Power of the Past: Saving One Forgotten Giant

Reid being winched

Reid being winched off the mountain where I bought it.

Content Tools

250 Central Avenue, Salyersville, Kentucky 41465

I have always been mechanically inclined. One of my first jobs was driving a log truck for a relative. Then I became involved in running an auto service station, and during my working lifetime, I owned and operated a total of three.

I first became interested in gasoline engines in 1980 when I acquired an 8 HP Witte, which I still have. Each year I fire it up and grind cornmeal for my friends. When I retired in 1983 I began attending engine shows in the area and surrounding states. Now my wife Bonnie and I average about five shows each season.

In 1990, I located and salvaged a 20 HP Bessemer engine. This particular one was built in Grove City, Pennsylvania. It had been placed, by an oil company, on property owned by the late William Salyer, in Magoffin County, Kentucky. William's daughter Christine and her husband, Henry Joseph, knew of my interest in a large engine, so they gave me this one. At this time it was not operating but had pumped oil for 60 years.

A friend and lodge brother, Belsey Connelley, helped me winch it out of the storage building. Once it was outside, we hooked onto it with my Scout vehicle and dragged it across the field to the road, where we used a wrecker to load it onto a tandem trailer. Considering that the engine weighs about two and one-half tons, this was no mean feat.

The Bessemer had been modernized to run from electrical power when I retrieved it. I found the parts that I needed and replaced the rod and magneto. I still need a set of rings, but it is useable now and can run on either bottled or natural gas.

I wish that more people had been more interested in saving these giants from our past. They are fast disappearing. In this year alone, a local oil company, Ashland Oil, hauled off and sold for scrap iron forty of these wonderful machines. Engine buffs like me can only be saddened by their loss.