The Uncommon Lauson Engines

Looking Beyond Frost Kings at Unusual Lauson Engines

Lauson Engines

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Most engine collectors are familiar with the more well-known models of Lauson engines such as the spoke flywheel Frost King series, the disc-flywheel W Series and the various small air-cooled models built during the 1930s, 1940s and early 1950s. Our purpose here, however, is to take a look at the now-uncommon Lauson engine models that were produced between the early 1900s and 1956.

Readers seeking a comprehensive account covering the history and development of Lauson engines and tractors built prior to 1956 should refer to the November and December 1996 issues of Gas Engine Magazine. In general, nearly all models of the Lauson horizontal engines and many of the later 'high speed' engines could be equipped with a gas mixer for running on natural or manufactured gas instead of gasoline. Engines factory-equipped with gas mixers are much less common than those equipped with gasoline mixers. Throttle-governed variations of both the spoke flywheel and W Series engines seem less common than those equipped as hit-and-miss.

The Engines

Around 1910, the John Lauson Manufacturing Company introduced a small horizontal hopper-cooled engine rated at 1 HP at 500-550 rpm. This engine (Figure 1) was designated the Model Z, and it appears in Catalog 14 of circa 1910-1911. In magazine ads, the engine was called 'The Baby Frost King'.1 Except for the ignition system, the basic design of this engine was similar to that of the 2-1/2 HP to 5 HP models also shown in Catalog 14. The Baby Frost King was built with a high-tension, spark plug/buzz coil/battery ignition system, whereas the standard ignition system on all the other Lauson models at that time was a low-tension, igniter/coil/battery system (jump spark ignition was available as an option on all other sizes of Lauson engines). The Baby Frost King was equipped with a water-cooled cylinder head, suction-feed gasoline mixer and hit-and-miss governor. Production of the Baby Frost King probably ceased sometime around 1913.

Also shown in Catalog 14 is a two-cylinder horizontally opposed engine (Figure 2) described as being produced in 'sizes greater than 25 HP.' These engines were built only in a plain-cylinder (not hopper-cooled) design with a flat, double throw crankshaft. Fuel was gas or gasoline. They featured mechanical operation of the intake and exhaust valves, throttle-governing and air-to-head starting. A complete air starting system, including the air compressor, was furnished with the engine. This model does not appear in Catalog 18, which is dated 1916.

Sometime around 1913, Lauson introduced two- and four-cylinder vertical engines with ratings of 18, 25, 36, 50, 80 and 100 HP. By this time, Lauson was building engines for the DeLaval Dairy Supply Company, which were sold under the Alpha name. Two- and four-cylinder versions of these engines are referenced in the DeLaval-Alpha engines Catalog C 8-13, which is dated 1913.

Four-cylinder versions with ratings of 35, 50 and 60 HP at 450 rpm and 80 and 100 HP at 300 rpm are described in Lauson Catalog 18 of 1916 (Figures 3 and 4). These engines were designed to operate primarily on kerosene (with gasoline starting), although the description also references 'power distillate,' gas, gasoline, 'motor spirits' and alcohol fuels. The general construction of these engines featured individual cylinders and cylinder heads, an enclosed crankcase with five main bearings and one outboard bearing. Both valves were mechanically operated. The main bearing and cylinder lubrication was by force feed, with splash oiling used for the crankpins. A throttling-governor was used, with a separate carburetor for each cylinder. The ignition system consisted of a single, low-tension Sumpter magneto and an igniter at each cylinder. A brass bus bar was used to take voltage from the magneto to the igniters. Air starting was standard equipment on the 80 HP and 100 HP versions and included a 1-1/2 HP engine, air compressor and air tank. The smaller versions used a 'hand starter,' but air starting was an option. Production of these engines probably ceased sometime around 1918.

Also shown in Catalog 18 are 40 and 50 HP single-cylinder horizontal models rated at 235 rpm (Figure 5). These engines were described primarily as kerosene engines, but the fuel list also includes 'power distillate,' 'motor spirits,' gas and gasoline. These models were available only in plain-cylinder versions. A Madison-Kipp force-feed lubricator, feeding the main bearings, crank pin and cylinder, was standard equipment. The throttling-governor carburetor was mounted above the cylinder head and the general construction of these models was in accordance with the smaller Lauson models. Production of these engines probably ceased sometime around 1918.

'Special Electric' variations of the spoke flywheel models, designed for driving direct-lighting electric generators, became available around 1913. Many Lauson Special Electric engines were sold as the driver on Edison Company electric lighting plants. These throttle-governed engines were equipped with extra-heavy flywheels but were otherwise similar to 'regular' Lauson engine models.

Catalog C 8-13 illustrates kerosene burning Special Electric engines, equipped with the above-head carburetor (Figure 6). This style of carburetor was used on the Lauson kerosene burning engines until approximately 1917-1918.

Catalog 18 indicates that the Special Electric engines were available in plain-cylinder and hopper-cooled styles, in sizes from 2-1/2 to 50 HP. A gasoline-fueled version is shown, with the suction feed carburetor located beneath the cylinder head. Figure 7 illustrates a gasoline-fueled Special Electric engine equipped with a Madison-Kipp force-feed lubricator. A 1918 price list indicates that the Special Electric range covered 3 to 28 HP and that the engines could also be ordered for burning gaseous fuels. An instruction book published sometime in the 1919-1924 era indicates that the Special Electric engines were still available in both the hopper-cooled and plain-cylinder styles, for gas, gasoline and kerosene fuels, ranging from 3 to 18 HP (by that time, 18 HP was the top of the line for the 'regular' Lauson engines). The circa 1924 and 1928 catalogs indicate that the Special Electric engines were only available as 6, 8, 12, 14 and 18 HP plain-cylinder models. Production of the Special Electric engines probably ceased sometime around 1930. These engines are not described in Catalog A of 1930 (date unconfirmed).

W Series Engines

The W Series disc-flywheel, hopper-cooled models are considered by many collectors to be 'common engines,' but even this series has some uncommon variations. In the 1924-1925 era, the 3-1/2 HP Model WB was also available in a plain-cylinder variation (Figure 8). The plain-cylinder WB variation does not appear in mid-1920s and later catalogs. When the W Series was first introduced, the standard ignition system was a low-tension rotary magneto and igniter (although a battery and coil system could be special-ordered). Starting with serial number 40,000, the standard ignition system became the Wico EK high-tension magneto with spark plug. As an option to the EK magneto, a battery/buzz coil high-tension ignition system was available (Figure 9).

R Series Engines

As shown in Catalog A of circa 1930, with production of new air- and water-cooled 'high speed' models well underway, Lauson was building variations of air-cooled models RA, RAU and RAY featuring a unique lubrication system that was called a 'bottle oiler.' Figure 10 is a picture of a gas-fueled Model RAG engine equipped with the bottle oiler.

With this system, an oil supply bottle is located in a housing attached to the engine base; the bottle was described as being similar to the kerosene supply bottle used on kerosene-fueled kitchen stoves. The engine crankcase is isolated from the engine base by a sheet metal plate having a stamped trough beneath the connecting rod and an oil pickup tube (with check ball) that extends into an oil reservoir in the base, downstream of the bottle. On each upstroke of the piston, crankcase pressure decreases, allowing oil to move through the pickup tube to fill the trough. A dipper on the connecting rod then splashes the oil to the moving parts. Apparently, engines equipped with the bottle oiler system were not produced for a very long period, because they are not shown in Catalog B of circa 1933-1934.