The Johnson Iron Horse

Machine model

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2 Donnacona Crescent Scarborough, Ontario M1E 3P9

My interest in engines began about ten years ago when visiting my sister in Milton, Ontario. It never seemed to fail that we picked the Labor Day weekend for our visits when the Steam Era Show was on. We could hear the steam whistles off in the distance, and I was told about the steam show in progress. After a couple of years I decided it was time to take a look for myself firsthand, and I was amazed at all the activity going on. I thought it would be great to own one of those engines.

I had always been somewhat mechanically inclined, so about five years ago I decided to take a night school course in small engines. Little did I know the bug had bitten. I started simply enough, overhauling all the small engines in my possession. After the first year I had run out of engines of my own, so I fixed a few for friends the second year, but soon even these were in short supply. By the third year I started buying any old engine I could find and fixing it. About this time I was working on

Briggs, as these were the easiest to find. A friend said, 'Why don't you get a cast iron one to work on?' Little did I know it, but that old iron bug had me hooked after I finished my first cast iron engine, a model 9 Briggs. I started to look for something different, and that's when I stumbled across the Johnson Iron Horse. It sure looked different with its angled cylinder and suction carburetor.

Well, now my collecting moved into high gear. Where would I find these engines that have not been made for over 40 years? The first year I found fifteen of them. Some were restorable and others would be a future parts supply. Most of the engines still had their engine tags attached, and this started the first of many puzzles what did all the model numbers mean?

The answer to this question eluded me until one day, while I was buying some Briggs parts, I asked the chap about Iron Horse engines. I asked him if he had any manuals on these engines. He did. He was kind enough to let me photocopy them. This not only answered my first question about the model numbers but started my collection of Iron Horse repair and parts manuals.

At this point I had to decide what direction this hobby would lead. Would I steer to the big hit and miss which I had longed for, or would I stay with the smaller engines? Living in the city presents a space problem. I do have a double garage, but space is at a premium, what with lawn mowers, bicycles, work bench and all the other things one ac-cumulates. With this in mind, I decided to go in the direction of the smaller engine. I could collect a wider variety, store them easily, and (only having a car and trailer) I could transport them to the shows with ease.

This brings me back to the Johnson Iron Horse: a simple little engine but rugged enough to run with little attention. It is the only four cycle engine made by Johnson. These engines were assembled at Waukegan, Illinois, and at the Peterborough, Ontario, factory. This engine seems to descend from their Utilimotor as a compact dependable engine. To quote from one of their advertising brochures they describe them this way: 'Johnson Iron Horse engines are available in two convenient sizes to develop either ? or 1.34 horsepower. The dependable Iron Horse is widely used to provide power at low cost for washing machines, lawn mowers, pumping water, electrical generators and a host of other uses on the farm, in garages, workshops or home.'

There were five basic models: X100, X200, X300, X400 and the X500. These models could be also shown as X1, X2, X3, or X4. The X100, X200, X300, X400 series all used a suction type carburetor and the same 2? inch bore and a 1 inch stroke. The X500 series has a gas tank mounted over the engine and a float carburetor. The bore is increased to 2 inches and the stroke 1 inches. With this change the horsepower is rated at 1.34- The one other combination used was a 2 inch bore with the suction carburetor; this they rated a 1 HP.

This simple engine was also used on a series of generators. They used the suction carburetor and the base became the gas tank holding about a gallon of gas which enabled the engine to run for many hours charging batteries. The Canadian army also used this generator to charge their radio batteries during the Second World War. This model featured a waterproof plug and ignition wire, air cleaner and a protective cage.

I will try and describe some of the many differences of these engines as the variations become complex. The length of a choke cable or the size of pulley will create another model, so I will keep these descriptions as simple and basic as possible, starting with the X100, X200 and the X300. With these three models the cylinder and crankcase were cast in one piece. The X200 and X300 used different suction carburetors. They all had the same starting system, which was a foot starter or hand starter depending on the model. All models utilized a mechanical governor.

With the X400 and X500 series the cylinder and crankcase were cast separately. They also used different carburetors, one suction, the other float. They shared numerous starter systems which include two types of starter handles and five different-shaped foot starters. They also had a recoil rope starter which I am told was a first. A mechanical or air vane governor were also used, as was the backup rope pulley starter. The generator sets could be started with a battery or the rope pulley starter. I have tried to keep the descriptions as accurate and simple as possible. My estimation is that there are over 100 different models.

I now have five restored and fifteen restorable engines and many parts engines which are essential in any restoring project. Five generator sets, two Bob a Lawn lawnmowers that were made in Canada, and one Evinrude Lawn Boy powered by an Iron Horse engine round out my collection.

The main reason for me writing this article is the hope of getting some more background material on this engine. It seems that the history is very sketchy as to the exact year production started and finished. I have been told that all the records at the Peterborough plant were destroyed, and Waukegan had no records either. Maybe somewhere out there someone who worked at either plant has some vital information that could be passed along answering so many questions about this engine. I would like to hear from other Iron Horse collectors who may have information they would like to share, or if I have made any mistakes I would like to hear about them.