There can be very few engine collectors who don't dream of finding an unrestored engine, preferably in its working location. This month's article originated from this question:
For the last six years, since we moved out to the country, my husband has gotten the kids and me to ask everyone we know with a barn if they have any old engines. This included dodging ornery bulls and digging through years' worth of scrap metal. After six years, we've gotten two old saws and two old tractors, but no engine. My question is, has anyone found a 'barn fresh' motor in the last decade? Do they still exist?
As usual on this internet mailing list, there were lots of tips and advice from around the world in the quest for original engines. Less common was that I asked the contributors to the discussion if they minded sharing their information with the readers of GEM.' Luckily, I got the go-ahead, so here are some ideas worth trying when you need another engine to add to your collection!
I was under the impression when I started this hobby that I started too late and that all the engines had been collected before my time. Well, like a few others have said, just keep asking and sooner or later one will show up. My Petter, KA Stover, Lister and portable shearing plant were all what I would guess you call barn fresh.
Ya know, I go along with the comment that 'I got in too late to have or find anything.' Well, I sorta agree with that but am finding out that it seems that once you find one, you will find a couple more. I know of several engines that are in buildings, but trying to get in touch with the owners is something else. One person will tell you go and get it for free and then you find out that they never did own it! I have also left calling cards stapled to fence gates to get the attention of the owner and even left letters but to no avail. Most people you run into when doing the hunting will at least let you look, but there are some that don't trust you at all, and won't even talk to you. I guess some people have better luck than I, but I'm not giving up!!
It's been awhile since I got a barn or farm fresh engine, but I'm sure that there are still lots of them out there. They're just not as easy to find as 10 or 20 years ago.
One of the main things is just getting out and talking to people and letting people know what you're looking for. Having photos of what you're after is a big help, as a lot of people have no idea what you're talking about if you say 'hit and miss,' 'sideshaft,' or even 'flywheel' engine. Once a person knows what you're after they might remember seeing one somewhere.
It helps a lot if you're willing to drive up to a stranger's house and tell them what you're looking for.
When I was in the seed corn business, every time we had a field day I put an engine in the back of the pick up. After refreshments, I would start it up. Got several leads from farmers in attendance. I remember particularly an Amish man who told me about one over at the buggy shop under a work bench for $45. It was a Taylor Vacuum engine.
Pick a nice Saturday not in planting or harvest time, drive to any farming community with a town square, park your open bed pickup on the square with a hit and miss engine in the back and be friendly.
I haven't tried it yet, but I've thought several times about taking one of my engines that run and just parking beside a busy road with the engine running to see if anyone stops to talk. Sort of like using an engine as bait to find people curious enough to stop and see what you've got. Has anyone done this and were you successful in getting another engine?
I visualize a pickup truck parked along the road with a 4' x 8' sign mounted on the back... 'OLD ENGINES ADOPTED.' Hey, it might work!
I have made many such posters, and rotate fresh ones on the doors here at work at well . After being given a running demo, they always stop to look at the posters on the way back to the car. Newspaper ads too!
Hits are few and far in between. But time marches on. Somebody dumped a mag/ignitor JDE 1.5 at work this summer for a mere . . . oh, never mind!
There is a little bit of confusion in this thread between 'barn fresh' and 'in the wild.'
Barn fresh engines might actually run with a gasolene IV or maybe a coil. I really think we are talking about 'in the bush' as opposed to already in the collector pipeline. And come in every state of decay and decapitation any truly sick engine man could hope for.
I guess you're getting the picture that the 'barn fresh' ones are still out there. Let me add two other observations on how you'll get the 'barn fresh' ones.
First off, read the auction notices in your local papers. EVERY DAY!!
Learn to read those notices 'creatively.' The folks writing them up often haven't a clue what the item is, so the description is sometimes pretty far off. Also learn to spot the sorts of things that often will be in a barn with old engines . . . flat belt driven equipment, for example.
When you get to the auction, prowl around. Peek and poke in the nooks and crannies. Lift up tarps, move things. I once got a GREAT old water pump for a couple of bucks by waiting till near the end of the auction and asking the auctioneer, 'Hey, what about this rusty old lump here?' Got it for $5.00. Often what we prize most looks to be unsaleable so is left behind the barn. I've also found prizes in the scrap pile at an auction. I got another water pump that was tossed in with a couple of big generators. The buyer was a scrappie who wanted the copper. After the lot sold, I asked him if he'd take $10 for the old pump. You could see the mental calculation of Scrap Value = $1.50, Hmmm. $10 = Nice Profit. 'Done,' he sez. We were both happy. Also as an aside, when you're evaluating a 'barn fresh' engine, if the piston and bore are bone dry, it likely will have ZIP for compression. A few squirts of oil will make all the difference, so don't immediately write off an engine with no compression as needing a lot of work.
And while we're talking about evaluating 'barn fresh' engines at an auction, be VERY careful when checking an engine over. Some of the smaller parts might be stuck. When you start pulling the flywheels over, you've got enormous leverage. It's VERY easy to snap a rocker arm trying to push in a stuck valve. DON'T pull the flywheels until you've determined that the other bits are free.
The second way I've gotten 'barn fresh' engines is by exhibiting at 'non-engine' shows. These are shows where 90% of the 'traffic' past your exhibit is 'civilians,' folks who haven't a clue what this stuff is or what it does. BUT, 'Grandpa had one of these and we've still got it in the barn, garage, cellar, fencerow, etc. He's long gone, would you possibly be interested in it?'
Just remember one thing, you've got to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your princess. But she's out there, so pucker up!!
I find that the main attribute needed to find engines is persistence. Follow up any lead no matter how unlikely.
I got my favourite hot air engine from a remark in the pub and three years of detective work and persistence.
I heard of a 4 HP Southern Cross diesel at Broken Hill (NSW) that the guy said needed quite a bit of work. I asked how much $$ and the answer1 slab of beer. Sounds great so I packed my rations and off I went (600km round trip). Well, on the way out the middle of nowhere, I passed this huge really old looking farm house and 57 stand shearing shed! I decided to drive in and ask if they had any old engines they may sell. The answer was yes - it was an XA Cooper lighting plant.
'You have it,' he said, 'its no good to me.'
So it pays to just drop in every now and again. The guy said to come back past on the way home and he would help me load it, and I left to get to the other farm (another 30 minutes up the road) where I found the Southern Cross pulled down into a million bits and sitting in a rubbish bin with the flywheel on the ground beside it. I couldn't see the crank anywhere until I tipped the junk out of the bin and I found it, broken into three bits! I just drove 300km for a boat anchor!
I thanked the guy, gave him his beer and headed back to the other farm, where the farmer said to me, 'I have had a look around and there's a couple more if you want them (for free, just load em up).'
I left there with five engines.
So don't think that there are no engines left to find, you just gotta get off the main roads and start to do a bit of real scouting. I don't think that you can tell too many people you're interested in old iron.
Of course, there are not many genuinely 'barn fresh' engines like these about, but keep looking, asking and talking to people. A good network of contacts is very useful. Finally, bear in mind our motto: 'If you don't ask, you don't get!'
Just to let you know how it was collecting engines way back
when, here are the first 11 that I picked up in 1973 in my southern
Indiana travels. All were 'barn fresh.'
3 HP Fairbanks Morse Z - Free
1 HP Hercules -$50
3 to 5 HP IHC LA-$15
1 to2 HP IHC LA-$10
1 HP Economy - $25
1 HP IHC M - Free
1 to 2 HP IHC LB-$25
6 HP Thermoil - 2 sacks of seed corn
1 to 2 HP IHC LA-$35
2 HP ARCO-$10
2 HP Atlas 'King Bee' - 2 sacks of seed corn
In three years time I picked up 125 engines all out in the countryside. My, how times have changed.
Someone added a cautionary note:
I have to tell you about walking or driving up to someone's house. Be careful! The last time I did that I was looking down the barrel of a gun. It don't happen often but it does happen.
And for the lady who asked the original question?
These ideas have been terrific. My daughter is in a 4-H pony club that participates in a lot of local farm fairs. What a great idea to show an engine also! We've tried parking the engine at a yard sale and got a couple of interesting leads. Definitely worth trying 'cause y'all are proof that it can work. Thanks for all the great input!
So, maybe there aren't many genuine 'barn fresh' engines available these days, but you can have fun trying to track one down, and as in so many areas of this hobby, perseverance and patience should bring some results.