United Engine Is a Workhorse

This 1-2/4 HP United engine has been working hard since the beginning of the 20th century
By John M. Gaul
December 2012/January 2013
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This 1-3/4 HP United engine has been working hard since the beginning of the 20th century. 
Photo By John M. Gaul
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The following is a summary of the working life of a 1-3/4 HP hit-and-miss United engine that was built in Lansing, Mich., around the beginning of the 20th century. It was purchased used by my dad’s older brother in 1908 from a blacksmith shop in Earling, Iowa, where it was belted to an overhead line shaft that drove a forge, grinding wheel and drill press. My uncle bought the United engine from the blacksmith to run his corn elevator, pump jack and a home-built concrete mixer.

• In 1915 my dad bought the United from his brother to drive a pump jack and my mother’s washing machine.

• In 1926 Dad built a 20-by-30-foot hog house with an attached 14-by-36-foot feeding floor. All the concrete for this hog house and feeding floor was mixed with a home-built rotary mixer driven by the United engine.

• In 1927 Dad built an addition on his house in which he set a 32-volt Delco Remy engine/generator and 16 glass jar batteries. This new Delco Remy engine generator, besides keeping the batteries charged, became the new prime mover for the washing machine; however, the concrete foundation and floor of this 8-by-14-foot addition was mixed by the United.

• In 1929 Dad built a two-story 16-by-36-foot combination two car garage/workshop. It had a dirt floor but a concrete foundation. The same mixer was used for this job and powered by the United engine.

• In 1930 Dad built a 14-by-36-foot combination cob shed, feed and calf shed next to his hog feeding floor. All the concrete for the foundation was mixed by the United.

• Then in 1939 Dad built a 15-by-26-foot granary. All the concrete for the foundation and floor was mixed in that same home-built rotary mixer driven by the United.

I was old enough at this time to be the water boy, hauling the water in buckets from the cistern to the site in a coaster wagon.

• During the war, 1943, Dad was permitted to build a 24-by-32-foot combination cattle/henhouse. The building had a concrete foundation, and the henhouse portion, which was more than half, had a concrete floor. The faithful old hit-and-miss engine was again belted up to that home-built rotary mixer to provide the concrete.

I was old enough by now to shovel in the cement, sand/gravel, add the water and keep the old United gassed, greased and oiled.

• In 1948 Dad built an 18-by-28-foot combination garage/shop with a concrete foundation and floor. We were still operating on our 32-volt lighting system, so we didn’t have an electric motor large enough to drive the mixer. So once again the United was called upon to drive that old mixer. However, that was the last time the United ever did any useful work. After that it was no longer stored indoors, but luckily the water hopper was covered and a tin can was stuck over the exhaust pipe. The engine itself was well-preserved with more than 40 years of oil and grease so nothing rusted.

I married and moved to Omaha, Neb., in 1954 and brought this United engine along. I restored it in 1957, putting the original fuel mixer back on and fabricating a new fuel tank. Then it sat in my shop, unused or even started, until 2010 when I completely disassembled it. I made new intake and exhaust valves, replaced the rocker arm and pushrod, and rebushed the igniter. I sandblasted everything, primed and painted it a color that is close to the original. (I think.) As far as I can tell it’s still running on its original babbitt bearings, piston rings and valve springs.

It runs just as well today as it probably ever did, maybe better.

During its working years it was often called upon to drive the pump jack on the windmill well on windless days until the Rural Electric Service came along in late 1948.

The home-built concrete mixer was driven on a flat belt by the United 1-3/4 HP engine. The mixer incorporated a 30 gallon oil drum with paddles as the mixing chamber, and through some bevel gears, sprockets, chain and lawn mower wheels, and an angle iron framework it was able to mix and dump slightly more than 1 cubic foot of concrete per batch.

All the structures mentioned, except the 1929-built two-story garage, are still standing and in daily use.

My nephew and I took fairly accurate measurements of the width and depth of all the building foundations and floor thicknesses and came up with about 49 cubic yards, which converts to approximately 1,323 mixer loads.

Taking this one step further, each mixer load took perhaps 10 to 15 minutes from start to dump, so total run time to mix that much concrete was probably more than 250 hours.

However my childhood memory hints that these tasks took much longer, like all summer.

Contact John M. Gaul at 2417 So. 48th Ave., Omaha, NE 68106 


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