A Life in Old Iron: C.H. Wendel, 1939-2019

Celebrate the memory of C.H. Wendel and reflect on his contributions to the old iron community and his work on the book, American Gas Engines Since 1872.

| February/March 2020

C.H. "Chuck" Wendel in 2008. Wendel researched and recorded the products of the myriad gas engine manufacturers in the early days of industry.

If there’s one name everyone in the old iron community knows, it’s C.H. Wendel. The author of some three dozen books covering the vast landscape of agricultural technology of yore, Charles Harry Wendel, or Chuck, as he would introduce himself, is best known in our corner of the world for his landmark 1983 publication, American Gasoline Engines Since 1872.

Today, we can look up any patent ever issued in the U.S. simply by going to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website. When Wendel compiled his seminal work on gas engines that resource didn’t exist. Instead, he conducted thorough and time-consuming research scouring the pages of the Patent Office Gazette, of which he had a complete collection covering the years 1872 to 1975.

Wendel at work in Printers' hall at Midwest Old Threshers.

The result was an encyclopedia of gas engines that owners of vintage gas engines, and individuals interested in the history of American gas engine technology, have been turning to for almost 40 years. Although occasionally criticized for omissions discovered years after its publication, criticisms that bit Wendel just a bit considering the incredible time he spent researching the book, it remains the most important publication of its type and a critical resource for anyone interested in early gas engines, particularly those used on the farm.

Born in 1939, Wendel was introduced to the old ways growing up on his family’s farm in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. In a 2008 interview with Farm Collector’s Leslie C. McManus, Wendel recounted how his father farmed with horses while his great-uncles still used steam engines. “They threshed and ran sawmills and drilled wells,” he recalled.


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