Kankakee Engines

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R.R. 2, Haubstadt, Indiana 47639

Several years ago I ran into a friend of mine one day and in the conversation I asked if he knew the whereabouts of any old gas engines in the neighborhood. He said that there was one at his place in the junk, and it was a Kankakee. After I got home and looked through Ruben Michelson's list of 1600 gas engine names, there was no Kankakee listed. Whoopee! We had stumbled onto something rare. Several days later I went by his place and he was there working on some farm equipment in front of the shop. He told me to go around behind the shed because the junk pile was back there, and he would be there in a minute. I looked and couldn't see a sign of a gas engine any place. Directly he came back there and showed me where it was. Only the corner of the water hopper and the edge of one flywheel were visible. We dug away the grass, dirt, leaves, hickory nut shells and iron until it was about half exposed. We grabbed the flywheel and rolled it the rest of the way out of the dirt. On the side of the water hopper was a raised area with an Indian head in a circle and the words Kewanee Water Supply, Kewanee, Illinois. Well, that wasn't as rare as a Kankakee, but it was plenty good enough for me.

You couldn't tell much else about it because it was all covered and filled with dirt and trash, but I bought it anyway. He got out his loader tractor and we put it into the back of the pick-up. Once home, I unloaded it with the fork-lift and set it on the ground. We turned the hose on it and washed until we could wash off no more. It was truly a real rusty mess and kind of an odd engine.

The Kewanee sat around our shop for a while and every now and then the boys and I would look at it and wonder what we would ever do with it. We squirted it here and there with solvent and finally decided to see if it would come apart. Believe it or not, every nut, bolt, pin and screw came out. It must have been well oiled at one time. The bearings were all brass on the crank and cam shaft. All springs were rusted away along with the pipe parts, and some of the operating mechanism was rusted and eroded away beyond use. Of course the piston was stuck, but luckily it was only 1/2' from the rest of the cylinder. Since the Kewanee is headless, we couldn't look inside.

After everything else was apart, we sat the cylinder and hopper part on end with the rod sticking out the bottom. Through the spark plug hole we put a mixture of diesel fuel and automatic transmission fluid and let it soak. Three months later it began to look a littly oily looking around the bottom side. We put the whole thing away on the shelf and sort of forgot about it for about a year.

In late 1976 we decided to get the pieces out and try to restore it. We took out the valves, polished the stems, reseated them and made new springs and put them back in. We filled the cylinder with 40 weight motor oil and fitted the spark plug hole with a grease fitting. Three tubes of grease later we had a grand mess on the floor, but the piston had come out. Would you believe the rings were free on the piston and that we just cleaned the piston, rings and cylinder up and put the same parts back in? That is pretty good for an engine with the connecting rod rusted half way through because of the water that sat in the back side of the piston.

After looking at an engine some 200 miles away at Tipton, Indiana, we were able to remake all the damaged parts needed for the governor, push rod assembly and the electrical system. We sent the fuel pump to Gordy Nelson for rebuilding and by early spring we had the whole thing put back together and painted red. We don't know the proper color, but the previous owner remembers painting it Chinese red many years ago. We made an oak skid for it with a battery and coil box. Eventually a friend of ours painted up the Indian head medallions to suit her own taste and did a fine job of it.

We still didn't have it all. There were two tapped holes for a connecting rod shield. I asked the previous owner about that and he found that for us some four years after we got the engine.

The Kewanee engine is unique in several respects. It is headless and has all the operating parts on the opposite side from most other engines. The operating parts all line up in a straight line behind the exhaust valve stem. The flywheels are rather heavy and have a slight crown rather than a flat face. It appears to be about 2? HP. The brass name plate merely states 'Kewanee Private Utilities, Kewanee, Illinois, type B No. 4338.' It starts easily and runs nice and smooth.

We removed the vertical exhaust pipe for the picture so the Kewanee medallion on the side of the water hopper would show.