Wheels of Time: Falk Co. Engines

The wheels of time have moved slowly for this 5 HP Falk Co. engine, but thanks to Gary Bahre its future is bright once more.

5 HP Falk engine

The 5 HP Falk engine in the corn fields of Illinois. It's believed to have been built about 1912.

Photo by Gary Bahre

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Falk Co., Milwaukee, Wisconsin, started building engines around 1910, focusing on high-grade engines with sideshafts, volume governors, lots of moving parts, lots of machined parts and Secor Higgins carburetors for low-grade fuels.

In 1912, M. Rumely Co. bought the Falk Co., adding it to their line of products. Late in 1915, Rumely went into receivership. Advance-Rumely was formed, and soon after the Falk engine line was phased out.

Falk Engine E433

Let’s jump ahead to the mid-1960s when a young David Johnson saved a 5 HP engine (plus a 10 HP that went to his friend Harold Jarvis). David removed the engine from a farm near Marshalltown, Iowa, where it had worked elevating corn into a barn and other duties. It was taken off broken trucks and brought inside to get running. In the late-‘60s, David showed this engine at the Old Thresher’s Reunion in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. Then time stood still for the Falk as David finished school, went to work, got married, started a family and moved a few times.

In the mid-1970s, David’s father brought the Falk to him from Iowa to southeastern Illinois. The flywheels were removed to help with handling the weight and the engine was stored away in a barn.

The wheels of time move slowly – to around the year 2000. On a rainy day at work I took a ride in the country looking for deer, turkey and engines (what a way to spend a rainy day). I looked along fence rows and by old barns as I drove along. To my surprise, I almost ran an engine over with my truck! I saw a mailbox that had an 8 HP Bessemer holding it up. I stopped at the farm house and asked about the engine. David, the owner of the engine, was very pleasant, and he talked about his interest in engines. We both had a good laugh at the near miss with my truck. David showed me a few of his engines, but all the large engines were taken apart. He told me that was done to lighten the load when moving them.

Time went by. We kept in touch, became friends, and in late-2011 David called to ask if I would like to take a few engines off his hands. So an 8 HP Novo, a throttle-governed 6 HP Titan, a 5 HP Collis and a dishpan Fairbanks-Morse came home with me. In 2012, I restored the Novo. At my crank-up in March 2013, the Titan came back to life. Also in 2013, the Collis returned to working order.

This year (2014) at my crank-up, David and his wife, Susan, asked me if I wanted to put the Falk back in show shape; i.e., to give it a new lease on life. So the wheels of time were moving again. A deal was made, and engines were loaded for the trip to my shop. The 8 HP Bessemer came along also. A big thanks to good friends Bob Gill and Gene George for helping get the trailer loaded. As we finished loading the engines, Susan called to let us know that lunch was ready. She is a great lady.

The Falk looked plenty sad with the flywheels off and bird droppings everywhere after all the time it sat in the open-air hay barn. There was 45 years worth of crud on it. I spent some time at the carwash on the way home, and backed the trailer with the engines in the building right before dark. The next day I went to the shop to see if this was all real, not just a dream. I oiled all the moving parts, took a few photos and checked out the original cooling tank. Nothing on this engine was broken, so I made sure all the parts moved before trying to turn it over. Since the flywheels were off the engine, I put a pipe wrench on the crankshaft to see how tight it felt. Lo and behold, the engine easily turned over. The next day I put the flywheels back on, wired it to the original coil, primed it, and it started. It blew a whole lot of crud out the exhaust pipe, but it ran.

That was the end of the easy part. Then I needed to get busy. A set of axles and wheels came with the engine and I had wood planed for the cart. Once the cart was built, I bolted the engine and the original cooling tank to the cart. I piped the tank and added a battery box I had saved for a special project. The timing was reset, the Elkhart magneto cleaned up, and a two-way knife switch wired for the coil and mag.

The carburetor had already been worked on. The auto choke or snuffer valve had broken and was brazed years ago. It was broken again, so I made the necessary repair. I reset the engine speed to a slower-than-rated speed, making adjustments so that it hit every time. The igniter had a spring that was shortened years before, so new springs were wound. A new plunger for both the water pump and fuel pump, and a few pins, were machined by a good friend, Tom Jamboretz. Bob Gill gave me a muffler he had made that looked very close to the original Falk muffler. I installed it, and it looks great. I obtained a new fuel tank from John Hidy and, since half of the original fuel lines were with the engine, I found matching fittings to complete the fuel system.

The restoration has the barn fresh look that is the trend now. The Falk starts easily on the original coil, and when switched to the Elkhart mag it also runs very well. The cooling tank is the original, as is most of the water piping. The engine has a factory belt pulley and hand primer for the starting carburetor. The sideshaft runs the mag, water pump, fuel pump, intake valve, exhaust valve, governor and igniter. The Falk engine number is E433. The flywheels are 35 inches tall by 2-1/2 inches wide. The engine has a 5-1/2-inch bore, 7-inch stroke and a rated speed of 450 RPM. It has been slowed down to around 125 RPM. The cart has new sealed red oak planed lumber. The wheels are 3 inches wide and 22 inches tall. The axles have been left barn fresh. The cart is just short of 8 feet long.

A bright future ahead for the Falk

Without the efforts that David Johnson went through so many years ago, this 100-plus-year-old engine might not be around. As the Falk endured the stillness of time, it did so with a good roof over it to keep it dry and an engine guy waiting for what he felt was the right time to do something with it. I can’t wait till my next crank-up to see the smiles on David and Susan’s faces.

Now with the time clock restarted, there are many years of going to shows in the Falk’s future. It has been given a new lease on life.

See you around the show grounds. Enjoy.

Contact Gary G. Bahre at P.O. Box 40, Sparta, IL 62286 • gsrba@egyptian.net