Trinity Treasure

Quite Possibly the Oldest Surviving Engine from the Stover Engine Works

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In far northern California is a beautiful area. It is a sparsely populated, rugged, historic gold mining country called Trinity County. This area was once powered by numerous old steam, gas and oil engines. The engines were used to power up gold stamp mills, jaw crushers, water pumps, generators and other machinery at remote mines. It's amazing to see some of this old machinery far back in the wilderness of the Trinity Alps. You really have to appreciate the effort it took to get several tons of heavy iron up into some of these remote areas. I know of an old 10 HP Fairbanks-Morse in the backcountry, which had two pulleys running a mine's water pump, ball mill and jaw crusher. It also powered up a line shaft that ran all the shop equipment.

My quest for Trinity treasures of this kind began in the late 1960s with an old friend named Jim Everest of Weaverville, Calif., who introduced me to the world of engines. Jim was shown with some of his engines in the November/December 1967 issue of Gas Engine Magazine. These engines have fascinated me all my life. Jim actually bought and operated engines for mining and home use. Fortunately, he realized the importance of preserving engines for future generations and he instilled that in me. At that time, Jim and I were the only Trinity County residents who restored and displayed engines at different events throughout the county.

Jim passed away in 1987, but he left me with his knowledge, love and expertise for engines, which I have passed on to my friends George Owens, Fred Maddox and Don Maclean, who all share the same enthusiasm and enjoyment of old engines. Together, we put together three shows annually in Trinity County: one on the Fourth of July at the Trinity County Museum gold stamp mill, one at the car show in the park in Weaverville, and one at the Trinity County Fair in Hayfork. The show at the fair in 1995 is where the story about the little vertical Stover begins.

Stover Discovery

On several occasions, a gentleman named Bob Stengel would visit the engine show at the county fair. He invited me to his ranch, which has one of the oldest barns in Trinity County. As I approached it, I noticed in front of it what I first thought to be a vertical FM-T, which at the time I needed parts for. Upon further study, I realized this was a different engine than I first perceived. I could see embossing on the old, rusty flywheel that made my heart race. Like the pop of an engine, my feet bolted from my torso and carried me to this beautiful piece of iron. There in bold letters embossed on the flywheel read, “Stover Engine Works.” Curious and excited, I drove up to the ranch house to meet Bob and his wife.

I was taken on a tour of the ranch. Bob showed me a number of engines and told me about his fondness for old iron. He said his family used one old engine, a Fuller & Johnson mounted on an original cement mixer, to shell walnuts.  

Eventually we made our way to the barn, and the Stover engine that I was drooling over. I began wondering how to ask him the big question. When I worked up the nerve, I asked, “Are there any engines you are willing to part with?” I felt like a kid asking for a second piece of candy. He looked at me and said, “No, not really.” Then he paused for a minute, looked out at the Stover and said, “Yeah, the little engine out there, I'll trade it for a running engine.” He went on to say that he could get a pop out of it, but it would never take off running.

A Done Deal

We came to an agreement that day, and with a handshake the trade was made. The little chug was mine, and I drove away from the Stengel ranch, my head full of revelations as I envisioned her chugging away.

I didn't know much about this little jewel, but I was certainly excited to have the opportunity to restore it. My friend Don Maclean gave me a hand getting my new project home, and with that accomplished, I set out to bring back the beauty of this Stover engine.

As soon as I began working on this engine, I discovered it had been used very little. There were no freeze breaks or welds anywhere, the 1-1/2 HP, 4-by-5-1/2-inch bore was in mint condition, and the nuts and bolts came free without effort. However, it had a very strange carburetor. Unable to answer the question of what mixer should be on this early model, I turned to GEM for help.

There were many responses and inquiries about the engine, but Ted Shultz of Nebraska was the voice of wisdom on this endeavor. Ted said he had a honeycomb mixer that was used on these engines and I could use it as a pattern. However, there were only 613 made, and if this was one of the first 150 of those, it would have a different mixer. He went on to say that the way to tell is by measuring the pipe thread intake hole. A 3/4-inch measurement would mean it is one of the first 150. A larger measurement would signify it was from the honeycomb pattern. My pipe hole was 3/4-inch. On the inside of the cylinder and on the block was a very nice, readable stamp of the number 128.

The number 128 is stamped both on top of the block and bottom of the head, as if they were a matched pair. The number 857, which I believe to be the serial number, is also stamped into the top of the head. I think the number 128 is consecutive for that run of 613 made. Without a doubt, this places the engine in the first 150 made that used the smaller intake hole with the 3/4-inch pipe.

Ted also conveyed to me that an older fellow confirmed that Stover engines changed mixers and switched to the honeycomb pattern after the first 150. A friend of Ted's had one of the original mixers with no engine and he was willing to loan it to me for a casting so I could machine one out. I was truly convinced when I had both first production and honeycomb mixers in my hand, and took them both apart and found out you could interchange the top for the bottom on either one. The threads and diameter were identical, which I decided was a lot more than coincidence.

Stover did a beautiful job on this set of castings and richly embossed it, not only on the flywheels, but also on the main base itself. The flywheels have two arrows on each, both pointing in the opposite direction. They are identical in size, but one set has raised embossing and the other is flat.

The reason Bob could not get the engine to turn over came to light when I pulled the engine over in the direction of the raised arrow. It became obvious it was running backwards. The mystery was solved when I took the engine apart and looked at the timing gear, which also had the cam machined on it. After careful study of the cam, I noticed a very faint, circular line. The only thing that made sense to me was that the timing could be changed to make the engine run in both directions, and this was the part that would make that happen. I put a puller on the gear and gently tugged to see if the part, which appeared to be one piece, was actually two. Sure enough, after a gentle pull, the faint line began to separate and I realized what Stover had done. By changing the cam you could run this engine in either direction by moving it to match the major arrow.

History of No. 857

Once I restored the engine, I was curious about its historical value. A family by the name of Hoz originally owned the engine. They came from the east in the 1800s and planted a vineyard on 160 acres in the Napa wine country. Mrs. Hoz was a rugged individual who would drive a mule team to San Francisco to pick up supplies. Her protection on these solo journeys was a lever-action shotgun, which I had never heard of, but Bob assured me she owned one. It was on one of these trips that she picked up the Stover engine. Apparently, the Hoz family acquired every new gadget that appeared on the market. The Stover engine was used to assist a pedal lathe, which could be run manually or by engine. I am currently restoring the pedal lathe.

Bob lived across the street from Herman Hoz, the son, and spent time watching him operate the engine. After Herman passed away, Bob's family acquired the engine, which eventually wound up in front of the old barn on the Stengel ranch in Hayfork.

Bob's account of the history of this Stover conflicts with C.H. Wendel's Power in the Past, who suggested Stover engines were manufactured just after the turn of the century. As Bob told the story, it became clear that it was purchased before the turn of the century. Unfortunately, Bob passed away a few years ago, which leaves no way to clarify the date this Stover was bought. In review of what is known, they started building these engines in 1895 with serial no. 1. If you approximate the possible number built per year up until March 10, 1903 (no. 1647), and with my number, which I estimate was built in 1898 or 1899, it coincides with Bob's account.

No matter what year this group of engines was built, they did a beautiful job of casting and embossing the 1-1/2 HP Stover engine.

All casting and machining went well with the help of friend and master machinist Gary Daebelliehn. The engine runs just great on the mixer. I must add, this group of folks devoted to restoration of old iron have big, trusting hearts. Ted and his friends didn't know me from Adam, yet they packed up the mixers and sent them to me to use as patterns. I feel fortunate to have such a great group of people to share this hobby with. That said, I must also thank the guys over at Redding Tank (Redding, Calif.) that did such a beautiful job of matching the original water tower and fuel combination tank. They did this just to help me out, and as you can see, it was not an easy task.

Contact engine enthusiast Ron Martin at: (530) 623-6617.