Collin Langanki has seen antique gas engines in many forms: A 1942 International Harvester Corp. 3 HP Interntional Model LB used as an elevator counterweight, a 1918 6 HP IHC M understrike with all the parts scattered around the shop, and the worst, a 1918 3 HP Stover found in the woods near Atwater, Minn., completely covered with green moss. “Just like you see on all the trees,” the 68-year-old says.
To no one’s surprise, the Stover was 100 percent stuck, but after considerable labor, and the help of his son, Dale, it’s now in working condition, “Although it doesn’t have quite the compression it should have,” Collin says.
For many years, Collin could only look at gas engines, never able to rescue them, because he and his wife, Betty, were raising five children near Maple Lake, Minn., and never had extra money from Collin’s factory supervisor job. The children eventually grew up and left home, and the yearning for the gas engines grew stronger. Ten years ago, Collin and Dale were picking up a calf at a neighbor’s, and spotted the 1942 IHC 3 HP Model LB engine. That was the first; today the pair have more than 100 antique gas engines between them in their collection. “All kinds – two-cycle, four-cycle, flywheel engines, engines that mix oil with gas, stationary, portable, you name it,” says Collin.
Finding antique gas engines
Like most antique gas engine collectors, Collin has acquired his in different ways. One time while Collin and Dale were gone for a couple of days, Collin’s wife Betty found an advertisement in the local Drummer paper proclaiming a gas engine for sale. When they returned she asked them what a 1912 Waterloo Boy 2 HP air-cooled gas engine was, and Collin got all excited. He was worried it may have already been sold, so, Collin says, “I called him and said if he still had it he shouldn’t sell it until I got there, and he didn’t, so I bought that one, too.” Collin notes that Betty is aware of every engine he’s bought, “In fact, she has written the checks or handed out the cash.”
A few years ago, Collin made a rare find in Wisconsin, by accident. The Langankis and another couple stopped at an antique store in Hayward, Wis., and while the wives paid for their items, Collin mentioned the store didn’t have what he collected. When pressed, Collin said “gas engines,” and the owner promptly pointed out a place where a pair were for sale. The engines’ owner drank coffee mornings and afternoons at the coffee shop, and was only available during the noon hour. That’s when Collin tracked him down and discovered a pair of Lauson engines, a 1916 1-1/2 HP and a 1914 1-1/2 HP Frost King Jr., and bought both of them. “That was a rare find, two at one time,” Collin says.
A couple of years ago, an elderly collector contacted Collin about a 1925 3 HP John Deere. “He couldn’t handle it anymore because it was so big and heavy, so he decided he wanted to sell it. He gave me a real good price on it, so I bought it. He said he hated to see it go, but he figured he might as well let somebody else enjoy it,” explains Collin.
International gas engines strike paydirt
The real stars of Collin’s collection are his IHC M engines. “I’m not positive, but I think I have a complete set,” remarks Collin. That includes three groups of 1-1/2, 3 and 6 HP IHC M engines, one trio with spark plugs, a second trio with overstrike igniters, and the third with understrike igniters. A circa-1923 10 HP overstrike fills out the set of 10, although Collin says he’s heard there might be a very rare 10 HP with a spark plug, but he’s never seen one.
“I’ve been told the understrike models were the earliest in the M series, but International had a lot of problems with them, so they changed to the over-strike, and corrected the problems,” says Collin. Eventually, the Ms went to spark plugs.
Before Collin had any intention of completing the set, he heard a man near McGregor, Minn., had a 6 HP M understrike. Collin always liked how the Ms ran, so he drove up to take a look. Collin says, “The guy had the engine torn apart, pieces everywhere, and it was more than he could handle, so he sold it to me. I was green as grass at the time and didn’t know the difference between understrike or overstrike.” Back home, Collin and Dale restored and reassembled it.
One day, a fellow who had sold Collin a 1918 1-1/2 HP IHC M understrike dropped in to see how the restoration on the engine was coming. It was finished, so Collin showed it, mentioning the 1918 6 HP IHC M understrike, stored in a building 100 feet away. The man’s jaw dropped. Collin says, “He said, ‘A 6 HP IHC M understrike? You do not!’ When I told him where it was, he scooted out of the shop and into the other building as though someone was shooting at him. He offered me a great deal more than I had paid for it, but I had to disappoint him.”
The set of Ms took Collin three years to assemble, and he wouldn’t have been able to without the help of his wife and children. Collin needed a 3 HP M understrike to complete the set, and couldn’t find one until one day after he had retired and was hurting for money. He spotted an advertisement in Gas Engine Magazine from a guy in Michigan who had a 1918 3 HP IHC M understrike, but Collin figured all he could do was dream. “But my wife and kids wanted me to have the entire set. They were bound and determined, and offered me some money to help me buy it,” remarks Collin. Symbolic of the long trips required to gather all the engines, Collin took the longer route across Wisconsin and into Michigan instead of through Chicago to get the last-needed engine. “That’s a set that will never be sold,” Collin says, “because I’ve given it to my grandsons.” They are 2, 6 and 8 years of age.
Collin’s rarest and most valuable engines are probably the 1912 2 HP air-cooled Waterloo Boy, the 1923 10 HP IHC M and the understrike Ms, he says. He’s been offered thousands of dollars for several of his engines, but declined, to keep the engines in his collection. “But I really can’t tell you what any of them are worth, because you’ve got to find somebody willing to pull out his billfold and peel the green off, just like at a car dealership,” states Collin.
If you build a trailer, you can go to shows
After a couple of backbreaking years of taking engines to shows, loading and unloading them from unsuitable trailers, Collin and Dale built one especially for carrying the engines. He cut out the original spindles from a trailer-house axle, and in their stead, mounted 3,500-pound spindles designed to endure weekly wear-and-tear motoring up and down the highway. Trailer-house spindles are designed for a single trip to the trailer house destination. “I know some people use trailer-house axles for regular work, but I’d rather be safe than sorry,” remarks Collin. Collin bought tubing and cut it, while Dale welded it into a frame. They cut wood for the bed, and presto! Their own hauling trailer for engines. “It’s made everything easier,” Collin says, “although it’s still hard work.”
Every year or two, Collin changes engines on the trailer. This year he’s showing a 1912 Waterloo Boy air-cooled 2 HP, a 1925 John Deere 3 HP, and a pair of Ottawas – a 1915 2-1/2 HP and a 1919 3 HP.
The show’s the thing
Collin enjoys taking his engines to different shows. He says, “I like taking them so the younger people can look at them and see how things were done back in the old days. They usually say, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this before!'” The youngsters are often intrigued at how Collin’s air-cooled 2 HP Waterloo Boy can run with a battery and coil. They ask why it needs a spark plug and how they fire and what makes them fire.
Older people are intrigued at reliving the history of their past days. They enjoy watching the engines work and listening to them run. At one particular show, a fellow in his late 50s asked Collin who paid them to display their engines. Collin said, “We get a thank you, a plaque, a button and an exhibitor’s ribbon, that’s all.” The fellow said they should have a cup out for donations, but Collin demurred, “That’s not what we’re here for. We’re here to put on a show for the spectators.”
During the early days of collecting, Collin preferred buying engines in pretty rough shape so he and Dale could rescue them, tear them apart and restore them. But the fun and glory of that has faded, he says, “It’s too much work nowadays to go through all that.” Now he won’t buy engines unless they are almost 100 percent complete, only missing minor parts.
Restored to Life
Next year, Collin will show a pair of large engines he will finish restoring this winter, a 1915 6 HP Associated and a 1916 6 HP Galloway Masterpiece. The Masterpiece was a real mess when he found it in Waukee, Iowa. Collin says, “I had to find a magneto and igniter, it was loose, and was just a dirty mess. I pretty much had to do a full restoration. I’m hoping to get them running and painted this winter, and ready to take to the shows next year.”
Since Collin and his son do 90 percent of their restoration work themselves, it’s a very attainable goal. “We don’t have a magneto charger, but I have a guy from Hastings (Minn.) who charges my magnetos for me. Once in a while, we run across a problem with timing or something that we can’t get done, so he’ll help me with that. I don’t know everything, so sometimes I need help,” says Collin.
Restoration includes cleaning the machines, buying or making new parts, getting the engines to run, sandblasting and priming and painting them until they’re ready to be shown.
One universal problem with old gas engines is the gas tank. Collin says, “It’s almost always rusted out, so you have to fix it, make a different one, or buy a new one.” Magnetos usually have to be recharged, too, and the old engines are a lot better if mice haven’t gotten into them, he says, because they can destroy the magneto or even pit up the cylinder wall.
Collin says he isn’t into collecting gas engines to try to outdo everybody else. “If somebody else has more engines than we have, or better ones or rarer ones, more power to them,” he says.
“I’m not out for fame or anything like that. We enjoy gas engines and we like what we’re doing. In other words, we don’t have the fanciest, but they’re ours.”
Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and the author of several books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact Bill at: Box 372, 400 Caroline Lane, Rockville, MN 56569; (320) 253-5414; firstname.lastname@example.org