know of any others around,” he says, “and I’ve never seen any mentioned in show reports or at any other shows that I’ve attended.” He says the city of Le Sueur actually had some bigger 6-cylinder engines in their power house at one time, including a huge Continental engine, as he remembers. He adds that another big engine is located in the same building on the Pioneer Power grounds as the McIntosh & Seymour, a 4-cylinder Fairbanks-Morse diesel 2-cycle engine. That 28-ton 300 HP engine had been used in a power plant in Lake Crystal, Minn., and had not run for 28 years when it was brought to the grounds and was worked on until it ran again.

Fun machine 

Nick enjoys how people react to the engine. “They can’t believe that it takes 1,000 pounds of air to get it to turn over and started,” he says. “They’re amazed that something that large is still running. But the majority of people ask whether we produce electricity with it. But no, we don’t have it hooked up, because three days during the show each year isn’t long enough to warrant hooking everything up, getting it fully functional and producing any power.”

Dave enjoys the size and massive chunks of iron that make up the machine. “The flywheel is so big and the way it’s built standing up like that is impressive to look at,” he says. “You wouldn’t think something like that would run. For a small-town kid like me to see a big engine like this is pretty impressive. Especially when you stand next to it and feel the ground vibrate under your feet, feeling those logs of iron being slung around inside, the pistons, connecting rods and the flywheel.”

And Nick agrees. “What I enjoy most is the satisfaction of hearing it run the first time we start it up, after it’s been sitting all winter,” he says.

Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and author of several books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact Bill Vossler at Box 372, 400 Caroline Ln., Rockville, MN 56369 • 

Read about Dave Preuhs, the Pioneer of the Power Show. Also learn more about the History of an Engine Company: McIntosh and Seymour Corporation.