Oil field engines

By Staff
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The Internet is now a huge part of our lives, and it’s a wonderful asset to any hobby.

There is the research aspect – using the Internet as a vast library of frequently obscure information, available through the courtesy of those who share their knowledge about history and restoration. There are online auctions and sale pages where collections and parts can be bought and sold. Communication between like-minded individuals around the world is possible through a variety of discussion pages and forums, such as the Stationary Engine Mailing List from which the material for this column is taken. Finally, there is the vicarious enjoyment of shows, museums and collections as related by people using the Internet.

I contribute to this last section by taking photographs wherever we go and posting them on a web page so enthusiasts around the world can see British engine rallies and collections. Last weekend, we made a trip out to the Welsh coast to visit the Internal Fire Museum – a round trip of about 400 miles. To my horror, halfway there I remembered I had forgotten my camera. It felt like I’d left home without an arm!

The upside, however, is that we’ll have to make another visit, and I’ll try to take some photographs that I’ll be sure to share with readers of Gas Engine Magazine of this excellent, little museum that celebrates the internal-combustion engine.

One of the main functions of this mailing list is problem solving, but it’s also interesting when someone asks a more philosophical question, such as this one that recently came up.

– What exactly defines an engine as an oil field engine? It’s not the number of cycles -I’ve seen a few four-cycle oil field engines. It’s not the horsepower – I’ve seen oil field engines in the 4 HP range. Some have sideshafts and some don’t. Some have hot-tube ignition and some are magneto-fired.

Is it the natural gas that’s used? Did any oil field engines use a fuel other than natural gas? Is it simply that it was marketed for use only as an oil pumper?

– I would define an oil field engine as one that was used in the oil fields for some purpose or another.

I have a 2 HP upright Famous that came from the oil field, and it was rigged to run on natural gas and also rigged to use one of those big Wico magnetos. I also have a 6 HP Foos that was rigged up the same way. There was an ordinary Fairbanks-Morse hopper-cooled Z rigged up that way. I took them right out of the oil field junk yard along with many other oil field artifacts, including a 25 HP Superior, two 12-inch 35 HP Superior pistons, big Wico magnetos and various parts.

We think of Bessemers, Reids, etc., as being oil field engines, but I’m sure they were also used in some non-oil field situations. It’s like defining a feed mill or a cotton gin engine!

– I’d think the term implies the engine is intended to run 24/7 in a mostly untended condition.

– Like the Famous and the Foos you mentioned, I’ve seen Wittes on pumpers. I don’t think of a Witte as an oil field engine, either. There are just a handful of engines we naturally think of as oil field engines.

Maybe it’s simply that these engines were primarily marketed through oil field supply catalogs. There are engines like the Spence that someone recently posted pictures of that leave no doubt it’s an oil field engine because of the heavy back gearing and crank arms built into the sub-base of the engine.

Companies such as Fairbanks certainly marketed engines to both the farm and oil field segments. Did companies like Famous and Hercules make an effort to do so? I’ve never seen anything in their literature to indicate this.

– Excellent point! The Fairbanks engines with the self-contained radiators fall right into that category.

– My oil field engine was used in the oil fields to run a washer. It’s called a Maytag!

– If it can pull a power, I’d say you’re in by the narrowest definition. When someone says they collect oil field engines, you know he doesn’t mean ‘those little things.’

– While Novo didn’t specifically market the Novo S engine as an ‘oil field engine,’ Novo did offer these engines with optional gas mixers and gasometers that allowed them to be run on wellhead gas. They also had a substantial factory-made back gearing as an option that facilitated use on pump and winch applications.

However, the Oil Well Supply Co. certainly did offer pumping rigs based on Novo S engines. I have an Oil Well Supply Co. catalog that shows three different styles of pump jacks equipped with a Novo S engine in the range of 4 to 10 HP. They also point out the outfit can be equipped with a winch for pulling rods or tubing.

So, add the trusty and ever popular Novo S to the list of ‘oil field engines.’

– Was this kind of pump used to pump oil from a holding tank (filled by several wells running on a power) to a nearby rail car?

When I visited an oil lease in Illinois, I believe it was described to us that way. The transfer pump was no longer there because they now pump out the holding tank into over-the-road tankers. The foundation for the old transfer pump was still there, however.

– We had two ‘oil field engines’ on our lease. They were both ‘inline 6s,’ ran off the gas we produced on the hill and had a radiator that was self-filling similar to toilet internals using a ball cock. I wish now that I had taken pictures, but those engines weren’t all that exciting to me back then.

There’s something else to consider: The gas engines that worked pumping units are for shallow wells. They just don’t have the needed power for deep wells.

– Hercules made engines that had a mixer allowing it to run on gasoline, natural gas and producer gas. These are most often found in the eastern oil fields.

The Parkersburg Machine Co. sold the equivalent of a Model T Thermoil. The firm also made a natural gas mixer for throttle-governed Hercules engines.

It would seem the engines of the past were designed to be more versatile and adaptable than the job-specific machinery of today. Saying that, I believe the latest piece of antique machinery to join the collection at my place is rather specialized – a diamond cutter. I had better go and find myself some diamonds to test it out on!

Engine enthusiast Helen French lives in Leicester, England. Contact her via e-mail at:helen@insulate.co.ukYou can join the Stationary Engine List on the Internet at:www.atis.net

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