It had been a few years since I’d taken in the Old Threshers Reunion at Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, so I was glad for the opportunity to attend 2018’s 69th annual reunion, held as always over the Labor Day weekend. In addition to the expected horde of steam traction engines (at least 40 by my count and certainly more) and tractors – I didn’t bother to count; there were hundreds – was the expected gathering of vintage engines. Spread out over a large area on the north end of the grounds, the engines ranged from the rare to the expected, such as Jim Patton’s 1910 20 hp 4-cylinder Lamb, which originally powered a Mississippi River ferry boat, and the Tuller family’s 1914 1-1/2 hp Waterloo Boy.
This year’s feature engine was the United, and one of the most impressive on the grounds was the big 1918 6 hp owned by Kenny McElhinney. Imposing in size, it’s an impressive engine and in perfect running order. It was looking particularly sharp thanks to a fresh coat of paint, a new suit if you will, tailored just before the reunion so it would look its best. Kenny, who says that he and his brother, Keith, have been coming to Mt. Pleasant for the past 40 years, acquired the engine 47 years ago, rescuing it from a corncrib about a quarter-mile from his rural home in Morning Sun, Iowa. It originally came off a farm about 3 miles from the McElhinney’s, where it ran a buzz saw, a grinder, and a line shaft to a pump house. Kenny is only the third owner of the United, which has lived its entire life within 25 miles of Mt. Pleasant.
A real surprise at the show was Earl Wacker’s circa-1901-1905 3 hp Frisco Standard, manufactured by Standard Gas Engine Co., San Francisco, California. Very few of these engines were made, and even fewer left the West Coast, so they are a rare sight at any show, more so a Midwest engine show. Earl, from Penngrove, California, brought the engine to Mt. Pleasant on his way home from the Portland, Indiana, Tri-State Gas Engine show, where he displayed it as well. We’ll have a full story on Earl’s Frisco Standard in the next issue.
In addition to meeting Earl and Kenny and Keith, I had the chance to catch up with a few owners to get better acquainted with them and their engines. One of those was 30-year-old Dan Newendorp, Kalona, Iowa, who brought along a nice Cushman upright and a circa-1913 1-3/4 hp Associated Chore Boy. A very popular engine in its day owing to its simple, high-quality construction, the Chore Boy was available in both air- and water-cooled versions and sold by the thousands. Practically speaking, they’re not particularly rare engines, yet Dan’s Chore Boy is, and for a very simple reason: It’s been in the same family since new.
As I learned from Dan and his wife, Jennifer, the engine originally belonged to Jennifer’s great-grandfather. Dan acquired the engine about two years ago after commenting to Jennifer’s grandfather, Monroe, that he thought it might be neat to get a steam engine. As it happened, Monroe knew that the Associated – bought new by his father sometime around 1913 – was still on the farm, buried under years of debris in an old machine shed. “You don’t want a steam engine, they’re big and expensive,” he said to Dan, telling him there was an old hit-and-miss engine in a shed on the farm.
Circa-1913 1-3/4 hp Associated Chore Boy
Manufacturer: Associated Mfg. Co., Waterloo, IA
Year: Circa 1913
Serial No.: 25938 (on crankshaft)
Horsepower: 1-3/4 hp (tag says 1-1/2 hp) @ 450rpm
Bore & stroke: 3-3/4in x 5in
Flywheel: 17-3/4in x 2in
Belt Pulley: 6in x 4-3/16in
Ignition: Igniter w/battery and coil
Governing: Hit-and-miss, flywheel weights
Cooling: Air w/belt-driven fan
“I remember seeing it in the old woodshed,” Jennifer’s father, Dean, recalls. “My dad [Monroe] tore the woodshed down and built a two-car garage, and we put the engine in the machine shed. It was all covered up, but still there.” Clearly having some fun, neither he nor Monroe told Dan exactly where the engine was. “He kept looking around trying to find it,” Dean recalls, “but he couldn’t because it was all covered up.”
One day while Dan was at work, Dean and Monroe took a skid loader and lifted the engine out of its hiding spot, put it in the back of a pickup and delivered it to Dan. To say that Dan was excited is an understatement. He’d never restored a stationary engine, but he was eager to learn and this engine was clearly special. Not only was it bought new by his wife’s great-grandfather, but, as Dan learned, Monroe, now 90 years old, had never heard the engine run, and Dan wanted him to hear it in his lifetime. “He remembers it from when he was 5 years old,” Dan says, “but doesn’t know why it was taken out of service. He’d never seen it run, but remembers it sitting where they did their butchering in the wood shed.”
When Dan got the Associated it was covered in years of dirt, and the piston was stuck fast in the cylinder. “I worked on it for about a year and a half trying to get it unstuck,” Dan says. “I talked to everyone I could about different ways of doing it. One person said, ‘Just throw it in a fire,’ but the engine meant so much to me; I didn’t want to destroy the original paint. Somebody mentioned using acid, but I was leery of that. I was afraid that if I ruined it, that was it, it was done. After about a year and a half of soaking it in everything I could think of and with no luck, I talked to a few people who pointed out the strongest mounting points of the cylinder. I removed the head and made a sleeve that just fit the piston, which was almost to the top of the cylinder. I then removed the cylinder with the piston and connecting rod from the frame. I used a 60-ton press working from the top, and it took every bit of that press. It went ‘BOOM’ and I got nervous and thought, ‘Oh, it’s done.’”
Amazingly, it wasn’t done. The piston came out complete and undamaged. Not only did he reuse the original piston (with new rings), all the cylinder required was honing to bring it back to service. During all of this, Dan spent a lot of time cleaning the engine, something it needed badly after some 85 years sitting in the shed. Fortunately for Dan, because it never left the farm, it still had almost all of its original parts. The gas tank on it now is a reproduction, but Dan has the original, which was full of what seemed like compacted sand and varnish. “It’s still soaking in parts cleaner. Every now and then a little more comes out. I’m gaining on it,” Dan says.
Why the engine was retired is unknown, but it wears evidence of previous repairs, including a repair to the support for the igniter pick, which has been brazed to the cylinder, apparently to fix a break. Dan had to do a little brazing on the cylinder where the drip oil attaches, as the boss it screws into had partially broken away. The cooling fan is a reproduction piece (the original was one of the few pieces missing on the engine), as is the exhaust valve rocker arm. Dan added the muffler, as well. Curiously, there’s no number on the build plate. From what we know, early Chore Boys never had the serial number stamped on the tag, only on the crankshaft. The tag also lists the engine as a 1-1/2 hp, not 1-3/4 hp. Introduced around 1911 or 1912, early Chore Boys were rated at 1-1/2 hp, but Associated quickly change that rating to 1-3/4 hp while apparently still tagging some engines as 1-1/2 hp.
It was, of course, more than worth the effort. Dan got the engine running for the first time just two weeks before the Mt. Pleasant show – the engine’s first outing – and a week before the show Dan had Monroe start the Chore Boy, hearing it run for the first time in his life. “I made him start it up,” Dan says, “so he could say he started it.”