Told by Dennis Kornwolf 7133 Michna Rd Racine, Wisconsin 53402
In 1914 the Associated Engine Company of Waterloo, Iowa, produced a 12 HP gasoline engine #900116. She was a magnificent machine, mounted on a sturdy steel cart, standing six feet tall and weighing almost 3 500 lbs. Her shining red paint glistened in the Iowa sun as she was loaded on a train headed east to a small farm in Wisconsin. She arrived at Caledonia Station in Racine County. Her new owners, Joe Peterka and Bob Hoffman, helped to unload her. She was pulled by two of Joe's big draft horses to the Peterka farm. She spent the next decade shredding corn, baling hay, sawing wood, and providing power to many of the local farmers.
By 1924, tractors were becoming a more popular source of farm power. It wasn't long before draft horses, pulling huge engines from farm to farm, became a thing of the past. Big 12 sat by the barn unused until her owners decided to trade her in on a silo filler. Frank Renak, a local blacksmith and John Deere dealer, sold the Papec silo filler which was distributed by John Deere. Big 12 was pulled the two miles to the blacksmith shop and traded in on a new silo filler. She was pushed to the rear of the shop where she sat until the summer of 1928.
Frank Renak's son, Del, graduated from high school in the spring of 1927 and joined his father as an apprentice blacksmith. Del asked his father if he could get Big 12 running again. Permission was soon granted, and Del began to 'restore' the engine in his spare time. By 1930, the engine was overhauled and sported a new coat of shiny green paint. Del decided to. put Big 12 to work sawing wood so he purchased a mandrel, bearing boxes, and a 28 inch saw blade, and made a sturdy buck saw with a swinging table. Big 12 was belted to the saw and for the next 36 years sawed wood for the blacksmith shop and the homes of the men who worked there.
In the fall of 1966, Del and his uncle Charlie were sawing wood when the connecting rod snapped into three pieces shattering the piston and putting an end to a lifetime of service by Big 12. The bronze rod had crystallized, weakened, and finally broken while under power. Del removed all parts that might be damaged by corrosion, put them in a box and stored them in the barn. He then coated the engine with heavy grease.
Big 12 sat behind the barn for the next 25 years. Trees grew up through her cart, thick brush surrounded her and rust destroyed the box steel that held her to the cart.
I had been collecting and restoring small engines for some time. My real interest was to acquire a big engine and restore it. We live on a small farm and, during the trip to the feed mill, a neighbor told me about Big 12. In 1990 Del and I talked about a possible sale of Big 12, but Del said NO! He did, however, promise to keep me in mind. Over the next year we continued to talk about Big 12 and finally arrived at an agreement. The care of Big 12 was now in my hands!
My son Mike along with Jim Dan, Orrin Michna and Bob Lorence, went with me to pick up Big 12. We cut trees and brush, and we fought heat and mosquitoes. Jim welded two angle irons together and made a temporary box iron to help keep Big 12 on her cart. This done, we pulled her out to the waiting trailer. She was loaded, Del brought the parts, and we began the two mile journey to our farm, the new home of Big 12.
Restoration took a year of hard work, luck and the help of some wonderful friends. Jim and I used 6,500 pounds of sand to blast down to the iron. She then got five coats of paint, clean bearings, polished and lacquered brass and was assembled. I was fortunate to find a connecting rod and piston after advertising in GEM. The piston first went to Joe Sykes to fix a crack and to be flame sprayed. The rod and piston were then machined and installed. Richard Soil-man, a local model engine maker, made a replacement mixer out of stainless steel. It worked just fine.
Big 12 was almost there, but something was missing. Jim Mueller, an outstanding local artist and friend, offered to detail the engine. He studied every photo, drawing and piece of advertising that we could find. His work is the best I have ever seen.
Big 12 was now complete and ready to come out of the shop, and I was now ready to try and start her. I called Jim Dean for a little help, and he came over to the farm to see Big 12 run. We connected the fuel line, gave her a drink of gasoline, and hooked the coil to the battery and ignitor. then we each grabbed a 500 1b. flywheel and tried to start her. Nothing happened! We had forgotten to open the compression relief valve! A few minutes of hard turning and after 25 years of rest, Big 12 came to life. It was a sunny September 5th at 1:35, we just stood there and listened to the greatest sound any engine lover could hear. The next day, I picked Del up and took him to the farm to hear Big 12. He had been the steward of the engine since 1928 and hadn't heard her run in 25 years. He just stood there and listened, remembered and smiled!!!
Our club, the Southeastern Wisconsin Antique Power and Collectibles Society, held its annual Fall Harvest Days at the county fairgrounds. On September 19th, 1992, Big 12 made her first public appearance. Del was there, along with Bob and Orrin. These three octogenarians who had spent their lives on the land now sat next to Big 12 and enjoyed hearing her entertain the people.
Engine collecting is more than finding a rusting old engine, dragging it home, and getting it to run. Our hobby preserves the story of this great country. It chronicles the history of manufacturing, inventors, factory workers and the men and women who worked the land. The work we do, restoring engines, will always stand as a tribute to a bygone era.