Bob Riebel and his very rare 1913 3 HP Lauson-Lawton Wisconsin engine.

Content Tools

Talk about unique gas engines, Bob Riebel of Le Sueur, Minn., has several. Among them, a 2-cylinder Edwards that could run on one or both cylinders depending on the operator, a one-of-a-kind Minneapolis-Moline U and a rarely seen Maytag lawn mower.

Bob lives the engine-lover's life. The week of the annual Le Sueur County Pioneer Power Show in August 2007, it took Bob, two sons and two grandsons four days to get everything ready and transported. "We only live 4-1/2 miles from the grounds," the 79-year-old says. "This year I had 10 trucks, 14 tractors and more than 80 gas engines at the show," including those rare ones.

He says they have to be cleaned and checked every year anyway to make sure they are in running order, and this way they are ready to display for people to see. "You've got to make sure the gas engines are all lined up and the belts put on the ones that are going to be running a corn chopper or whatever. The trucks and tractors need gas added then they are driven over. A carburetor might get crudded over by sitting, but mostly, it's amazing how that stuff will sit for a whole year, and start up right away when you crank it, and away it goes."

The old days revisited

Bob grew up on the home place, a mile from where he lives now near Le Sueur. One of his childhood jobs was to start the 1-1/2 HP McCormick-Deering gas engine used on the farm to pump water and separate milk. "I was probably 10 years old when I had to crank it. It wasn't too bad. A lot of time you had to push the intake valve in, get the thing turned over, and then take your hand off the valve spring, and generally it would go," Bob says. A belt from the engine to a gear on the cream separator operated that machine.


Horsepower: 5
Year: 1925
Serial number: 47197
Normal RPM: 2,000
Bore: 2-1/2- or 3-inch
Stroke: 5- or 6-inch
Flywheel diameter: 30 inches
Usage: Aerated water through ice on lake to provide oxygen for fish
Unique feature: Lever could switch the running from forward to backward

The collection begins

Bob's collecting days started when his uncle gave him a 1-1/2 HP International LA engine. "Another neighbor had a 1-1/2 HP John Deere that I bought for five bucks, and one thing led to another," he laughs.

In 1945, when Bob was 17, he attended the University of Minnesota Farm School at the St. Paul campus until he was 19, and like other students, learned about gas engines from instructors who used a 1947 Minneapolis-Moline U tractor cutout engine. "An electric motor ran that engine real slow. The pistons and rings were exposed and the carburetor was partly exposed, so you could see the moving parts, and the instructor could explain what these parts were and what they did, while it was running," Bob says. The instructor explained that an engine needed three basic things: gasoline or fuel, fire and compression.


Manufactured: Springfield, Ohio
Horsepower: 1-1/2 or 6
Year: circa 1920
Serial number: 5846
Flywheel diameter: 30 inches
Unique features: Two-cylinders that can be run in tandem or seperately to conserve fuel; engine cranks to the left via belt pulley


Model: Wisconsin
Horsepower: 3
Year: circa 1913
Serial number: 1010
Bore: 3-inch
Stroke: 5-inch
Flywheel width: 2-1/2 inches
Flywheel diameter: 36 inches
Unique features: Sideshaft; needs battery and coil to start because it dosen't have a magneto

Years later, when the buildings were no longer used as a farm school, Bob visited to reminisce about his classes on gas engines and carpentry. "In the engineering building I asked if they had any engines left over, and they still had that Minneapolis-Moline U tractor cutout engine." Specially built for the farm school, it was a one-of-a-kind, and shortly after his visit, Bob added it to his collection.

The Fairmont gets you coming and going

Another of Bob's interesting and unique engines is a circa 1925 5 HP Fairmont gas engine, serial no. 47197, that runs both forward and backward. "These engines were usually used on railroad tracks for those little doodlebug cars that went from one town to the next checking the tracks.

Flip a rod and the engine will go the other way, and take the little cart back to where it started. It was made in Fairmont, Minn., which is only about 60 miles from here," Bob says.

He heard that the Izaak Walton League in the area had the engine, and asked about it. "I was told they weren't going to fix it up and get it running, so they ended up giving it to me," added Bob.

It has an interesting history, too. It was bought to provide oxygen so fish wouldn't die during the winter when Clear Lake was heavily covered with ice and snow. It was dragged over the ice on runner skids, two holes were chopped in the ice and a propeller pushed water from the lake across the ice, aerating it, and then down the second hole back into the lake. "It was quite a patent," Bob says, "but it didn't work. After a while it wore a hole through the ice, and they'd have to drag it out of the water, get it started again, chop two more holes, and all that work didn't go over very good. "He says it ran at about 2,000 RPM, with flywheels about 2 feet in diameter, and a stroke of 5 or 6 inches. "The bore was about 2-1/2 or 3 inches." Weights in the flywheel controlled the governing system, he adds.

The 2-cylinder Edwards

The Edwards engine, made for a few years in the 1920s, serial no. 5846, was one of the most unusual gas engine designs of all-time. It had two cylinders which could be operated in tandem, or one or the other cylinder could be cut to save fuel. With one cylinder it has 1-1/2 HP, with both, 6 HP.

"Originally it ran a milk machine. An old bachelor friend, Frank Boehne, found this engine about a mile from where I live. The owners had it hooked up somehow to run the vacuum pump to milk cows with it."

Bob says it's kind of a goofy engine, not just because it can run one piston or the other or both, but also because it had to be started with a belt instead of a crank. "You had to turn it over the opposite way of almost all other engines. Most engines crank to your right, but this one goes to your left. You wind a belt on a pulley and pull it to get it running. It doesn't have a regular crank handle," Bob says. Each piston has its own gas line to the carburetor, and each line can be turned off, like turning off the line on any other engine. "Screw it in and one will keep on running and the other will shut off," Bob says. The Edwards saved gasoline when running on only one piston, and added horsepower with two. Flywheels are about 2-1/2 feet in diameter, Bob says, and the governing style is like that on most engines. "When it slows down the flywheel gets the governor to run faster again, the same principle as on 90 percent of all engines."

One of the other engines that isn't necessarily rare that Bob likes is a 10 HP Fairbanks-Morse made in Canada. It was used on an oil rig, so it ran 24 hours a day. "There's a glass site between the flywheels in back where you can see how much oil is in it while it's running. It has Timken bearings in it, so they never wear out, and a fan would cool off the water in that big radiator so it never overheated that way. It was made in the 1920s sometime. At the show you can crank the engine at 7 a.m. and at 7 p.m. and it will still be running, and never overheat," says Bob.

Bob got the Fairbanks-Morse from a friend in Sauk Centre, Minn., who couldn't get it running. "Come to find out it was out of timing. The magneto was screwed up, so in a half hour I had it running. He had cut the price from $300 to $100 because of that." It was an LP engine at the time, but Bob converted it back to its original gasoline. The flywheels are about 3-1/2 feet in diameter and about 4 inches wide, he says. "It's got a big flywheel on it," says Bob.

The rare Wisconsin

Another of Bob's very rare engines is a 1913 3 HP Lauson-Lawton Wisconsin engine, serial no. 1010. "A few years ago I bought two engines out of a junkyard, and this was one of them. It needed to have a rocker arm and gas tank made, pieces of the carburetor had to be made, and it needed a crank. I borrowed another guy's 3 HP to make pieces so I could fix my engine up. That was an all-winter project." It's about a 3-by-5-inch bore and stroke. Bob says, "Most of them are about that size." The flywheels are about 3 feet in diameter and about 2-1/2 inches thick.

"What makes this one rare is that it's a sideshaft, and there's not too many of them out there. It needs a battery and coil to start it because it doesn't have a magneto. That makes an awful difference too, you know," Bob says.

It uses a flyball governor, and when the engine slows down, the flywheel balls open the governor so it will operate a little faster. "It's the same principle and type as on a steam engine," Bob says.

Though Bob's 1/2 HP Maytag engine itself isn't rare, how it's used is: on a lawn mower. "I found it at an auction. A 12-year-old kid and I were bidding on it, and I ended up outbidding the poor kid. It's the same engine you used on a washing machine or stuff like that. I've never seen anything else like it." The lawn mower blade actually sticks out into the open. "You could trim your toenails with that one," Bob laughs. He never starts it because it's too dangerous, he adds. He figures it was manufactured during the 1920s.

Once he got a rare Maytag engine without even knowing about it - a 1913 single-cylinder 1-1/2 HP, with about a 2-1/2-by-4-inch bore and stroke. "It needed a battery and coil to start it. That's just the way it was made," Bob notes.

Bob got it from friends in Sauk Centre, Minn., who knew of a neighbor who had some old engines. Once he got it home, somebody saw it and said, "Where did you find that thing? It's dang rare. It's called a stove-foot engine, because it stands on four curved feet."

Bob has figured out some interesting ways to keep engines running over the years, over and above replacing rings, pistons, making head or other gaskets, or whatever else had to be done to his engines. "One time my son and I were fixing a McCormick-Deering with rod bearings that were so bad I told my son to get them fixed. He said they fell apart. So we cut some line off an old horse harness, and put it in there. That was 30 years ago, and that belt is still working in that engine today. The belting took the place of the babbitting. Once it gets oiled, it's better than any babbitting you can buy," Bob says. When he was working on a 1917 Model T truck engine, the back seals were leaking, so Bob and Frank Boehne cut a seal from an old pair of boot liners, and it worked.

Bob also owns a rare 1936 Allis-Chalmers 30-60 Thresherman's Special tractor. As far as he knows, it's the only one of the original 90 that were made on steel and still running. "I've taken that big tractor to the Midwest Allis-Chalmers Collector's Club Orange Spectacular Show at Hutchinson, Minn., and have never run into anybody who has a tractor like it."

Bob's had it at other Allis-Chalmers shows with the same results. "Nobody to this day has ever said they've got one like mine," Bob adds.

Bob had the tractor at a show in Marshalltown, Iowa, with 400 Allis-Chalmers, and his was the only one like it. "People ask a lot of questions about that tractor," he says. Bob and the tractor were featured on the front of the Des Moines Register. "That was quite an honor," he says.

For the kids

Bob gets the most joy from seeing parents with kids come to look at the engines, he says. "When a dad comes along with a couple of sons 10-14 years old, and they call me over to explain and talk about the engines history. I hope these young kids get a lot of good out of my explaining what the engines were used for. That's why we've got all the grinders, burr mills, water pumps and silage choppers belted up to the engines, so people can see how they originally were used. If we weren't passing the history along here at Pioneer Power, it would be a real loss. I think kids can learn more at Pioneer Power than they can in a schoolhouse," he adds.

Bob Riebel lives in Le Sueur, Minn.

Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and author of several books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact him at Box 372, 400 Caroline Lane, Rockville, MN 56569; bvossler@juno.com