From Creators to Collectors

The Foos Manufacturing Co. Scientific -- A Rare Engine Comes to Light in an Unlikely Guise

Foos Scientific Engine

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The Foos Scientific as found by the author, the engine powering a tractor designed by Arthur Walton sometime around 1916. The unit is original to its 1916 construction.

The Foos Scientific as found by the author, the engine powering a tractor designed by Arthur Walton sometime around 1916. The unit is original to its 1916 construction.

The plate on the engine reads: Foos Mfg. Co. Scientific, Springfield, Ohio. A single-cylinder vertical with five-spoke flywheels, an open crank, nice and greasy, bearings in good shape and the piston free - and mounted on the oddest-looking tractor. The first time I saw it I knew, even if I had to get the bank's help, I had to have it. You only find something like this once in a lifetime

Built in Springfield, Ohio, sometime between 1905 and 1908, this 4 HP Foos Scientific has, it would appear, stayed fairly close to home. I know that no later than Feb. 26, 1916, some 10 years after it was built, this engine made its way to Upper Sandusky, Ohio, hometown to the S.S. Morton Ohio Manufacturing Co. and International Harvester Corporation through the years. In 1916 IHC was still building tractors at Upper Sandusky, and this Foos Scientific, I was to discover, was in the hands of one Arthur Walton who, evidently wanting to build a tractor of his own design, used the Scientific as the basis for his creation. Was Arthur inspired by the products leaving the IHC factory? I don't know, but it seems plausible he would have been inspired by what he saw around him.

Fast-forward to May 2000, 84 years after this tractor was built and my first time to lay eyes on it. I had towed a car to a local mechanic, and this mechanic happened to have purchased the Foos Scientific at auction the previous week. He was selling it, and only a few area collectors (all hoping to purchase the Foos Scientific) knew it existed. That was on a Monday. By Thursday it was at my home.

A few weeks later at the Portland Swap Meet, a friend of mine, Wendy Wolf, told me that her swap meet neighbor, a Mr. Lengacher, had a Foos Mfg. Co. catalog showing the Scientific - what a surprise, and a perfect item to go with my engine. In late May I took the Scientific, although not yet running, to the Buckeye Farm Antiques Show.

In early June I took it up to Ed Rowland's for repair, as it needed a trip finger and spring on the igniter, a battery, a coil and a cleanup. 'Give me an hour and a half, it will be running,' Ed said as he looked at it. And run it did, for the first time in many years, witnessed by Ed, Nick Rowland and Dick Heidi, who showed up just in time to hear it run. On Father's Day that summer I started it at home for the first time, and it moved under its own power in forward and reverse, with enough power to dig itself a little hole while trying to go up a slight grade.

The Foos Scientific name plate on the vertical, single-cylinder, 4 HP engine. Note the absence of a serial number. No serial numbers have been found anywhere on this engine.

In August I took it to the Northwestern Ohio Antique Machinery Association's Findlay Show. Working through the 'grape vine' I had met Janis Wickham, a granddaughter of Arthur Walton's, and she came to the show to see the Scientific. By way of background, we knew the Scientific had come from Harold Van Shoik's estate sale (where it was listed as a home-made garden tractor), and his widow told us that Harold, who never heard the Scientific run, had purchased it in the mid-1970s in Upper Sandusky from a Mr. Walton. After inquiring around, we wondered if Janis' father, Herbert Walton (1917-1996), a well-known inventor-builder, had built this unit. Among Herbert's creations were an articulated tractor called 'Big Bertha,' an Army Duck (amphibious vehicle) that he turned into a self-propelled corn picker, a combine and a bi-directional forklift.

Janis told us that a Walton reunion was going to be held the next day, and she would show photos we gave her of the Scientific to Walton family members. At the Walton reunion, Janis' 96-year-old great-uncle Robert glanced at the photos, but didn't remember the Scientific. But as the photos went around Robert suddenly exclaimed, 'That's the Foos tractor that Arthur built, and I got to drive it!' Robert remembered the year as being 1916, and in 1916 Robert would have been 12 years old -I can understand his excitement. Arthur, it turns out, was Janis' grandfather, and we discovered that this tractor had been built by Arthur, not Herbert.

According to Robert, Arthur built the tractor at Stucky's, a blacksmith and repair shop on the north side of the square in Upper Sandusky. Robert said they sawed firewood with it, going from farm to farm, and that it wasn't strong enough to plow -apparently they had tried. Janis told Robert I would be in touch to talk with him personally, but sadly, Robert passed away Sept. 3, 2000. Janis told me he was looking forward to seeing the Foos Scientific again, and thanks to her we have the tractor's early history.

The tractor features a steering wheel with chain steering, and a piece of mouse-chewed paper we found in the battery box shows a date of Feb. 26,1916, supporting Robert's statements of its approximate year of fabrication. In the box under the tank is an old hornet's nest, filled to the door. That old buzz box had a lot of 'bite' at one time! The rear axle is part of two McCormick Big 4 mowers (built 1892 to 1897), and the wheels are reinforced and cleated. It has a drive shaft on carrier bearings routed to the four-speed planter gear used as a transmission, with forward and reverse. The engine is of pre-water pump style, on a reinforced wooden frame. The lid is still on the cooling tank and the auxiliary fuel tank is in the frame. Most of the piping appears to be original, as shown in the catalog I purchased, and it has its original muffler, the only one known.

One person0 who has seen the tractor told me not to call it homemade, but rather 'an experimental with a lack of funding.' Several people have said I should restore it, giving it a fresh coat of paint and new timber. But I think that would take away from the work Arthur Walton put into this tractor, and maybe some of the respect that goes with it. For me it will stay as it is, in its work clothes.

Contact engine enthusiast Franklin Lee Roof Jr. at: 13285 CR 200, Ridgeway, OH 43345.