Doing something for the 'Do-Nothing'

Collector takes on restoration of unique piece of machinery


Clem Bessler’s “Do-Nothing Machine” prior to restoration (above) and as restored by Jim Kirschner (below).

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Jim Kirschner, an avid gas engine collector from Batesville, Ind., has undertaken one huge and, shall I say, very heavy project: restoring "The Do-Nothing Machine."

Because it was developed by local and farm equipment business owner Clem Bessler and his employees, it was desired by Jim and Sandy Werner, son-in-law and daughter of the late Clem Bessler. They wanted to keep it in possession of someone local, if possible, and Jim Kirschner answered the call.

The seed is sown

In the mid-1950s, Clem Bessler bought a 1913 10 HP IHC hopper-cooled engine for $35. After Clem bought the huge engine, it sat outside for many years. The weather took its toll, and when Clem and his son, Mike, began restoration they discovered many problems had developed. The piston and valves were stuck, the igniter was ruined, the magneto was missing, the fuel pump needed to be rebuilt, and the gas tank was rusted beyond repair. "The work took about three years including as many as five people working on the project on and off as time permitted," says Mike. "Even with the many hours and helping hands it took us until the summer of 1961 to get it running." Clem thought an engine of this size would be ideal to propel itself if a chassis could be built and the seed was planted for The Do-Nothing Machine.

Birth of the Road Runner Special

The Road Runner Special, as it was first called, was born around 1961 in the shop at the Clem Bessler Farm Equipment business in Batesville. During the winter months, when business was slow, George and Herb Eckstein, Roy Westerfeld, Carl Wissel, and Clem would spend hours fabricating, cutting, welding and doing all the necessary shop procedures to develop this outrageous piece of equipment. The only plans used were the ideas developed at the time and sketched in their minds as the work progressed. One idea seemed to spark another, and things soon became a reality. "Dad would travel all over southern Indiana looking for a heavy-duty gear box with the correct rotation on the input and output shafts," says Mike. "I don't remember where he found one, but he did." Carl remembers that the running gears and rear end are from a 1951 Pontiac car, and the Plymouth back axel came from a junk yard. Full-time welder for the Bessler Farm Equipment business, Roy did most of the welding on the Road Runner.

These men decided after the chassis had been built and the huge International engine was successfully propelling it, there needed to be more action. Propel something and accomplish absolutely nothing of importance other than forward motion seemed to be the goal of the inventors. Clem had purchased a little hit-and-miss 1-1/2 HP Jaeger engine that he mounted on the machine, just for sound and movement. He loved hearing that familiar "ka-pow" each time the engine fired. Jim later replaced it with a 1915 1-1/2 HP Monarch that he had in his own collection. Another engine, a 1939 1-1/2 HP Stover, was taken from an old cement mixer and precisely attached to the machine to turn an airplane propeller. A 1927 1-1/2 HP Jaeger was mounted to the machine to run a set of governor balls. The 15 HP Wisconsin engine from a New Idea bailer was used to turn and start the big IHC engine because the bailer engine had an electric start. By the time the project was completed it weighed more than 5,600 pounds! Now the machine took on a new name, The Do-Nothing Machine. The five engines mounted on the machine each had a job to do, though not as important as the 10 HP IHC, which propelled the machine very proudly in parades and social gatherings. Children looked forward to riding The Do-Nothing Machine for a dime around the park.

The Road Runner changes hands

After 1975, Jim Werner, Clem's son-in-law, helped get The Do-Nothing Machine running for parades and showings for many years throughout the summer, but soon The Do-Nothing Machine was stored, waiting for someone else to take care of it.

Jim Kirschner became interested in the unit, and Jim and Sandy Werner decided to sell the family machine to him. Time had taken its toll on everything even though it had been carefully stored for 12 years. "The front wheels were in the dirt half way up the rims and all six engines needed attention," says Jim, "I have spent well over 200 hours working on the machine. Everything needed attention, like putting new rings and wrist pin in the 10 HP engine. One of my problems was finding parts since everything had been custom built." The engines had to be carefully removed and analyzed with some help from his son, Brian, and father, Bob.

You can see Jim has things well in order displaying a beautiful and most unusual piece of equipment. The original family owners, as well as the present owners, can be extremely happy that Jim is keeping the machine alive and well at many shows and festivals throughout the area. "Wherever I go," says Jim, "people ask what it is and I have a great time telling them it's a do-nothing machine!"

The past several years, Jim has been searching for another 10 HP IHC engine like the one on The Do-Nothing Machine. Jim would be glad to talk engines or discuss this huge machine with anyone, and he is constantly searching for another unusual engine to add to the mix.

Contact Jim Kirschner at (812) 934-4095 •

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

Watch a video of this machine on the Gas Engine Magazine engine video index on YouTube. Just look for the icon at left at