The Real Field of Dreams

A goldmine discovered in Wisconsin


4 HP Christensen, 1-1/2 HP Termaat & Monahan, 3-1/2 HP “Leader” Field Force pump.

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I started collecting engines 60-plus years ago at the age of 8. I still have my first engine, a Model 92 Maytag, which was given to me by my uncle. He spent several months trying to get it running with no success. After discovering I couldn't shock the neighborhood kids by letting them holding the plug wire, I asked one of the men who worked at the junkyard down the road how to fix the spark. He said the condenser was probably bad. After removing the inspection plate on the flywheel, he showed me where the condenser was. He then gave me a handful of used ones, and I?spent hours figuring out how to make a condenser that wasn't made for the engine fit into the space available. It started on the third or fourth kick, and when my uncle found out about it he wouldn't talk to me for six months.

From that time until I finished high school, I accumulated about a dozen more engines, mostly Briggs & Stratton and a couple of air-cooled Lausons plus a 4-cycle Jacobsen lawn mower engine with overhead valves and two pushrods, which I learned much later is a very scarce engine (I detest the over use of the term "rare" and only use it to identify items where only one or two are known). After high school, I enlisted in the Navy, and on being discharged I began an apprenticeship in machine maintenance at American Motors Corp. in Kenosha, Wis. During this time I also got married, started a family and built a house, so the engine collecting went on the back burner for several years.

Some time in the mid-1970s, while at a farm auction, I wound up bidding on a pile (literally) of old flywheel engines, which I won for the princely sum of $7.50. In the pile were a couple of Fairbanks-Morse Zs, an IHC LA, an engine with no name that turned out to be an Economy, and a strange looking thing that I thought was an air compressor, but was actually a Baker Monitor pump jack engine.

I spent some time repairing and cleaning these engines and got all but the Monitor running in a few weeks. I restored the Monitor a couple of years later. I played with these toys for a few years but never showed any of them. In 1985, while trying to select a Christmas gift for me, my wife saw American Gasoline Engines Since 1872 advertised in a catalog, and remembering the engines I had in the shop, ordered a copy for me. This book was a real eye-opener. I had no idea that there were so many types and varieties of old engines and my wife had no idea of the can of worms she was opening. Over the next four years, I won a few more engines at farm auctions and bought a couple more from vendors at shows that I had started to attend. Then in 1989, at the age of 52, I retired from my job at American Motors and started my own machine shop business.

The business did well, and with more discretionary income and free time, I purchased a few more engines. About 1995, it began to occur to me that a large number of the old flywheel-type engines had been built in Wisconsin. The production of just two companies, Fairbanks-Morse in Beloit and International Harvester at the Milwaukee Works, accounted for close to 50 percent of all these engines ever built in the U.S. I started a list of the Wisconsin-built engines I knew of, which now exceeds 200, and began to direct my collecting interests almost exclusively to these engines. I now have over 100 Wisconsin-built engines from about 30 different manufacturers.

In the Fall of 2004, I saw an engine in an eBay auction that was listed as "unknown maker," but I recognized it as a small Simplicity. I had been looking for one of these for quite some time, so I placed a bid and a few days later was notified that I was the high bidder. I contacted the owner and found that the engine was in far northwestern Wisconsin. Because of the machine shop business, it was the middle of November before I could get away to pick it up.

While planning the trip, I saw an auction listed in our state farm paper with a couple of engines to be auctioned off. This sale was in the Wausau, Wis., area so I planned to go to the auction and pick up the Simplicity the next morning. The two engines in the auction were described as "John Deere 1-1/2 HP" and "a second large engine." You can imagine my amazement when I arrived at the auction site and discovered that the "large engine" was a complete and very original Lauson-Lawton 6 HP with factory trucks. Of course I had to buy it and because I only had the pickup and not the trailer, I loaded the trucks for the engine and left the engine to pick up later. The next morning, I went to the farm where the Simplicity engine was. While we were loading the engine, the farmer asked me if I would be interested in some other engines. I explained that I collect only Wisconsin-built engines and he said he thought that was what most of them were.

I didn't quiz the owner too closely, but as I was following him to the other farm where the engines were stored, I couldn't help but think this was going to be a bunch of LAs and LBs or FMZs with lots of parts missing. When we arrived at the other farm, I changed my mind instantly! The very first engine I saw was a 6 HP Thompson Tiger on trucks and right behind it was an 8 HP John Lauson on factory trucks. These engines were very complete. The Lauson still had the original clutch and the factory magneto. And the Thompson still had the Lunkenheimer mixer. We walked through this "field of dreams" and I kept seeing more and more engines, and not a common one in the bunch. I finally counted 25 engines. I immediately asked the price of the Thompson and purchased it on the spot. I made a preliminary list of what was in the field, but because I wasn't expecting to find this treasure trove, I hadn't packed a camera. Of course the drive home that day was a wild jumble of thoughts. Finally, about the time I got home I decided another trip to the field to examine the engines more closely was necessary and an attempt to purchase the entire collection was the only logical course to follow.

I phoned Bill, the owner of the engines, and told him I would like a chance to buy all of the engines. Bill agreed not to sell any of the engines for a few weeks. Since a couple of the engines in the field were IHCs, I contacted my friend Chris, who collects everything IHC, and we decided to pick up the Lauson-Lawton and a couple of other engines I owned that were in the Wausau area and then go up to look at the field. The late November day we went to pick up the engines dawned cold, clear and windy. We collected the three engines in Wausau without incident and proceeded on to the field where we arrived about an hour before sunset. The wind was blowing at about 25 MPH and the temperature was 5 degrees Fahrenheit above zero. There were several inches of snow on the ground and with the fading light it gave the field a surreal look that I will never forget.

This time I had the camera, so I took a bunch of photos. I also made a detailed list of the engines and the condition of each one. Since I only had an hour of light, I had to move pretty fast. Meanwhile, Chris was bouncing around from engine to engine like a kid in a toy store. He has a better eye for detail than I do, so his input during the later negotiations was invaluable.

Later, on the ride home, we decided that Chris would buy a 10 HP Famous, hopper-cooled on factory trucks, and a 4 HP Famous on an early-style IHC hay press. The hay press is 27 feet long and I really had no place to keep it anyway. I then spent the next couple of weeks agonizing over how much to pay for the remaining 22 engines.

After a little haggling, I bought the field just before Dec. 25, 2004. Wow! What a Christmas present! Because there was already a foot of snow on the field, we let the engines sit until Spring. Chris and I both have 1-ton Dodge duelies with Cummins diesels and 16-foot flatbed trailers, so we made two trips and the engines were all home. Because of several things, including an auction I had last Spring to thin the herd, I have only had time to get three of the engines running. They are the 3 HP Alpha, which is a real sweet, slow-running engine with lots of original paint; the 8 HP O.K. or as they are more commonly called, Algoma, for the northeastern Wisconsin city where they were built (this one needed some piston work, but it is also a nice runner); and the 5 HP Western King, which I did a complete restoration on.

This August, the Badger Steam and Gas Engine Club in Baraboo, Wis., will feature Wisconsin-built products and I will try to have a lot of this new old iron ready to show. One of the more amazing things about these engines is the fact that except for a few oilers, grease cups and mufflers, the only parts missing are two igniters. Since I am already an "old fart" this is probably the adventure of a lifetime, and I will never forget my first sight of "The Real Field of Dreams."

Contact Dan Dorece at: 4814 47th Ave., Kenosha, WI 53133-2029.