Sparta Economy Engine News

By Staff

20601 Old State Road Haubstadt, Indiana 47639

It’s not very often that there is information from a former
employee available. Back in 1976 Ray Miller of Fort Erie, Ontario,
wrote to the Sparta Township Library asking for information about
the Holm Machine Manufacturing Company. They referred him to Phil
Bradstrum who was still living at the time. Below is the content of
Mr. Bradstrum’s reply:

E. Phil Bradstrum, 22 Centennial Avenue, Sparta, Michigan 49345,
February 20, 1976

Ray Miller & Sons, 2815 Niagara Blvd., Fort Erie, Ontario,
Canada

Dear Mr. Ray Miller,

Your letter to the Sparta Library turned over to me for a reply
about the Holm’s Mfg. Co. This was a new company formed by
Sears, Roebuck and Company and Holm’s. Money furnished by Sears
and know how by Holm’s. At this time, Holm’s was associated
with the Northwest Engineering Company, makers of marine engines
and concrete machinery at Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Coming to Sparta,
Michigan, a clause in the deal was that Sparta was to furnish money
to build the plant. Having no money for such a purpose, they bonded
the village for $20,000 to build a park, as it was illegal to bond
for manufacturing plants in the state of Michigan at that time, so
a loophole was found. We came to Sparta November 17, 1908. About
1912, Sears bought out Holm’s and they operated the company
until 1914 when they sold 51% of the stock to Hercules Buggy
Company of Evansville, Indiana. They moved the company that same
year. The Economy Engine was the only brand name in manufacturing
in Sparta. I do not have information or names of the officers of
the company, likewise no literature, books or parts lists on the
engine.

This is all the information I can recollect and trust it answers
your interest in this matter.

Yours truly,

E. Phil Bradstrum

Newspapers of that time relate a slightly different account of
the bond issue and Sears’ involvement. Mr. Bradstrum passed
away on January 27, 1977.

The Holm Company started building Economy engines about mid-1909
beginning with the A model. Details of the various models built at
Sparta will follow in later articles. Even though the Holm Company
continued to grow and build more engines for Sears, there was a
nagging problem at Sparta.

Electricity for the village was supplied by steam driven
generators at the Sparta Milling Company. As time went on, the
demand for electricity grew to the point that there wasn’t
enough to supply the homes and businesses at Sparta. The Holm
Company added its own generators and planned to sell surplus power
to the milling company. To make a long story short, things did not
work out. The headline on September 30, 1910 newspaper read
‘Town in Darkness.’ The Sparta Milling Company couldn’t
meet the electricity, demands of the village. How it was all
resolved is unknown.

By the spring of 1912, William Tippet, president of the Holm
Company, contacted William McCurdy of the Hercules Buggy Company at
Evansville, Indiana, and asked that McCurdy build a factory there
to manufacture engines for Sears. McCurdy had been supplying
buggies for Sears since 1903. November 8, 1912, the Hercules Gas
Engine Company was formed and the process of building a new factory
was begun. The rest is history. The Evansville Business Association
put up $ 10,000 to haul all the assets of the Holm Company to
Evansville. Everything was moved, including employees who wished to
move. A severe housing shortage was created in the area just east
of the Hercules factory. Production of the Sparta type Economy
engines was continued at Evansville until the entire supply of
Sparta parts was used up. The first Hercules type Economy engines
were produced in Evansville in mid-January 1914.

The lowest Sparta Economy serial number currently known is 526,
and the highest is 40156. Serial numbers of the 316 currently known
are pretty well scattered through this range except for a gap
between 6,000 and 10,000. The known Waterloo Economy engine serial
numbers all fall in that gap. The serial number gap was left so
that when customers ordered parts for engines and gave their serial
number, the supplier would know what kind of engine it was.

There will be more on the Waterloo Economy engines later.

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