2440 Thomas Street Ceres, California 95307
John Minor Kroyer began Samson Iron Works with a centrifugal pump of his own manufacture and gas engines soon followed. The first Ironworks was located on the corner of California and Washington Streets in Stockton, California. From this small beginning it soon became the largest manufacturer of engines and pumps on the Pacific Coast.
In my great desire to learn more about Samson Iron Works I have come to realize the great changes that occurred in this last century. There was a time in this country when big corporations hadn't yet forced the small competitor out of the market. This was a time when a good idea and hard work made a difference in the lives of the people.
This was a time when a 'grass roots' gas engine industrial explosion took place. Hundreds of manufacturers began mechanizing the farm and bringing a better standard of living with it.
In the early days of Stockton, John settled here to pursue his dream. He saw an increasing need for new equipment and a changing agricultural picture involving the area's conversion from grain to more diversified farming. He settled in a fertile land near the famous delta where marshland was too soft, too wet, for too long.
Three million years ago, virtually all the Sierra Nevada Mountains above three thousand feet were covered by sheets of ice. These glaciers ground the mountains away and as the ice melted, the rivers carried away the alluvial sediment down to fill the 'great valley trough' in some cases as deep as two hundred feet.
As geologic forces raised the north and south ends of the great valley, the San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers took the runoff waters to the sea via the Carquinez Strait and San Francisco Bay. Where the rivers met, they came under the influence of the Pacific tides that flowed in through the Strait. This slowed the flow of both rivers and a huge delta marsh developed in the valley west and northwest of what someday would be known as Stockton. As California grew, this rich and fertile delta land drew men who, in due course of time, would alter dramatically the face of California's agricultural economy. The control of this environment has always been a challenge to men who dream. Anywhere near this delta, winter floods were an annual event. Long and rainless summers parched the land. It was a wonderful market for power and pumps and quite early stimulated the development of local industry. Men dreamed to reclaim this delta land and to grow the proverbial cornucopia on its fertile face. But how?
This was the magical time when John Kroyer began building his 'open vaned' centrifugal pumps-pumps designed to move gravel and sand and do it efficiently. The history of California is the movement of water. Samson pumps played a significant role in the development of the state and its agriculture. These pumps were built from thirty gallons a minute to ninety thousand gallons per minute. Special sizes and applications could be custom ordered. In all cases, their construction was heavy and substantial, being built for irrigation, reclamation and domestic work. All of the pumps were available in a brass version and prices were available on application to the company. (Fig. 1.)
Many of the old photographs depicting pump and engine combinations show the engine at ground level while the pump itself sits below ground level in a 'pit,' sometimes quite deep. Of course these were belt-driven applications. It must have been very inconvenient to service pump glands to say the least.
John built engines to operate his pumps. He built many sizes and types but his first engines were farm engines such as we collect today. John was very interested in using distillate and other low grade oils for fuel. These fuels were cheaper than gasoline and his idea was a 'generator' that used heat from the engine to vaporize fuel oil. This generator (Fig.2) consists of a chamber of two compartments separated diagonally by a partition on which projects a series of 'ribs.' The oil takes a zig-zag course down the surface heated by the exhaust through the chamber beneath. The oil is fed at the top. The vapor is drawn to the engine through the pipe and small chamber around the exhaust pipe as shown. A three-way cock regulates the quantity of the exhaust required for evaporative effect in the generator. The cold engine is first started on gasoline which is supplied to the intake manifold via a suitable carburetor. When the generator is warmed up, the oil is turned on, and the governor then regulates the fuel charge, these, of course, being throttle governed engines.
The crude oil referred to is also known as bunker oil. One testimonial letter from a Marysville, California, man states: 'We are successfully using Coalinga crude oil, as it comes from the ground, for fuel.' (October 18, 1904) John didn't build these generators for long. They were expensive and took up as much room as the engines. All the early engines I've seen are equipped in some way or another to run on distillate, and it wasn't until the very end of engine production that a 'gasoline only' model was produced.
John Kroyer's earliest engines were beautifully built by men skilled in the art of foundry and machine work. Vertical fly ball governors, fuel preheaters and 'wipe ignition' characterize these models. The earliest engines had a 'cloverleaf' cross section of flywheel spoke as opposed to an oval section. These are known as cloverleaf Samsons among collectors. One in our area is a 15 horsepower model serial #122. It has an unusual nameplate of cast iron stating it was built in March 1902. Its rated speed is 260 rpm (See Fig. 3).
Most of these early engines had an 'N' preceding the serial number stamped on the brass builder's plate. Of course these are known as the 'N' model. This was the engine that firmly established Samson Iron Works as a reputable engine builder. All 'N' models above three HP have vertical fly ball governors. I have seen two 3 HP 'N' engines, both built with a horizontal governor with unusual 'tear shaped' fly balls. This leads me to believe that 3 HP engines and smaller engines use the horizontal version of the governor. However this is pure assumption on my part, as I have never seen a 2 HP 'N' engine. Does anyone out there know of one?
It is not known if serial #122 described above is an 'N,' its serial number being void of the 'N' stamp. However in all respects it could be an 'N,' as it is identical in all features to other 'N' engines.
I know of these 'N' engines:
I would be very pleased to add any additional serial numbers to this list.
There are a number of variations on these 'N' engines, and it's often said that every engine is different. But an in-depth study of engine design reveals a very interesting natural progression of mechanical improvements. This is why Samson engines fascinate so many people. John Kroyer was a prolific inventor and mechanical genius. The study of Samson engines thus becomes a study of John M. Kroyer and his way of thinking. These engines reveal a genius seldom seen in the early days of mechanizing agriculture.
These 'N' engines used a float type carburetor with the fuel mixing in the main air stream created in the intake manifold. The combustible mixture was then throttled by the governor valve. An eccentric driven off the cam gear operated the wipe ignition system and the same cam gear opened the exhaust valve via a unique rocking lever arrangement. The intake and exhaust chamber were cast as one unit so as to utilize the heat of exhaust to further vaporize the incoming fuel charge.
The early 'N' engines used a two piece wipe ignition system composed of an insulated stationary electrode situated in the precombustion chamber along with a movable electrode which screwed into a threaded opening in such a way as to allow the make and break to occur. Later 'N' engines used a flange mount which contained both the stationary and movable electrodes. This was an improvement over the old system, being much easier to adjust and service the ignition system. In both cases the precombustion chamber held the working parts of the ignition system.
The 'N' model ended production about 1907, which coincides perfectly with the erection of a new brass foundry one hundred feet by one hundred twenty-five feet long. It was a modern fireproof structure and it marked the beginning of a new series of engines which bear a remarkable resemblance to the old style 3 HP 'N'. (See Fig. 4)
In 1908 another foundry was added which produced crucible steel castings of the highest grade. Samson Iron Works welcomed custom work of all sizes and were turning out the highest grade of cast iron, crucible steel and brass castings. This was the first facility of its kind in California.
The transition from the 'N' engines to the new improved model falls somewhere between serial No. N1955 and serial No. 2409 which is a late style distillate model. Some call this new model an 'M' engine. Some call it the late style engine. Samson Iron Works calls it their new improved model in their stationary engine bulletin. These are by far the most common Samson engines seen by collectors. They are the very best of John Kroyer design, rugged and strong, built to last. Their reputation lives to this day, remembered fondly by those who knew them firsthand.
Serial No. 2409 is a 4 HP model with a very unusual transitional 'hammer break' ignitor. It is different from the standard ignitor seen on these models. Note the float type carburetor and fuel preheated used on this engine. (Fig. 5)
The highest serial number I've seen on any Samson engine is No. 6106, a 12 HP model. This is a straight gasoline model with no provision for distillate vaporization. It has the late style carb and intake manifold. These engines are characterized by a heavy cast iron crank guard which carried an oiler that lubricated the connecting rod via a 'wipe cup.' These were the last series of engines produced by Samson and are the most common. No presenters and a carburetor change is the basic difference from the new, improved distillate model. (Fig. 6)
Engines 3 HP and below use a cast 'I beam' construction, while larger .engines use a magnificently turned rod with heavy brasses fitted. I own two Samson's and had a third, and each one had a freeze crack in the same place. This is under the head and cylinder near the head. This must be the weakest area in the Samson design.
The serial number break for the new style distillate and gasoline models is between serial No. 3428 and serial No. 4011, No. 3428 being a distillate engine, while No. 4011 is a gasoline engine. See serial number list for the new, improved model.
SERIAL NUMBER LIST FOR
NEW, IMPROVED MODEL.
I would be pleased to add additional serial numbers to my list. Samson Iron Works also built a series of vertical engines which are covered in my article 'Legacy In Iron; Samson Engines' (GEM February 1996). Here is a serial number list for these engines:
SERIAL NUMBER LIST FOR
It is not known if Samson produced only the two and a half horsepower vertical. Rumors indicate they may have been built in other horse powers. Please contact me if you have any vertical, especially larger than 2.5 HP.
I have seen many engines and pump installation photographs in which the cooling system was simply a 'bleed' off the discharge pipe with a cock inline to control flow. In other cases, such as the portable wood sawing outfit, a large tank was used along with a small centrifugal pump to circulate the water. Fuel tanks were often comprised of a simple stand made of wood on which the main distillate tank and a smaller tank for gasoline were mounted and connected by suitable lines. The tanks were mounted high enough so the fuel would flow to the carburetor by gravity.
Most of the Samson distillate engines use a float type carburetor which had a small brass type pipe protruding from the top of the float chamber. A fuel shutoff valve was also mounted on the distillate line so distillate flow could be shut off to the carburetor. This was essential because the carburetor had to be empty of fuel oil before it could be started on gasoline. To start a cold distillate engine, gasoline was pumped into the small brass pipe with an oil can until the carburetor was full. Of course, the distillate supply was shut off. The engine was then started on gasoline, and when the engine became warm enough to vaporize the fuel oil, the distillate valve was opened and the oil metered through the needle valve in the carburetor. If more gasoline was needed, it was simply added to the carburetor until the correct temperature was reached. There was no other way to get the gasoline into the carburetor. Some of the very early engines that utilized Kroyer's 'fuel oil vaporizer' used an unusual carburetor. It seems to have had two fuel lines, one distillate and one gasoline. Further research will hopefully reveal more detailed information on this system. (See Fig. 17)
I have the original skids for the late style 5 HP Samson, serial No. 4831. This is simply an undressed fir plank measuring three inches by twelve inches, about five feet long. It is still in fair shape after all these years, excepting some minor wood rot on the ends.
Samson Iron Works built odd engines of which very little is known. A surviving oddity is a small vertical engine with a single flywheel and a pushrod to activate the exhaust valve. It has a mixer valve for fuel and appears to be a competitive version of their engine designed to compete with the hordes of gas engines then on the market. All other vertical Samson engines I've seen use a vertical side shaft to activate the valve and igniter.
I've seen a 5 HP 'N' that was never drilled for a plate. A serial number can't be found, and one wonders why, be-cause Samson engines invariably carried a builder's plate.
There is a large Samson horizontal engine in a side shaft version, about 25 HP. Its builder's plate indicates it was built at the old address, making it a very early engine. It uses a bevel and spur gear drive to drive the side shaft and a 'hand hole' is provided in the frame work to grease the gears! It is the only horizontal side shaft Samson engine known. It is quite different from the 'N' engines, although it possesses certain features which are pure Samson, notably the fly ball governor and ignition system. It is also a distillate engine, but it uses a Lunkenheimer mixer with a gasoline needle and a distillate needle. It also possesses an air preheated designed to help vaporization of fuel. This engine spent its working life pumping water. Not much more is known of its history. (See Fig. 7)
As Samson Iron Works grew, so did its sales territory. It wasn't long before they had established offices in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Fresno, California. They had many dealers around the state and 'agents' who acted as salesmen and technical advisers, who set up plants and provided instruction of operation. I've seen several letterheads from these agents and they are very interesting, showing Samson engines, pumps and other products.
Samson Iron Works sold a complete line of oil and greases, belting and pipe fittings. They sold Samson pump jacks and complete pumping plants. They sold Samson oil tractors and marine engines, including a very extensive line of propellers and bronze stern bearings, and packing boxes. The Samson marine catalog exists and depicts a very complete line of Samson engines, well designed and sturdy. However, none of these engines are known to exist. They were made from four to one hundred and fifty horsepower. These engines used Schebler carburetors up to fifty horsepower, and larger engines used the Samson improved, float-feed carburetors. These wereignitor engines designed to run on distillate fuel. They were built with one, two or three cylinders. (Fig.8)
In their first year of operation Samson employed twenty men. In the second year, thirty men and in the third year, forty. In their prime years they employed up to two hundred men representing all trades. They were one of the most successful and thriving manufacturing facilities in Stockton. It must also be remembered that a very extensive line of agricultural tractors were also built in the plant.
The title for this article comes from a small advertising piece owned by a friend. It features a small, round card about two inches in diameter, depicting a Samson engine with the slogan: 'Samson Gas Engines. First In Heart, First In Peace, First In The Eyes Of The Purchaser.' It is red on a white background. Around the outer edge it says, 'Samson Iron Works, Stockton, California.'
In Fig. 9, a letterhead from Samson Iron Works is illustrated. It is dated March 27, 1911 and is signed by H. L. Marsh who was the sales manager.
In Fig. 10 , we see John M. Kroyer in his office at the iron works, and if the original photograph is studied with a magnifier, photos of his marine engines can be seen hanging on the wall. The identity of the woman is not known at this time.
In Fig. 11, we see the guarantee that covered the stationary and marine engines. Note the corporation stamp dated July 9, 1902.
In Fig. 12, we see the front cover of their marine catalog. It depicts a red, new, improved model, distillate engine and a 'marine blue' marine engine. It's a beautiful cover, embossed and highlighted with gold.
Fig. 13 is a 4 HP 'N,' serial No. 1571, Fig. 14 is a 5 HP new improved gasoline model, serial No. 5067. In Fig. 15 we see a very extensive list of Samson engines sold to different reclamation districts, cities and companies. These are the large horsepower, vertical, multi-cylinder units which were used mainly for driving water pumps and electrical generators. These units will be covered at a later date. Fig. 16 shows the signatures of J. M. Kroyer. The top one is from approximately 1910, and the bottom one from approximately 1940. Both are bold and strong.
There are a number of pieces of Samson literature available. The Samson stationary engine catalog exists for the new, improved model as well as a catalog showing their marine engines. There is a Samson wood-sawing brochure and a pumping plant brochure. There are several centrifugal pump bulletins and a wonderful little testimonial booklet. I am sure there are others which I haven't seen and, of course, there are several articles written over the years in GEM focusing on Samson engines.
I wish to make a few additional comments. The earliest Samson engine recorded on paper is from a man who wrote Samson Iron Works expressing his satisfaction with his Samson engine. It is dated January 1900, dating the original purchase to at least 1899. Samson Iron Works originally started in 1898.
The information for this article came from many sources, and piece by piece it came together. A large number of people shared their information and made copies of what they had. To these folks we owe a big thanks, for without them this story couldn't have been written. Only one person refused to share his Samson serial number, and in every other case, folks went out of their way to help and encourage. It's this kind of people who make this hobby wonderful and filled with fun.
I am always searching for more Samson engines and parts. I need the intake manifold and governor for a late style 5 HP gasoline model. I am interested in anything that concerns these fascinating engines and their maker. I am glad to correspond with anyone with Samson interests.
You see, the story is never ending, our search never over. This is what creates such an interesting and satisfying hobby. It challenges our senses and fills our need to preserve and protect that which is near to our hearts.
Very little is actually known of the man who spent his life making life easier for others. John M. Kroyer cast in steel what others put on canvas, but his work gave us all a better life, a higher standard of living. It is too bad the genius and personality of Mr. Kroyer hasn't been chronicled in a more personal way. John M. Kroyer was a remarkable man who possessed a genius and ability which has gone unrecognized in history. At a later date I will write about the man, his failures and successes. John died in August 1945, in St. Joseph's Hospital in Stockton, the city he loved so well. He lies buried in a Lodi Cemetery under a simple marker, with no mention of his great contribution to his fellow men. How quickly in our fast and furious world a man and his work is forgotten! It is with deep respect to him these words are written. We cannot overemphasize his contribution to agriculture in the form of reclaiming the wonderful fertile delta land and the irrigation of dry 'desert like' land which water turned into a paradise.