The Oldest Friend?

Motor-pump assembly

Old Friend #123, the last motor-pump assembly made in the 1904 production year. A much lighter engine than #395, this engine probably proved to be too under-powered for the demands of greater pump pressures and better spray coverage.

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6190 Keller Avenue Newfane, New York 14108

I suppose it is a natural inclination among engine collectors to want to own the oldest example of a particular favorite engine. With possession of the oldest known engine of a certain brand comes some ill-defined bragging rights. If we are brave, we may publicly state our claim to fame as the owner of the 'oldest' in a line of engines. It's a bit like playing that childhood game, 'King of the Mountain.' However, one gets to get on top only until someone with a lower serial number comes along to shove us off into that much less glorious and prestigious category owner of the second oldest engine known. On the other hand, such a bold statement may serve the purpose of smoking out older engines for examination and further education. If one's ego can absorb the punishment, claiming top-of-the-hill may help students of enginology to learn more about their engines. Often, there will be someone willing, if able, to help us to be more humble; to educate us if the situation calls for it. In hopes of learning more, I'd like to brag that I have the oldest known Friend engine in existence. Yessiree, t'aint none older that I know of. If you say there is, prove it! If you prove it then, of course, I'd like to buy it.

My oldest Friend engine is serial number 123, the last engine made in the 1904 production year. It was the engine on the twenty-third Friend power sprayer built. When it comes to the history of gasoline engines powering agricultural sprayers, old Friend engine #123 dates back almost to the dawn of time! To my knowledge, it is the oldest Friend-made engine in existence. As such, it has much potential to contribute to our knowledge of the evolution of Friend design technology in the formative years of this remarkable company.

My share of the story of Friend #123 begins at the premier engine show of New York State, the 1995 Pageant of Steam held at Canandaigua. In previous years, we made the two hour journey so that I could drink in the sights and buy some parts that I needed. My wife enjoys the flea market and I learn much from just looking at the beautiful engines, whether rusted or restored. But in 1995, it was different. I was a man on a mission to locate and purchase a Friend air-cooled engine if one could be had. When we arrived on Saturday, we were told that there had been two such engines at the show. One was already sold and one was not for sale. We found the not-for-sale engine and admired it. The serial number indicated a 1909 assembly date. The engine was virtually the same as Ron Polle's air-cooled Friend engine exhibited at our Friend Engine Round-up held in Newfane in May of 1995. Much to my dismay, Ron had not been willing to part with his engine and neither was this man at Canandaigua. No one knew who had purchased the other air-cooled engine at the show. We departed the Pageant of Steam and Canandaigua as light as we had come, having enjoyed ourselves, but not successful in completing my mission. I had been a day late and a dollar short.

The summer was slipping away and with it, my hopes of finding an air-cooled Friend engine at one of the area's engine shows. My wife suggested that I advertise my wants in GEM, and I did so. With great care, an advertisement was constructed and submitted to GEM's 'Wanted' section.

Enter the fickle hand of Fate: Before the advertisement had a chance to appear, Ron Polle decided to offer me a chance to purchase his air-cooled engine. Was I interested in bringing the engine back home to the Gasport area where Friends were made? Most definitely! Ron set his price and I met it. A few weekends later, Beth and I drove to Brockport to see Ron, and to pick up Friend #395, a 1908 air-cooled engine in excellent shape. I had completed my 'mission' successfully and had shot my wad of fun money for the summer. Having purchased what I figured would be the only available air-cooled Friend engine around, I was content. Life had a nice balance to it. I had the engine I wanted and had no thought of buying another.

Second entry of 'Fickle Fate' I remained content from Saturday around 2:00 p.m. until Monday around 3:30 p.m. about two days. Even as I was picking up Ron's engine, Max was mailing a letter to me, describing his air-cooled Friend engine that might be available photos enclosed. Jehosaphat! Max's photos pictured an even older engine than Ron's, complete with a very early Friend pump. Despite the lack of mad-money to play with, a call to Max would do no harm. Undoubtedly, the price would be too high for my wallet. This would protect me from any thoughts of purchase. I was resolved only to 'window shop to thank Max for thinking of me and to take the opportunity to extend my knowledge of Friend engine development.

My resolve to remain frugal began to weaken as soon as Max and I commenced talking. He had bought his, Friend engine the month before, up at the Pageant of Steam Show in Canandaigua. He now wanted to sell it. In fact, Max's engine was the very same engine that I had missed at Canandaigua by a day. Fate was giving me another chance. It was all too mystical for me too good to be true. I began to rationalize the benefits of ownership over increased debt structure. Finding such impossible, I abandoned rational thinking and the 'how' of buying, moving immediately to the 'when' of picking the engine up. The latter issue was narrowed down to mid-October, giving me some time to worry about the 'how' of it all later.

So it was that beautiful autumn Saturday found us on the road to Max's house in the Southern Tier of New York State. It would be poetic to say that the trip alone was worth the price of the engine. Hardwood trees flamed in bursts of emotion, anticipating surrender to the winds and rains of November. Little towns rose up and disappeared in our rear view mirror as we passed through the land of the Senecas, keepers of the western door of the Iroquois longhouse.

Also home to New York's wine industry, the smell of warm, musky grapes drifted out of the hillside vineyards and over the roads. On such a day in the company of one's beloved spouse, what oaf could think of greasy old engines? You may refer to me as 'Mr. Oaf if you please. I was still a man on a MISSION to retrieve the oldest known Friend engine and to bring it home!

In due time, we found Max's house and received a most warm greeting. Very quickly, two young men with backs much better than mine loaded Friend #123 on the floor of my truck. Like Mr. Nelson, we were on the road again headed home via Watkins Glen and Canandaigua, both villages famous for engines, but engines of such different complexities as to dazzle the mind. Several miles short of home, we detoured into the east end of the village of Gasport to take this wonderful old engine past its birthplace, past the birthplace of Friend Manufacturing Company over 100 years ago. I was very, very content.

Have I mentioned the fickleness of Fate? Max was not the only one to see my advertisement in GEM. A few days after our visit to pick up Max's engine, the telephone rang. 'Do you still want to buy an air-cooled Friend engine?' the fellow from New England asked. Of course, he asked that question because he had one for sale, different than either of the two I now had. There is only so much a man can rationalize away. I still have two air-cooled Friend engines and the man in New England, as far as I know, still has one. I am a shade less content than I was before but not so discontent that I am planning a long trip to the East. Perhaps that will be next summer's mission. For now, I'd like to share what Friend engine #123 has taught me.

The engine is far less robust than later models, more light in weight. Rather than a solid thick base, this engine's base is open underneath the crank a hollow box supporting the cylinder head on one end with main bearings on the back corners. The base continues out from the off-flywheel side to support the separately mounted single piston pump. The unit is clearly 'a missing link' in Friend's evolution from builders of hand powered spray pumps to engine-powered models. It is a hand powered spray pump married to an air-cooled engine, two separate identities brought together to gain efficiency in completing an arduous task the killing of bugs on fruit trees. The engine is small, perhaps generating about 1.5 horsepower. All the essentials of the next thirty years of Friend flywheel engine production are present yet different, more primitive. Although most of the casting work is refined, the area where cylinder bolts to base looks as if the mold pattern was hacked out with an ax. Unlike later engines where two machined faces meet, the fate of the cylinder bolts up to a conical projection from the base, leaving a gap between the two. Main bearings lie on a slant with relatively light caps hosting oil cups to lubricate the crankshaft. Other points of lubrication on both engine and pump are served by a bank of four oilers carried on the pressure tank of the pump, copper lines snaking to the drip-point. The bronze connecting rod is cast into a very pleasing quatrefoil cross-section as it flows from wrist pin to crank. The impression one gets is that of a delicately made light duty engine. It must have been so even in fact. In 1907 and quite probably earlier, Friend was producing a much more robust engine with simplified design marked by heavy castings and much bracing to stress points.

A little over three years separate the two air-cooled Friend engines I have. Engine#123, the last engine of the 1904 production year, must be considered a transitional unit. It stands as a summation of the first four years of gasoline-powered agricultural sprayer experimentation. It clearly demonstrates a key stage in the evolution of Friend's development from hand powered pumps to hand pumps powered by gasoline engines. Made in very early 1908, engine #395 marks a larger, better constructed air-cooled engine made to take a pump uniquely designed for it. Changes between Friend engine #123 and engine #395 exhibit important changes in Friend Manufacturing Company's product philosophy as they underwent the inevitable maturing process occasioned by their success. Trial in the market-place obviously called for a stronger engine to withstand the mechanical stresses imposed by movement over rough terrain while under power. Demand for more spray coverage begged a bigger, stronger, more efficient pump. Such a pump demanded a more powerful engine an engine like #395 with thick cast iron base, well braced to support the main bearings and solid cast to deny any flexing that could lead to cracking. Yet in 1908, air-cooled engines like #395 were losing dominance in the Friend engine line to the open hopper water-cooled engines. By 1910, both air-cooled engine #123 and #395 and like types were on the verge of obsolescence. Too light, too small, too weak, too bad! Time and Friend technology marched on to that litany that has been chanted so often in America's twentieth century Bigger, better, faster, stronger, cheaper the only way to go!' It seems that, as I run my Friend engines, I can hear the chant put to music in the sounds of a working machine. In fact, to my ear, all old fly-wheeled gas engines seem to sing this same song as they breathe into life again.

'Bigger, better, faster, stronger, cheaper the only way to go!

Bigger, better, faster, stronger, cheaper the only way to go!'

Yet, in chanting their song, our old friends sing their own epitaphs, dinosaurs of the Age of Internal Combustion. How wonderful that we have them around to remind us of an earlier time when they were wonders of high technology. Yessiree, there is nothing like an old friend. I may have the oldest Friend of all. But then, again, maybe not.

I hope to show these two engines, as well as others, at the Town of Newfane Historical Society's Apple Blossom Festival and Second Annual Friend Engine Roundup, May 19, 1996.

FRIEND Serial Number Index 1901 through 1913

Serial Number

Year of Man

Number of Units




102 & 103



104 through 109



110 through 123



124 through 201



202 through 271



272 through 376



377 through 536



537 through 673



674 through 938



939 through 1414



1415 through 1891



1892 through 2317



2318 through??



* Friend Manufacturing Company's serial number list breaks with #2318 as the first motor-pump assembly of 1914 and does not resume until 1917 when a new serial numbering system commences. (List courtesy of Friend Manufacturing Company, Gasport, New York with modifications by the author to correct period 1901 -1903).