Friends and Neighbors…The Gamo Marine Engine

By Staff
1 / 3
Taken from an old, undated postcard, this photograph shows the main Gasport Motor Company building some years after the Company declared bankruptcy in 1911. Friend sprayers and engines dot the foreground. (Photo courtesy of Don Jerge, Royalton Town Histor
2 / 3
This view of the GAMO shows the aluminum crankcase cover embossed with the name GAMO. The belt pulley appearing at right converted this marine engine into a power unit for a cider mill or apple drying house on a farm several miles north of Gasport.
3 / 3
Side view of the GAMO marine engine made by Gasport Motor Company, probably between 1907 and 1911.

6190 Keller Avenu Newfane, New York 14108-9508

After my story about a Friend engine appeared in GEM, several
Friend owners wrote to me. Some needed parts, and some had pumps
available, and some just wanted information about their Friend
engine. All that talking and writing built a fire under me to see
if I could locate, well-you know, more Friends. There’s a
little newspaper in our area called the Retailer. The Retailer is
for people wanting to sell their surplus to somebody else or
wanting to buy other people’s cast-offs. I decided to advertise
for Friend engines, pumps, or parts. In the advertisement, I even
volunteered to fish the engines out of the hedgerow, if
necessary.

Having taken the plunge of ‘going public,’ I sat back to
see what developed. I remained seated for some time. The Retailer
hit the streets, but not much happened. One fellow called for me to
come help him with his Friend. Another young man called to ask if I
souped up car engines! Finally, I did get a call from a fellow
about two towns over to the east. He made mention of my
advertisement and allowed as how he had a Friend pump and some
spare parts for sale. In an offhand way, he also said that he had
an old engine for sale.

‘What kind of engine?’ I asked fairly nonchalantly. I
did not want to go too far afield from the Friend line, as I
figured that I could go broke quickly enough just concentrating on
Friend engines and sprayers.

‘A Camel.’ (Well, that’s what I thought he said!) I
am fairly new to this engine collecting hobby, but I know animal
names are fairly common. You have the generic ‘Donkey
engine’ and Pony engine. More specifically, there are Badgers,
Bull Dogs, Wolverines, and Woodpeckers. However, this was the first
time that I had heard of a Camel. Could this be one or two
cylinder, I figured? ‘A Camel?’ I queried.

The response came back a little crisp. ‘No!’ (As in
‘No, you idiot!’) ‘No! A GAMO. G-A-M-O. GAMO. Made in
Gasport by the Gasport Motor Company. I’ve only seen one other
like it and that one was in pieces. This GAMO is complete and
runs.’

Slowly the light began to dawn on me. Contrary to my
understanding, Friend Manufacturing Company was not the only make
of gasoline engines in this small town on the old Erie Canal. I
consulted Mr. Wendel’s fine book, American Gasoline Engines
Since 1872. The only entry that I could find for Gasport Motor
Company was the name, its location in Gasport, New York and a date
of 1910. At least it was evident that such a company had existed at
one time. That was enough for me! A rare engine locally made also
made for a rare opportunity to own what might prove to be a
one-of-a-kind. This was a temptation that I could not resist. When
it comes to old engines, I am too weak. Old engines are my
downfall; their weight is my pitfall. My answer was a chainfall
after I had a bad pratfall. Trying to move an old Friend, I yanked
on a piece of plumbing. The pipe broke. My Friend and I became
intimately involved. I haven’t found the piece of pipe yet; it
went off to the north somewhere. But I digress. I called the man
right back, setting up a time to visit his engine shed and the
Gamo.

The Gamo engine is about as odd in appearance as is the name. It
has a vertical cylinder with a bolted-on water hopper that sticks
out in front like the bosom of an old dowager. The single flywheel
is relatively small in diameter at fifteen inches, but is massive
with four inch face. Overall height of the engine is about
thirty-two inches. Horsepower is estimated at the one and a half to
two horse range. Like Friend engines, this specimen of the Gamo
sports a Schebler carburetor. The man explained that the Gamo came
out of a barn where it was used to power a cider press. It looked
like a marine style engine to me. He continued to say that the
engine was built between 1905 and 1910.

The owners of Gasport Motor Company were Ellis S. Button and
George W. Day. That was the extent of the history of Gasport Motor
Company known to the previous owner of my Gamo engine. By the time
this brief exchange on the history of the Gamo had taken place, I
had traded him a few heavy greenbacks for it and the Gamo was mine.
We loaded it onto my Friend-Fletcher and I headed home. The
challenge of researching Gasport Motor Company had only sweetened
the deal.

It did not take long to become evident that almost nothing was
known about Gasport Motor Company. I started my research in the
Niagara County Historian’s office. A 1908 Niagara County Atlas
contained a detailed map of Gasport. Gasport Motor Company appeared
as a small building located directly on the south bank of the New
York State Barge Canal, proper name for the famous Erie Canal.
Friend Manufacturing Company appeared as a much larger block of
buildings about 500 yards to the southwest. Research in a 1908
Niagara County Directory proved very interesting, and confirmed my
suspicions that the Gamo was a marine engine. The Directory named
Button and Day as principals of the Company. Gasport Motor
Company’s business was listed as the manufacture and sale of
marine engines and launches. At a time when the steam launch was on
its way out, Button and Day apparently had decided to go into the
gas engine powered boat business.

A trip to the Niagara County Courthouse took me to the County
Clerk’s record of deeds and business incorporations. After two
hours of research, the rough timeline of Gasport Motor
Company’s lifespan could be constructed. Ellis Button bought
the ‘old steam sawmill lot’ in Gasport in November of 1906.
This became the home of Gasport Motor Company. In June, 1910 the
company was incorporated with four stockholders: Ellis S. Button
and his wife Mary, George W. Day and his wife Frances. According to
incorporation papers, Gasport Motor Company was formed for ‘the
manufacture, buying, and selling of gasoline engines, hydraulic
machinery, and self-propelled vehicles.’ Even before the
company became incorporated, New York State had made it known that
the Barge Canal would be expanded and that property along the canal
would be appropriated. A photograph dated August 4, 1909 shows a
small building on the canal and identifies it as belonging to
Gasport Motor Company. The back of the photograph is stamped
‘Appropriations’. The expansion of the canal by sixteen
feet took the small building, but did not endanger the large
building of Gasport Motor Company. Perhaps the company was already
in financial trouble or perhaps Button and Day had had enough of
building powered boats. At any rate, on December 11, 1911 Gasport
Motor Company went into U. S. District Court, petitioning to be
adjudicated a voluntary bankruptcy. Two months later, the
principals of the company deeded over the ‘steam sawmill
lot’ to Gasport Motor Company which, the next day, deeded the
land and buildings over to a new owner who purchased the property
at a court-ordered bankruptcy auction. Another deed conveyed .29
acre of the defunct company’s land to the People of the State
of New York, for canal expansion.

The buildings are still in existence today. Sometime later in
their life, they were used by Friend Manufacturing Company. The
photograph accompanying this article shows a building with Gasport
Motor Company signs still in evidence, but with several sprayers
parked out front. The gas engine sitting behind the pole is
recognizable as a Friend engine. The photograph appears to have
been taken about 1920.

Whereas Friend Manufacturing Company is approaching its one
hundredth year anniversary and still going strong, Gasport Motor
Company appears, at most, to have commenced operations sometime in
1907 and ended operations officially in early 1912. Probably,
Gasport Motor Company’s active life stretched only from 1907 to
1911. No hard information has been found yet to pin down actual
dates of manufacture or numbers of engines built. How many Gamo
engines were made? How many still exist? What did their launches
look like? These are all questions whose answers would be of great
interest to me. Perhaps someone can contribute more to this brief
history of Gasport’s ‘other’ engine maker.

Gas Engine Magazine
Gas Engine Magazine
Preserving the History of Internal Combustion Engines