Collecting Wisconsin Engines

By Staff
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At left is Andrew Spinelli's restored 1954 Wisconsin AEN, found at a garage sale for $20. At right is Spinelli's 1949 Wisconsin TF 2-cylinder, which ultimately required a complete overhaul. 

The average farm show has a lot of equipment on display, the spectrum running from flywheeled engines big and small to gas tractors, steam tractors and many old farm implements. One engine manufacturer rarely represented, however, is Wisconsin engines.

Wisconsin heavy-duty air-cooled engines had a wide variety of uses, from industrial to agricultural, and most people remember these engines powering hay balers, water pumps and generators on farms. I first started collecting Wisconsin engines around 10 years ago, my first being an S7D, an engine that probably saw duty powering a garden tractor. My grandfather spotted it at a farm show and thought $20 was a good deal – he figured we would get at least $20 of fun out of it, which we did. The engine was in very good condition needing few parts to run, and we spent many years playing around and having a lot of fun with this engine.

That was only the start, and I went on to what most engine collectors look for, including hit-and-miss engines, then on to farm tractors and later buying a steam tractor. But even with all this equipment in my collection, I wanted something different to show at farm shows. That’s when I remembered my old Wisconsin.

After my grandfather passed away I spent my time going to school, working and dating, while the Wisconsin spent its time in my basement collecting dust. The work we did to the Wisconsin was mechanical, not cosmetic, and even though it ran like new, it needed a coat of paint. I pulled the Wisconsin out to start working on it, and then found a second Wisconsin at a farm show, a Model TF 2-cylinder built in 1949. Not quite as old as a steam tractor, but never-the-less it seemed to need a new home. The owner told me he last ran the engine the year before, and that it ran quite well. It had spent its life in an International hay baler, and I was very excited because I had not seen many 2-cylinders for sale before. Without looking it over too well, I bought it. Let this story warn you, ‘Buyer Beware!’

Upon unloading the engine at home, I noticed it was frozen pretty tight. After pulling the head off, I learned the bores were nothing but solid rust. Feeling pretty bad about what I had just purchased, I decided to take apart the lower half of the motor, and I found the crankshaft was also badly worn. Even so, I decided I had better get to work. Over the course of the winter I ended up doing a total rebuild, including new bearings, a turned crankshaft, reboring and fitting oversized rings, rebuilding the carburetor, starter and generator. After spending a small fortune on this engine, I felt pretty good when I started it for the first time. I spent the summer cosmetically restoring it and mounting it on a cart. My only problem was that if I was going to try to represent Wisconsin at a show, I was going to need more. I had decided I would start looking for a larger engine.

That was when I found a 1950 VE4 4-cylinder for sale at a reasonable price. It was not running, but I inspected it thoroughly to make sure I wouldn’t run into the same problems I had with the 2-cylinder. As it turned out, it didn’t take much to get this motor running. I decided I would also do a cosmetic restoration to it, which I was going to start in the spring of 2001. Just before I started, however, my parents purchased an engine at a local garage sale. They woke me up to tell me they bought me a Wisconsin and I had to take it out of the truck. Being quite skeptical, I staggered out to the truck and woke up quite quickly. They had purchased a 1954 Model AEN for $20, with all of its parts in place and with no dents in the sheet metal or fuel tank. I decided this should be the next cosmetic restoration for the Sycamore show coming up in August. Unfortunately, after getting this engine running, I found it knocked badly. I took it apart and found that I had a burned out connecting rod and scored crankshaft, so it was back to the lathe and parts store. After spending more money than I wished, it was ready to be painted, and it sounded like new once I was done.

At left is Andrew Spinelli’s restored 1954 Wisconsin AEN, found at a garage sale for $20. At right is Spinelli’s 1949 Wisconsin TF 2-cylinder, which ultimately required a complete overhaul.

While at another local show I spotted an odd Wisconsin, one I had heard about but had never seen before, a 1940 AC4S, an inline 4-cylinder engine that Wisconsin built for a short time. Not planning on buying anything that day I hadn’t brought my truck with me, so I made arrangements to pick up the engine the next day at the owner’s house. He graciously welcomed us as we arrived at his house, and after helping us load the engine gave us a tour of his place, including his many engines. Wandering around his property, my mother and girlfriend learned these people had an abused border collie they had found, and it was going to have to be put to sleep because of some behavioral problems. Needless to say, we ended up a few weeks later returning for the dog – I have since been instructed by my parents that if I can’t take the engine with me, don’t buy it.

Ironically, I finished the AEN engine the night before the Sycamore show. Our power went out from a storm, so a friend held a flashlight while my girlfriend and I put the finishing touches on the motor. At the show I displayed my AEN, TF, VE4, BKN, AC4 and AC4S. Also on display was my 1975 John Deere 300, 1970 John Deere 120 Patio in Spruce Blue, and various other engines.

I did not know what to expect when displaying Wisconsin engines. What would spectators and fellow engine collectors think? Are the engines too new to display? To my surprise, I was asked questions about them the whole time I was at the show. People were constantly asking me about the history of Wisconsin, telling me their memories of these engines from years ago and how they had not seen them since. One elderly gentleman even asked me, while I was eating my lunch, if I could start the VE4 so his grandson could hear what it sounded like. His eyes lit up on hearing the engine start, and he started recalling memories of working on a baler for weeks at a time with this same engine. Sounds that he had not heard in years put a smile on his face, and a smile on mine. Many spectators paid compliments on the appearance of the engines, and Andy Sissler, a well-known parts vendor, commented he had never heard Wisconsins run so well in his life. I felt quite proud of my engines because of the attention they drew and the fact that they all ran flawlessly, from morning to night, every day of the show, except for the half hour lunch they were given to rest.

Since that show I have picked up a few more engines to make my collection complete. This is a collection that may not have equipment as old as others, but even so this equipment helped play a part in our agricultural history. Oddly enough, the S7D is still sitting in the basement, waiting to be restored so he can join his brothers out at the show. After the passing of my grandfather this engine holds fond memories, and one day I will haul it out of the basement and finish its restoration.

If you’re attending the Sycamore show next year, stop by and enjoy the sights and sounds of these old engines. The memories of these engines may be distant, but a few of these old engines still linger on.

Wisconsin Engines May Not be at the Top of the Collector Pile, but They’re Not Forgotton, Either

Contact engine enthusiast Andrew Spinelli at: 10990 Byron Court, Woodstock, IL 60098, (815) 334-9044.

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