Rock Island Engine Spawns Friendship

New life for a 1923 5 HP Rock Island engine, serial no. A80817

Rock Island Engine After

New life for a 1923 5 HP Rock Island serial no. A80817.

Photo Courtesy Charles Hargreaves

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Back in March 2001, I had a story in Gas Engine Magazine about a 2-1/2 HP Rock Island engine and how I got it. That is when I met Gary Calvin. He wrote me and included a return envelope, but I lost track of it. Gary collects Rock Island and Alamo engines. I finally found the envelope, but again misplaced it, and when I found it again I wrote back before it got misplaced again! The best thing to do if you are sent a return envelope – answer right away and it won’t get misplaced. I have learned that.

In my return letter I asked for his phone number so I could call him. He beat me to that and called me first, and we became close friends. Later, I met him and his brother, Lyle Calvin, in person, and we became the best of friends.

Gary has helped me to get four engines going. The first was an Empire that needed to be freed up. Gary got it loose and running. Then my youngest son pulled a sneaky one on me and had Gary get my 2-1/2 HP Rock Island engine going. He had it painted, ordered the muffler, had a new gas tank made, and got whatever else it needed. My oldest son made a cart for it. I had already sent the magneto to North Carolina to be rebuilt. Gary also helped me get a 4 HP Alamo running. I was not sure if I had the missing parts for it, as some engines I purchased in boxes. Anyway, I was able to find the parts, including the head bolt nuts, so with Gary’s help the Alamo now runs.

The fourth engine that Gary and Lyle helped me get running was my 5 HP Rock Island.

In 2001 a fellow in North Carolina wrote me and said he had a Rock Island engine and asked about the proper color. I wrote him and said I was not sure the correct shade.

As time went by things started to change. My wife ended up with multiple sclerosis (MS), so she could not drive anymore or do other things around the house. Then her Alzheimer’s disease started setting in. In 2007 we moved to where we are now. As of now she is wheelchair-bound. I do have her at home with me, so my projects don’t get done too fast.

In 2009 I was going through papers and old letters, and I ran across the North Carolina fellow’s letter from 2001. His phone number was there so I called to see if he ever got his Rock Island painted and running. He said he hadn’t done anything to it and was thinking about selling his engines. That is when I found out he had three engines – the 5 HP Rock Island, a 1-1/2 HP Fairbanks-Morse with a Fairbanks-Morse generator for lights and a small, single flywheel Fairbanks-Morse. I asked him if he had a price for the engines as I might be interested in them, but he didn’t have a price at that time. He was kind enough to send me pictures of them. When I got the pictures I used a magnifying glass to look them over for any cracks, but he said it appeared there were no cracks.

About a year later I told him I’d be coming through North Carolina on my way to visit a nephew, and I would look him up. We talked a few times about the engines, but he still had no price. My first plan was to go in March or April 2012, but changed my mind about dealing with the mountains in March. My daughter-in-law’s mother lives in Alabama, so I decided to take her for a visit in May 2012 for Mother’s Day, as my son had just had his gall bladder out and couldn’t make the trip. We’d stop in North Carolina on the way home to pick up the magneto for the 2-1/2 HP Rock Island, and also to look at these other engines.

We left May 6 and got to her mother’s that evening. We left on the 10 and stopped in Georgia at my nephew’s house on the 11. We got to the fellow’s house in North Carolina on the 13. I looked the engines over, and I was interested. I told him I did not bring a trailer or any money, as I was not sure if I would be taking the engines home because no price had been established yet.

He told me I would be going home with the engines. He had the 5 HP off the cart and ready to go. The first thing I did was take a tape measure and measure between the flywheels in different places to be sure the crank was not bent, as the engine had been lifted by the flywheels in a no-no way. As it turned out, the crank and all was OK. I then asked what his bottom dollar was for me to leave with them. He had told me in his letter the price he paid for them and said he would probably not get that much back. He finally set a price that I thought was fair, and the deal was made. He said he would like for me to have the Fairbanks-Morses also; he set a price and I said OK. So I went and got a trailer from a nearby U-Haul dealer. I told him I didn’t bring any money, but that I could call my credit union and they would transfer the money.

Now the surprise part – he looked at me and said, “You don’t have to write a check. Take the engines home and send me the money.” I looked at him and said, “You mean you will trust me without paying, even though I’m about 900 miles from home?” He told me to take the engines and that I didn’t need to write a check right then as I might need the money to get home. (How true – I almost didn’t make it over the top of the Blue Ridge Mountains on Interstate 77 just into Virginia. When I got home I had to have two sensors and a plugged fuel filter replaced.) Now how is that for a trusting person?!

The engine required a little work. I sent the magneto off to be rebuilt. Lyle painted the engine, and Gary rebuilt the cart.

Read the 2001 Rock Island Engine story by Charles Hargreaves that sparked his friendship with Gary Calvin.

Contact Charles Hargreaves at 2131 N. Victory Corner Rd., Ludington, MI 49431 • (231) 843-9374