The Rise and Fall of the Old Stover

W. O. Lewis

W. O. Lewis and grandson Neil at work producing corn meal from the grist mill.

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P.O. Box 189, Hurley, New York 12504.

It was a clear Hudson Valley morning, with a light breeze and a temperature of about sixty degrees. I was making final preparations for a trip back to visit the people and places of my youth in Ohio and Kentucky. Driving past an old junk shop, I decided to stop by and look for a couple of parts that you just can't find in hardware stores anymore.

While browsing, something caught my eye. Stored outside, against a barn wall and covered by plastic, was something which looked remarkably like the flywheel of an old one-cylinder engine. I wandered over to take a closer look. Sure enough, there was a Stover CT 2? horse engine buried under a pile of other 'treasures.' It was, to my eyes, a beauty-dual flywheels, sleek lines, and seemingly intact. Twenty minutes later, somewhat lighter in the wallet, I drove away with that engine.

I got started with engines as a way to spend time with my grandfather, W. O. Lewis. He was an engineer with G. E., now retired, and if you hang around him for very long, you naturally end up knowing a little something about these old engines. Figuring he might be interested, I took the Stover along on my tour of the countryside between New York and Kentucky.

Over the course of several visits and a couple of years, we became partners in this engine, and managed to fix it up-a cracked head, a bent valve, a magneto which needed adjustment-the usual stuff. I will confess that I did more watching than working, but it was still quite a triumph when that engine turned over and began to chug away, breaking the late afternoon calm of the quiet little village of Pumpkin Creek, Kentucky, as it settled into a hit-and-miss cycle.

A couple of weeks later the engine made its way over to a show held during Jamestown, Kentucky's Community Days. I wasn't there, but my brother Neil said it was a good day-all of the engines on the trailer ran well. On the way back to Pumpkin Creek, though, disaster struck. The Stover is a bit top-heavy, and when you combine that with a winding road and a sharp turn, well, the engine took a tumble. Neil later described the scene as a rather spectacular event, what with the engine going through a series of flips, turns, and bounces as it danced down the highway.

It wasn't such a terrible blow, though. W. O., being an engineer, is not one for full engine restoration-he just likes to get 'me running, and had begun to lose interest in the Stover now that it was running. This is quite a contrast to his engine buddy Gilbert Knight, of Jamestown, who does just about the best full restoration work of anyone I know, and probably spends more time restoring than actually running the engines.

Getting this one to run again seemed pretty much impossible to me, but we decided to give it a try. I found a parts engine advertised in GEM, bought it by absentee bid at an auction up on the New York-Canada border from a fellow named Bob Shirley, who then managed to get it as close as Tennessee, where my grandfather picked it up outside a general store. 'Fellow came by earlier, unloaded this engine, and said you'd be coming directly to pick it up'. Engine people are just the right kind of strange to make something like this happen.

A year later, the 'new and improved' engine was hauled to the Mammoth Cave Engine Club's show at Joel Ray Sprowl's Lincoln Jamboree, next door to Abraham Lincoln's birthplace. My father Jim, Uncle Nick, Grandfather W. O. and I spent the next two days running that engine (and a few others) long and hard, catching up on family news in between tinkering sessions. Danged if that engine didn't run better than any other we took with us.

That old Stover has had three lifetimes-a rise and fall on some New York farm; an overhaul and then a fall after its first show; and now, following another overhaul, it has earned its way back onto the show trailer. Pretty good for a pile of rusty iron.