Prifogle gas engine

Courtesy of Joe Fahnestock, Union City, Indiana 47390

Joe Fahnestock

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How often we've heard that over quoted and out-worn click - 'Children hold a marriage together.' But how about the childless couple who have adopted a few gas engines - and the marriage is still holding?

Testing both theories on the vicissitudes of marital bliss - we all know of couples differing to the point of splitting, with Momma taking little Johnnie's side in a family argument, while Dad and Mary Jane gang up together and the marriage winds up adrift in a sea of no return. On the other side of the ledger, there have no doubt been those blissful though childless couples wherein the good wife has argued strongly against hubby's hobby of de-greasing old and out-dated, but grimy gas engines, taking a dim view of dirty overalls mingling with white linens and parlor curtains in the family wash.

But not so with the Zane Prifogles whose only 'patter of little feet' about the family place is the 'putt-putt of gas engines' which this happy two-some decides to adopt into their family circle. For, let some old, cast-off antique gas engine catch the eye of Zane, and Alberta's already open-armed and agreeable to the adoption proceedings, come each blessed event.

The Zane Prifogle gas engine exhibit as it appeared at the Rushville, Indiana Pioneer Engineers Club and at Tri- State Gas Engine & Tractor Show, Indiana. The big Rawleigh Schryer gas engine occupies the center position on the family trailer, being their pride and joy. At 350 rpm it develops only 4 horsepower - but we'll wager they're big horses and steady too. And is it any wonder that Alberta looks up to husband Zane being over six feet tall, almost seven with that cap high on his noggin, Alberta's eyes reaching only up to the third button down on his shirt. And that gentleman in dark glasses to the left - that's 'OF Needle Eye' as the boys affectionately call him - James Maloney who is the most expert gas engine modeler in these times. I'm surprised he doesn't have his paper and pencil making a few sketches and taking measurements on the big Rawleigh Schryer with an eye to making a model of it for next summer's shows.

This tractor was bought new in 1938 by Mr. Floyd Anderson of Sumas, Washington, with the plow. I bought the pair from him last fall and after ten years of setting in the shed, it took only one turn of the crank to get the tractor running. How was that for taking care of a tractor?

I plowed seven acres with this tractor and plow this spring before we put our oats in. I hope to have the tractor and plow at the show in Lynden, Washington this year.

This is my Grandpa Ben Van Lant, threshing in the early 30s around Broten, Minnesota.

It is not our prerogative to argue the pros and cons of family fecundity in these lines. Such decisions we proffer to the realm of the Eternal and parental predilection.Ours is only to suggest that if the good wife shares in the fun and pleasure of her husband's hobby - be it collecting old gas engines or what - there's little else left that matters. Let the divorce courts grind on, but that marriage is holding.

'Alberta is my 'chief engineer' - she likes gas engines as well as 1 do,' laughs Zane Prifogle. 'She won't stay home when there's a show to go to. She operates the gas and choke for me. When I'm away she can turn 'em off and even starts some, if necessary. But I'm not sure if she could start the big Rawleigh.'

'You see, we have no children, except our gas engines,' chuckles Zane, as happy as if he had ten li'l tow-heads and curly-locks tugging at his shirt sleeves and pant-legs. The big Rawleigh Schryer which Alberta lets Zane strong-arm to get started, weighs 1180 pounds and occupies the dominant position on the Prifogle mobile trailer exhibit at the engine shows. The huge engine develops only four horsepower, turning at 350 rpm. But, as one man said, 'Some horses are bigger than others,' and you can rest assured that this giant, built sometime between 1912 and 1916, packs a double-team of four of the bigger horses, judging from those giant fly-wheels and the steady chug of its exhaust. (Let no enterprising up-start get the idea into his noggin that he could stall it with his four-horsepower lawnmower tractor engine belted thereto.)

'Alberta and I restored the Rawleigh,' says Zane. And the way Alberta looks so lovingly at the fine, big engine - and guards it like a watch-dog when Zane is elsewhere on the grounds - we have a sneakin' suspicion that she did some of the beautiful paint work and striping. (The delicate touch of a woman exceeding in excellence the clumsy hand of man.)

Standing spellbound, alongside Zane and Alberta Prifogle, we noted that greatest craftsman of all - which the gas engine boys affectionately call, 'Ol' Needle-Eye' - James Maloney was observing the precision and beauty of the big Rawleigh Schryer. Maloney was written up as a Spark Plug of note, several years ago, as the one-time instrument maker for the Navy who now fabricates tiny scale models of some of the more interesting gas engines, all of which function like their prototypes. But we didn't see him with pencil and paper, taking measurements as he usually does when another model is in the offing.

Among the other, smaller gas engines on the Prifogle trailer exhibit, more or less dwarfed by the big Rawleigh, are a one-horse Ideal, a Massey Harris one-and-a-half horsepower, and a rare little half-horse Duro, manufactured in Dayton, Ohio. The latter, though smallest of the group, packed a mighty wallop of interest among engine lovers looking for the rare and uncommon in way of internal-combustion.

'The big Rawleigh is our pride and joy,' explains Zane. 'We found it sitting in a summer kitchen at Whitcomb, Indiana - about twenty-five miles from where we live near Connersville.

But Alberta Prifogle shares her pride for the big Rawleigh with pride for hubby, Zane, who towers well over six feet in stature, almost seven with his engineer's cap stuck on top. Her eyes coming to a level of the third button down on his shirt, she really has to look up to him, which she does.

When the shows are over, and the Prifogles are back home in Indiana - at route 6, Connersville - their spare time is shared with the hunting and restoring of more lost and forgotten antique gas engines, as well as the perusal of the various histories pertaining thereto.

'My first engine was the Ottawa Log Saw which my Dad bought brand new,' says Zane. 'It has a four-horse Ottawa Engine on it.

was the only thing we didn't junk.

bought it from Dad.'

'Altogether we have about twenty-six gas engines, all told,' sums up Spark Plug Prifogle. 'Witte, Stover, a 3-horsepower International, an Upright Famous, John Deere, and even another Ottawa Log Sawing outfit, including the limb saw, tree-felling attachment which always makes a good show. Had it at the Jim Whitby Show for three years and Jim thought there was nothing like it. Then we had it at Rushville for three years and three years at Tri-State.'

'For three years we sawed wood,' says Prifogle. 'Then we got the big Rawleigh Schryer and it made an even better show - or at least a collector's item.'

Zane Prifogle's love for the old farm gas engines began when, as a lad, he was raised on the family farm outside of Connersville, Indiana. For years he helped his Dad cut firewood with the Ottawa Log Saw his father had bought.

'The last wood we cut was in '52,' reminisces Zane. 'Dad died three years ago.'

'There's lots of history to that log-sawing business,' says Prifogle. And he should know.

'It all originated with a Mr.Warner who was making steel wire fence by hand. Then, one day, the steel companies came along and made it by machinery - cheaper and faster - and put him out of business,' explains Prifogle. 'Once, when he was making a trip by train, a place where they stopped he watched two men cut down a tree. At the next town he spent days in a hotel and came out with the idea in his head that was the beginning of the Ottawa Log Saw.' (How's That Fer Sparkin' The 01' Plug?)

'W.L. Warner wound up making a hundred-thousand log-sawing outfits,' says Zane. 'But I '11 never forget, when Dad got his Ottawa Log Saw, he wouldn't have anything to do with the 'tree-felling' attachment. he was afraid the tree might jump back over the stump and ruin the equipment.'

Prifogle has been collecting old gas engines for nine years now. He exhibited his first gas engines at Rushville, Indiana, continuing to show there for nine years, and at Tri-State Show at Portland, Indiana, for seven.

'I've attended every Tri-State Show except the first one at Ft. Recovery, Ohio,' (I'm in the same boat, Zane. My wife has never forgiven me for not getting to that first Tri-Stater at 'the Fort.')

Then, too, the Prifogles have shown engines at the Darke County Steam Threshers at Greenville, Ohio, and at the Covered Bridge Festival and Gas Engine Show at Mathews, Indiana. (The latter is where our beloved Tri-Stater, the late Walter Baldauf, used to show his wonderful model of a covered bridge.)

One wonders what might have happened over the years to what remains of the wonderful old gas engines we still have around (the steam engines included), had not such as the Zane Prifogles become interested in restoring and preserving our historic past.

I'll never forget the time I plied the late Rev. Elmer Ritzman, editor and publisher as well as originator of these magazines, with the same question. And he came back with this poignant reminder, 'Had these men not saved and restored these remaining engines, they would have long ago been melted up into bullets to damn mankind.'

A snapshot of nine John Deere 'D' varying in age from 1923 to 1935. At right is a 1923 and 1925 spoke flywheel John Deere 'D'. Notice difference in size of flywheels. Charles owns all these models.

A 1923 and 1925 spoke flywheel John Deere 'D'. Notice difference in size of flywheels. Charles owns all these models.

One cannot lightly pass over this significant statement, as he stands respectfully observing the beautiful and majestic Rawleigh Schryer Gas Engine chugging smoothly and well-balanced on the center of the Prifogle Travelling Engine Exhibit. Were it not for such as Zane and Alberta, at best it might remain today only a rusting heap mired somewhere in the mud back behind a fallen-down barn, in a basement or deep in some woods - unknown, unglorified and certainly unable to run. And, worst of all, it could have been melted into death-dealing ammunition which might have resulted in snuffing out a few more human lives.

But the old Rawleigh Schryer, restored, beautified and functioning again brings fun, interest and fascination to the many hundreds, even thousands that daily pass by at such shows as Rushville's Pioneer Engineers Club, or at Tri-State Old Gas Engine & Tractor Show at Portland, Indiana, each year.

Whether the exhibit happens to be steam or gas engine, the fact remains that the engine shows offer to the rising generation an education they otherwise couldn't obtain, regarding the mechanical prowess and inventiveness of our eminent forebears. For it is a tragedy of our times that so many of our young people are short on the knowledge of our grand and glorious past. The things that have made America great are so little known and therefore not appreciated, until they happen to visit a steam or gas engine association ground. The lack of which has already caused so much of our past grandeur - fine monuments and buildings, the railroads and their depots, and the steam and gas engines to be torn down, or junked and destroyed with nothing remaining. It is often a sad experience to converse with some of our youth and attempt to reminisce about the 'great days' in our land. The Bull-Dozer Has Become America's God!

It is to such as the Prifogles - Zane and Alberta - that this column is dedicated. And in recognition of their tireless and selfless efforts we offer an Honorary place in our Hall of Spark Plug Fame.

And to each and every one of you - the next time you see the Prifogle Gas Engine Exhibit, stop by and pause a bit, long enough to look and listen and ask a few questions as a sort of 'Thank you, Zane and Alberta, for all you've done, lest we forget.' GN-73