Our Fuller & Johnson Engine

Adirondack Camp

Figure 1: Aerial view of our Adirondack Camp, sandwiched between our pond and Rainbow Lake.

Robert G. Diener

Content Tools

Submitted by Dr. Robert G. Diener, PE West Virginia University Box 6257 ASA Morgantown, WV 26506-6257

Note: This engine was restored in our department at West Virginia University last year and is now back at the Adirondack Camp where it was first purchased new in 1917. It is planned to restore the pump next and actually pump water into the old water tower shown in the photos; perhaps that will be the next story. Robert Diener


The Fuller & Johnson Model N, 3 HP engine featured in this story is unique because it was purchased new in 1917 by my grandfather, J. R. Leonard, and thus has always been in our family and has always been located in the pump house at our Adirondack Camp in upstate New York.

Adirondack camps were started in the late 1890s by New York City 'captains' of industry and finance who could afford to get away from the heat and pollution and escape to the Adirondack mountains in northeastern New York State. There, in rustic natural beauty of the primordial forests and spectacular lake frontage, the first camps were started. However, in order to achieve the degree of isolation required, these camps were necessarily located at remote, almost inaccessible locations. Frequently travel time from New York City was measured in days, involving an overnight Pullman sleeper ride up the Hudson River and then cross-country travel by stagecoach, river steamer, and finally wagon, pack mule and horse to reach the camp site. Some wealthier empire builders even constructed their own short distance railroads to transport their family and belongings. In some cases the family would remain in the railroad lounge car while it was transferred to waterway transport and back to rail again making the trip as luxurious and comfortable as possible.

At first, camp life was relatively primitive, featuring tents, canvas cots, lanterns, campfire cooking and what few servants the families could manage to bring with them. The camps soon evolved into more permanent facilities with cabins, main lodges, boat houses and most important (for the purpose of this story) electric lighting and running water all powered by hit and miss engine rigs!

These engine/pump outfits were especially well suited for pumping water from lakes, rivers, springs, wells or other sources of supply where the pump could be placed within the suction limit of the source of supply. They were used extensively for pumping water into elevated tanks at country homes (or summer camps) or railroad stations, for sprinkling roads and lawns, for irrigating crops, and fire protection.


Our camp was founded by my grandfather, J. R. Leonard, who discovered this particular site while harvesting timber in this region in the early 1900s. The camp is located on an esker or hogback located between our pond and Rainbow Lake and is some sixty feet above water level (Figure 1).

There was always a mystery about the strange contraption down in the old pump house along the family pond. No one ever said much about it, just that it was the 'old pump.' Actually, it was a pump and an engine to power it. The family camp caretaker, Louie Skiff, used to crank it up each morning, before everyone was awake, and fill the hilltop water tank so that there would always be fresh water when a faucet was turned on down at the camp buildings.

The sounds of the old engine, hitting and missing, echoing across our pond and bouncing off the sides of the surrounding mountains, must have seemed intrusive after a peaceful Adirondack summer night.

Our particular engine left the factory at Madison, Wisconsin, March 27, 1917, and was shipped to the Gould Manufacturing Company in Seneca Falls, New York, where it was outfitted with a Gould water pump. From Seneca Falls it was shipped, via train, to J. R. Leonard at Loon Lake, New York, and taken by truck to the family summer home near Rainbow Lake, New York. The history of our particular engine/water pump combination, called an 'outfit,' Serial No. 57029, was traced by Verne Kindschi, Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin, the Fuller Johnson 'guru.' Our engine/pump rig was then installed in an especially constructed pump house (Figure 2) on the shore of the family pond, and used to pump water to the buildings at our camp. The engine pumped water from our pond to a water tower (Figure 3) located some sixty feet above the pond. From this location water flowed by gravity to supply the cabins and a main lodge at our camp.

This particular engine was 3 HP, weighed 525 lbs., had a 2 gallon gas tank, 22 inch flywheel diameter and achieved 475 rpm. The engine itself was supplied with a gas tank in the base, muffler, wrenches, crank, cylinder oiler, grease cups, accessories and instructions. Equipment consisted of the regular stationary gasoline engine, which was directly connected to the brass fitted, double-acting pressure pump by means of machine cut gears. Both engine and pump were mounted on a heavy cast iron bed plate. The engine/pump rigs, as listed in the Fuller & Johnson Price List #32 published April 21, 1919 (reprint supplied by Verne Kindschi), sold for $255.00 featuring a 4 inch bore and 5 inch stroke cylinder. The pump ran at 40 strokes per minute and could deliver 1200 gallons per hour to an elevation of 200 feet.

From 1917 until the mid-1920s Louie performed his early morning magic with the water pump and engine. Interestingly, Louie did not know how to read or write, so the Fuller &. Johnson instruction book that originally came with the engine was useless to him. It's a mystery to this day how he learned the mechanics and operation of the old engine, but he did and he did it well.

The distance from the water to the pump house was 52 feet, using 2 inch diameter pipe from the intake valve to the pump. The pipe measured 225 feet from the pump house to the water tower on the hill, using 1 inch pipe with a lift of about 60 feet to the top of the water tower. The entire pipeline from our pond to the farthest cabin measured 1,080 feet. It is estimated that the water tower capacity was 1,200 gallons. It was remembered that about 600 gallons or half of the reservoir capacity had to be replaced daily so that about one-half hour of operation each morning was required. In fact an old handwritten note left behind by J. R. Leonard to be given verbally to Louie (who apparently could not read or tell time) states: 'Start the engine using the procedure as per instructions. If the engine will not start, let it rest while you have one smoke. After the engine starts let it pump while you have three smokes or until water can be seen coming out the top of the tank.'

For many years after electricity came to the region, the engine and pump remained silent, gathering dust and rust, replaced by small pumps put into action by a flick of a switch.

A clue as to the possible value of the old engine came in 1984 when an old timer and Adirondack native offered to 'take it off our hands.'' He said it was restorable and there were those who took great pride in making them work again and would display them in all their glory and sounds at special antique engine shows. Somehow we couldn't part with it. So, the engine remained for ten more years.

In the summer of 1994 the old engine caught the eye of a family guest, Dr. Robert Diener, a professor from West Virginia University, who felt the engine would be a worth while restoration at his Department of Agricultural and Environmental Technology.

So, together we devised a way to remove the seventy-eight year old Fuller & Johnson engine, hopefully intact, from the old pump house alongside our pond and transport it to West Virginia University for restoration. Removing the engine from the pump house was fairly easy. Louie had kept all parts well oiled and greased many years ago and the pump house roof had protected the equipment. In addition, penetrating oil was applied to the bolts holding the engine in place on the steel bed plate in the weeks before its anticipated removal.

On July 14 and 15, 1994 the engine was removed from the pump house, pulled by hand winch to the top of the steep hill by Lou Van Leewen, Robert Diener and Paul Van Cott, and loaded onto a pick-up truck for the trip to West Virginia.


After arriving at West Virginia University in Morgantown in July 1994, the engine was dismantled under the direction of Professor Kendall Elliott. Great care had to be taken not to break or damage any parts. The engine was essentially still in original condition with paint and decals!'

Students in the Department of Agricultural and Environmental Technology assisted me and Professors Elliott and Diener in the restoration.

A complete listing of all parts was made during disassembly. Another list of missing parts was also needed. Parts were cleaned and inspected. Various screw heads, adjusting bolts and stop nuts were repaired or replaced. The valve rocker arm which was broken was repaired by welding, and heat treated in an oven to normalize it.

From August through December 1994, the engine was disassembled, cleaned and inspected by students assigned to it. The order of disassembly was as follows: flywheel/crankshaft, valve, pushrod and rocker arm, cylinder head, piston and connecting rod, engine block, engine base, gasoline tank.

When it came time to rebuild the engine, missing parts had to be refurbished and replaced. The cylinder head and the magneto were sent to Preston Foster in Warren, Ohio, for rebuilding, including fabrication of a new exhaust valve.

Screws, springs and a new brass fuel line were purchased locally. A new brass cover for the magneto, a new oiler for the cylinder head and three grease cups were also ordered from Lee Pedersen in Lynbrook, New York. Total estimated time for disassembly, cleaning, inspection and repair was 200 hours.

The reassembly of the engine began in January of 1995. Once all parts were in place, the engine timing had to be set and adjustments made. Even though the original starting instructions were available, a new starting procedure was developed to suit the personality of the old engine. The adjustments continued until the engine finally started in the spring of 1995. Total estimated time for reassembly was 120 hours.

Cost of the engine restoration (excluding labor) and refurbishing was: repairs to the head and magneto $108.33; new oiler and magneto band $47.00; new brass fuel lines, couplings, and connectors $27.00; gasket materials, $14.00; and instruction books, catalogs, price lists, decals, etc. $50.00, for a total of $246.33.

As a final touch, two new Fuller & Johnson decals, supplied by Verne Kind schi, were applied to the sides of the engine cooling hopper. It is interesting to note that the old original decals were still in fairly readable condition.


After the restoration was completed, my final task was to time the engine (with the able assistance of Professor Elliott), and to demonstrate my proficiency in understanding the operation of the engine and to be able to successfully start it by myself (Figure 4). I was thrilled to be able to accomplish this in early December 1995 and successfully complete my course requirements for Agricultural and Environmental Technology 230 at West Virginia University. The J. R. Leonard Fuller & Johnson engine is now ready to go back to the family summer home in the Adirondacks where it will be lovingly cared for, oiled and greased just as though Louie was still there. And, on special occasions, it will be started, so once more the sounds of the old engine can echo across our pond and over the mountains in the distance.

The old engine has already seen four generations of our family. The first of the fifth generation is now two years old. The future will be in his hands some day. It's our wish that he will care for that old engine as much as we who cared enough to bring it back to life.

Perhaps on the way home from West Virginia we'll stop at one of those antique engine shows, to show our little engine and to visit with others who share this fascination with old hit and miss gas engines from a time long ago.