Trash to Treasure

Collector puts a lot of work into restoring his Keller engine

BruceKnight1906KellerEngine.jpg

Bruce Knight with his 1906 Keller engine made by Bloomer Machine Works of Bloomer, Wis.

Photo by Bob Crowell

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While viewing the unusually large turnout of gas engine displays at the 18th annual Power of the Past show in Greensburg, Ind., last August, Bruce Knight caught my attention. Bruce, an avid collector of gas engines and a longtime friend, directed me to his latest restored project. "This project has to be the biggest restoration accomplishment I have undertaken," said Bruce. "I really got into a lot of difficult challenges with this little 3 HP engine."

The engine is a Keller, and Bruce bought it from Don Elkins, a friend who used to travel with Bruce to the many shows throughout Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky and Illinois. Don had purchased the engine with hopes of someday restoring it, but he lost interest and decided to sell it to Bruce.

The Keller engine was manufactured between 1906 and 1915 by Bloomer Machine Works, of Bloomer, Wis. Charles Keller started the machine shop in 1905, and Bruce believes his 3 HP engine was built around 1906 according to the engine serial number. There were three sizes of engines available - 1-1/2, 3 and 5 HP - and they were sold with a one-year guarantee. The Keller engine was a lower-priced engine at $55 for a 5 HP compared to a similar size Fairbanks priced at $130. Evidently, a lot of Keller engines were shipped to Australia, according to past records, and the low price might have been why. The castings were hollow, making them lighter for shipping to foreign markets.

Bruce purchased the engine one year ago and started the painstaking, expensive restoration process. The engine had to be sleeved, and the valves and valve guides had to be searched out and purchased. Also, the connecting rod was missing although someone years ago attempted to make a replacement. Bruce was sure it was too heavy for the little engine. "The rod with the engine was a good attempt and bushed well, but the weight was over 15 pounds and I felt that was too heavy for this 3 HP engine," said Bruce. "I spent a lot of time looking for another rod but I really didn't know the exact length.

"Lewis Keyes in Louisville, Ky., helped me with the restoration, and we learned of a few other collectors who had a Keller engine. They very graciously helped with some of the critical specifications that we needed for our replacement parts. We soon learned of Tom Johnson in Lafayette, Ind., who owns all three sizes of the Keller engines." Tom proved very helpful to Bruce, enabling him to see the exact finished engine that he wanted to build. "Dwayne Bailey in Linville, Ind., also had a 3 HP Keller and helped me with specifications for the many replacement part sizes I needed," said Bruce.

Bruce knows of only six Keller engines around his traveled area.

Contact Bruce Knight, 8005 Dale Court, Georgetown, IN 47112 • (812) 951-3699

Bob and Linda Crowell travel to many antique farm equipment shows throughout the Midwest promoting steam, gas engine and antique tractor magazines. Reach them at P.O. Box 103, Batesville, IN 47006 • vintage equipmags@yahoo.com • www.shopbobsbarns.com

randy ackley
1/24/2013 9:09:45 PM

Keller engines were not built in just 3 sizes. They also built a 1hp engine...I know of 2 of them. There's also a 6hp known. It's believed that the 6hp is merely a 5hp that was revamped...it was sold to & used by the City Shops of Eau Claire, WI. Keller moved operations to Eau Claire, WI around 1916 to Gillette Rubber Co. & they then merged with Eau Claire Mfg., Co. in 1918. A friend of mine owns a 1-1/2hp with a Gillette tag & I own a 1-1/2hp with an Eau Claire Mfg. Co. tag. Engine manufacturing ceased about 1920. Charlie Keller lived on Jefferson Ave. in Eau Claire & built power hacksaws...I also own one of those.