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A Dream Collection of Gas Engines

Author Photo
By Bill Vossler | Dec 21, 2012

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Joe Kopp leans on his 1912 Stickney 3 HP engine, just one of many rare engines at home in his collection.
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Joe likes sideshaft machines like this 1912 3 HP Stickney engine. Note the Stickney's gas tank is on top of the water hopper.
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This close-up shows the Stickney's compression release.
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The orginal gold lettering shows up on this embossed part of the 1912 Stickney 3 HP engine.
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Looking through the flywheel of the Stickney at the crankshaft grease cup, crankshaft and connecting rod.
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Joe stands with his 1915 Domestick 3 HP engine.
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The front of the Domestic engine with the igniter trip lever assembly and the carb/mixer below that.
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Joe's 1908 2 HP Peerless engine is so small that some people think it's a model.
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This circa 1920 2 HP Empire engine originally had an igniter but was changed to a spark plug.
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 A line-up of several of Joe's engines.
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The flyball governor and the exhaust valve latch assembly, which latches the exhaust valve open when the Peerless engine revs up to its set speed. In front of the governor assembly is the timer box that controls spark timing.
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Joe uses this custom-made trailer to haul his engines to area shows.
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Joe's 15 HP Reid engine.

Joe Kopp loves rare and unique gas engines: think sideshaft and cam-stopper-type engines. “The more external moving parts, the more fun it is to watch them run,” Joe says. “Anything rare and unique is any engine collector’s dream. I am no different. You like to own one that people go, ‘Wow, now that’s neat.'”

More than desiring rare and unique engines, 60-year-old Joe has amassed a collection that contains several engines that people can wow about. He also collects odd mechanical items like toys, erector sets, small gas engine models and gadgets. “Anything odd and different will always grab my attention.”

Joe Kopp’s history 

Joe grew up on a farm near Kenyon, Minn., which whetted his interest in farm equipment and engines. “I was, and still am, intrigued with all engines. I like to watch them and listen to them run,” Joe says. “My dad says when I was 9, I took an old lawn mower engine apart to see what it looked like inside. Because it cluttered his workshop, after a few months he told me to put it back together or he was going to scrap it.”

To his father’s surprise, Joe reassembled the engine from memory, and it ran. “After that, the local Briggs & Stratton dealer was kind enough to answer my questions and educate me, which increased my interest in engines.”

Joe’s dad gave him a 1935 WM Briggs, which Joe still has. “I did everything a kid could imagine to that poor little engine,” Joe says. “I can’t remember how many times I had it apart. I made a go-kart and tried to get the little engine to pull me around the farmyard. Wherever I went, the engine followed me, so I completely rebuilt it. Every time I look at it, it brings back those old time memories of my farm life.”

Despite stints working for a farm implement and Arctic Cat dealer, Joe couldn’t shake his love of little gas engines. He begged a local small engine repair shop owner to take him on. “I could tell he wasn’t interested, but I persisted. I said if I didn’t work out after a month, I’d go on my way,” Joe remembers. “He finally agreed. I spent 12 years working as his lead mechanic.”

Joe also answered engine repair technical questions and taught adult education small engine and chainsaw classes for five years.

Start of a farm equipment collection 

Joe’s engine hobby started 20 years ago, when a friend recommended he buy a 1935 1-1/2 HP McCormick-Deering Model M and a 1920 2 HP CT Stover engine. “The unrestored M goes to every show with me, sitting quietly on my trailer, running all day without complaining,” he says.

Another of Joe’s favorite engines is his 1912 Stickney 3 HP, which ran machinery in a printing mill. The engine sat idle for years until a collector bought it. That collector sold the Stickney to another collector, and when that collector passed away Joe was able to purchase it from the estate.

Manufactured by Charles A. Stickney Co., the hit-and-miss engine with a 5-by-6-inch bore and stroke has a flywheel diameter of 30 inches, a spark igniter and a centrifugal flyball-type governor. A dozen or so 3 HP Stickneys are known to exist.

The cast iron cooling system on the Stickney is unique, as the system cools the boiling water and recycles it back into the water supply. “Stickney claimed they only needed 2 to 3 gallons per horsepower, unlike others which needed much more,” Joe explains. The engine ran much cooler, which increased engine life and performance.

The Stickney has a three-point mount, which allows the engine to float on its mounting pad so as not to damage the engine. This “pivot point” mount also allows expansion and contraction of the engine.

The engine, serial no. 15552, came with a five-year warranty. “The governor was tucked between the flywheels, which meant less possibility of governor damage,” Joe says, adding, “The igniter was mounted outside of the combustion chamber for easy repair and longer life.”

While rebuilding the igniter and latch lever, Joe discovered the mounting pad and the hole in the engine block for the cam box had not been completely machined, so the cam box could not sit flush on the engine block. The crank gear alignment pins were missing, too. “Once I got the hole enlarged I was able to install alignment pins and reinstall the cam box to the block with perfect alignment,” Joe says. “The cam gear also fit nicer to the crank gear so there was less gear noise. I believe this was an original error at the factory.”

Joe likes engines that have the gas tanks on top, along with big flywheels and large water hoppers … just like this Stickney. “Its slow and lazy, hypnotic hit-and-miss sound makes me relax,” Joe says. “Spectators always stand and listen to the engine run and admire its unusual shape and size.”

Joe’s 1920s 2 HP Empire hit-and-miss hopper-cooled engine is “different but not rare,” he says. “I bought it from a guy in Portland, Ore., who changed it from an igniter-type ignition to a sideshaft-type engine with a spark plug. It is just neat, a great runner and fun to watch. Either you like it or not. Many people ask if it is original or say, ‘I didn’t know Empire made a sideshaft engine.'”

The serial number and bore and stroke are unknown. The governor, formerly a flyweight, is now a flyball centrifugal. Judging by the logo on the governor, it was manufactured by Empire Cream Separator Co., Bloomfield, N.Y.

Joe says his somewhat-rare 1915 Domestic 3 HP engine is his oddest original engine. The 3 HP Domestic is a sideshaft and is hopper-cooled with a water tray under the engine and a water pump. Water is pumped from the tray up through the water hopper, out the top and back into the tray. While some people say the engine is not original, Joe says he has seen one in a Domestic catalog just like it. “This engine is original and untouched, except for an igniter rebuild. The rebuilt cart has the original truck and wheels.”

Manufactured by Domestic Engine & Pump Co., Shippensburg, Pa., the engine, serial no. 1518, weighs 800 pounds and uses a governor-type flyweight in the flywheel. Ignition is by igniter with low-tension coil and battery. This hit-and-miss engine draws a lot of attention and questions, Joe says.

Joe’s 1908 Peerless 2 HP is a very rare engine. Serial no. 2843, the hopper-cooled hit-and-miss engine’s governor features flyball weights on the sideshaft and a spark plug ignition. “As far as I know, there are two or three other 2 HP Peerless engines in the U.S.,” Joe says. “It is a small-frame, compact sideshaft engine, untouched except for an older paint job.”

Unhappy with how it ran, Joe tried to figure out why the governor would not latch up correctly. “Finally, I turned the sideshaft flyball weights a few degrees, and it latched up and ran better. I kept playing until I found the position the engine liked and ran the best. Otherwise nothing has ever been done to the engine.”

Mud, sweat & tears 

Using his custom-made trailer, Joe hauls common engines to shows along with his rare ones as he likes to include engines folks can easily relate to. “I really enjoy visiting with exhibitors and spectators. Their stories are interesting, ‘My dad had one like this on the farm,'” Joe says. “It brings back memories and they enjoy talking, and I like hearing the stories. The unusual engines bring different questions and comments, which makes it a very interesting hobby for me.”

Joe enjoys chatting with fellow collectors, learning about engines, ideas and repair tricks. He also enjoys sharing stories with spectators, as well as educating them about what these hit-and-miss engines did on the farm so many years ago.

While trailering his engines from a show, Joe had a memorable experience on Minnesota’s Interstate 90 driving in rainy bumper-to-bumper traffic. “I had my pickup and 16-foot trailer with seven heavy engines on board,” Joe recalls. “The car in front hit the brakes. Even with the distance between us, I knew I couldn’t stop in time, so down the ditch I went. After a block in the ditch, which seemed like miles, with grass, dirt and gravel flying, I made my way back onto the interstate. In the mirror I saw all seven engines, secure and tied down. I was shaking when a car pulled alongside and the driver gave me a thumbs up. Nothing was damaged, but I had visions of good engines turning into scrap metal.”

Another memorable experience occurred when he and friends worked in mud most of the day trying to load oil field engines Joe had bought: a 20 HP Reid, 20 HP Superior and 6 HP Hoag diesel, jacking them onto pipes to roll them out of the building they were in.

However, the forklift they were using overturned into a slough, and without a farm tractor with enough traction to pull it out they headed back home without the engines, muddy from head to toe.

It took all of the next day, still raining, to pull the two big engines out of the building and up a muddy hillside. Forty-five minutes later they had the 20 HP Superior up and running, after it had sat for more than 20 years.

“We remember that weekend as my ‘Mud, Sweat and Tears Project,'” Joe says. “Thanks to my friends who help me make parts, we get engines up and running so they can be shown at the Little Log House Show in Hastings, Minn.”

At that show, Joe is in charge of running a pair of 18-ton 1930s Worthington generators. These 300 HP, 4-cylinder diesels formerly powered the town of Kenyon. “When we lived on the farm, after milking, my dad would go for groceries Thursday nights. I went to the power plant to watch the big generators run. I was just a kid, but how those big generators thrilled me!” Joe remembers. “Even when I moved away I used to drive to Kenyon and visit the generators. Lorry, the power house superintendent, would always open the doors for me. I’d turn on the lights and listen to the hot water pumps recirculating water through the massive blocks, and spend an hour or two just looking and remembering, watching the big generators shaking the floor with a constant beat of power. After Kenyon donated them to the Little Log House Show, I now get to run those generators at our show. What a dream come true!”

Living in town, Joe says the biggest challenge in restoring and repairing antique gas engines is time and space. “My job and other interests also take up time needed to work on an engine,” Joe says. “My joys are my friends who have knowledge and who are always willing to help get my engines back up and running. It’s great to have a great circle of friends who can help me out and I appreciate every one of them. Getting the project done and seeing the engine come back to life and run like I want it to. It makes all the struggles worth it.”

Contact Bill Vossler at Box 372, 400 Caroline Ln., Rockville, MN 56369 • bvossler@juno.com

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