Verne Kindschi is probably as surprised as anyone to see where his fascination for Fuller & Johnson gas engines has led, specfically, the interest in the company that was on display at The Great Fuller & Johnson Rally, 2010.
Well known by Fuller & Johnson collectors, Verne was for decades the de facto caretaker of Fuller & Johnson history, thanks to his careful maintenance of the surviving F&J engine records. Those records were passed along to Verne in 1966 by Sever Thingstead, a former F&J employee who had kept them in a coal bin in his cellar. Verne, who lives in Prairie Du Sac, Wisc., a short drive north of Fuller & Johnson’s old factory in Madison, rescued the records from Sever. After acquiring the records, Verne supplied Fuller & Johnson engine owners around the world build and shipping dates from the old F&J books.
The Fuller & Johnson Story
Fuller & Johnson was one of the larger engine companies of its day. From the start of engine production in 1902 until the last engines were produced in 1932, F&J manufactured an estimated 180,000 engines ranging from little 5/8 HP to 12 HP singles, along with a number of two- and four-cylinder industrial-style engines in the last decade of manufacture.
Verne’s interest in Fuller & Johnson, a fascination fired in no small part by his long association with Sever, ultimately produced a book, The Fuller & Johnson Story, which he self-published in 1992. Interest in that book prompted further research culminating in a second, expanded edition, The Fuller & Johnson Story II, which was published 10 years later, in 2002.
Verne celebrated the launch of the first edition with The Great Fuller & Johnson Rally, held in conjunction with the annual Badger Steam and Gas Engine Club show in Baraboo, Wisc., just up the road from Verne’s home. That rally drew hundreds of Fuller & Johnson fans, eager to show off their engines and learn more about the history and legacy of the products of Morris E. Fuller and John A. Johnson.
The Great Rally returns
Eager to get Fuller & Johnson fans together again, Verne organized The Great Fuller & Johnson Rally of 2010. Like the first rally, F&J fans drove and flew in from around the country. Unlike that first rally, however, was the opportunity to meet Stan Johnson, great-grandson of founder John A. Johnson. “For some reason, F&J wasn’t discussed much in our family,” Stan says. “I knew it was there, but we didn’t talk about it much,” Stan says.
Stan’s interest in Fuller & Johnson grew slowly, starting with an engine – later stolen – that he bought in 1970. Some 10 years later he bought another one, but the idea of owning anything associated with his great-grandfather’s company was still mostly a novelty.
About five years ago, however, he started calling Verne, looking for bits and pieces of information about the company. A retired American Airlines pilot, Stan found his interest in his family’s history growing, and discovered that Verne knew more about the Fuller & Johnson story than anyone. “I had gotten more interested,” Stan says, “and got Verne’s book and started reading it. Then about three years ago, Verne called and said the Badger club was going to put up an F&J building, a replica of a dealership, and that’s when I got involved.”
Stan was already thinking about some way to honor Fuller & Johnson, so he jumped on board to help get the new museum built on the Badger grounds. The replica dealership was completed and dedicated at the annual Badger show in August 2008. A few months prior to the show, Verne returned the existing Fuller & Johnson records to their roots when he turned them over to Stan, who continues to provide build date and shipping information to Fuller & Johnson engine owners around the world.
On with the show
Some 70 F&J fans registered for the rally, displaying their engines and other Fuller & Johnson products proudly around the Fuller & Johnson Dealership and Museum. Typical of those present was Bob Robinson of Garden City, Kan., and his son Jim, now of Slayton, Minn., who showed up with a very nice pre-1916 F&J 1-1/2 HP MultiMotor and a 1912 F&J 1-1/4 HP People’s Price. Both engines are rare, thanks to a relatively short production span of about one and a half years each.
Bob says he found both engines at auction. And while both were complete, they needed work. “The Multimotor was all there,” Bob says. “I think I had to sleeve it, but I didn’t have to pour any bearings.” Bob says he still has his first F&J that he bought in 1986, an 8 HP Model N.
Father and son collectors Don and Tom Winkler, New Holstein, Wisc., brought along a trio of early F&J engines, including the oldest known example, a 1904 1-1/2 HP tank-cooled engine bearing serial no. 136. As F&J engine production is thought to have started with serial no. 101, this is believed to be the 36th engine made. The Winklers also brought along two other spectacular engines, including a 3 HP oil-cooled engine, also made in 1904, and a 2 HP oil-cooled made in 1905.
Paul Kohlwey brought his 1917 7 HP Model K, an engine he bought at auction three years ago. “It was a wreck,” Paul says of the engine, “but it was the right price.” And even though it was “a big ball of rust” and stuck, Paul was able to put it back together with the original bearings. It took him about six months to finish, and he’s pretty happy with the results, and loves running it at shows. “This thing just loves being belted up,” he says.
Forty-seven of those assembled joined together for a banquet dinner and a chance to hear Stan Johnson tell his story. Australian F&J collector Paul Wilkins also entertained the crowd, telling his story of fascination for an engine built on the other side of the world. Yours truly also got to say a few words, but the best part of the evening was listening to Mr. Fuller & Johnson himself, Verne Kindshi, as he described his history with F&J, and his hope to preserve F&J engines and history for future collectors.
Great engines, fantastic people and an excellent show. You can’t ask for more than that.
For help with dating your F&J engine, contact Stan Johnson at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or write him at 3070 Lake Forest Park Road, Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235