I would assume the two antique engines in these photos would qualify as “rare.” You may or may not agree. However, let me add the following observations of the Woolery and the Maxi Motor: I have in the past and presently do attend antique engine shows in all parts of the U.S.A. and Canada, and can truthfully say it isn’t easy to find either of these engines on display.
The Portland, Ind., Show, with upwards of 3,000 engines, and the show at Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, with a count at 1,000 engines plus, failed to produce a single version of a Woolery or a Maxi Motor. I agree that the fact these engines were not represented at these two shows does not necessarily qualify them as rare; however, you must admit it does add fuel to the fire, as to just how many Woolerys and Maxi Motors are still around.
According to information available and my limited research, the Woolery was produced mainly to be used by railroad companies on their maintenance vehicles. The Woolery was able to change directions without a complicated gear system. This was an added plus for the crew, in providing maintenance for the railroad tracks and switches.
When I was a youngster, our family lived directly across the street from a Pennsylvania Railroad freight depot. I can vividly recall seeing the section hands (that’s what they were called), at the end of the day pick up the small section car and set it off the tracks onto the wooden platform that surrounded the depot. It required four men to accomplish this feat. I also remember the car was not blessed with a top or a windshield. On occasions it was covered with a brown colored tarp. However, most of the time it was uncovered and faced the elements of good or bad weather on its own. Unfortunately, I cannot recall the name of the engine used on the Pennsylvania car valves (probably a Fairmont), but I do remember it produced a very distinct sound. The familiar ‘putt-putt-putt’ was easily identified, especially late in the afternoon when the crew was in a hurry to return to the depot. In regard to the Woolery I own, I’m not convinced it was used on a section car. The reasons are thus: as the photos indicate, it is equipped with a very large pulley. I am not sure this was typical equipment for most section cars. Also, the overall condition of the engine may be a clue. It gives every indication it spent most of its life under cover. However, this is just speculation on my part. Woolerys were manufactured in Minneapolis, Minnesota, by the Woolery Machine Company. The engine in the photos has the original identification brass tag. (see the pencil tracing) stating it was made in Minnesota and sold in Canada by the Dominion Equipment and Supply Company, Winnipeg, Canada. One would assume they also had retail outlets here in the U.S. Again, this is speculation on my part. As you might expect, production dates and activities are difficult to obtain. Evidently from what little information is available, Woolery produced a single cylinder and a ‘twin,’ two cylinder. These are of the two cycle design and are considered by most engine collectors unique. The round water hopper and the oblong gas tank mounted on the top of the engine give credence to its unique, overall appearance.
The Woolery Machine Company was founded by Horace Woolery. Mr. Woolery was a longtime employee of the Fairmont Company and was credited with many patents on the Fairmont engine. A system for tightening the belt for work purposes was probably one of his most memorable accomplishments. The base of the engine is stationary while the entire engine was moved forward to loosen the belt, and moved backward to tighten the belt. This was made possible by a lever. At the base of the lever was a spring loaded pawl. The spring forced the pawl into various positions depending on how tight or loose the operator wanted the belt.
Just how many Woolerys were manufactured is anybody’s guess. But to its credit the Woolery was advertised as ‘The Largest Engine of Its Size in the World.’ Quite a statement, considering the fact the company evidently disappeared from the scene sometime in 1925. The unusual design may have been a factor in the short life of the company. At this particular period in history most engines were almost entirely made of cast iron, especially the fuel tank and the water hopper. However, on this Woolery, both the water hopper and the fuel tank were manufactured of what was described as ‘galvanized tin.’
The water hopper, which holds a large amount of water, gives the indication the engine may have been prone to overheating. Pure speculation on my part; I have no proof this is indeed a fact.
The fuel tank is a different story. The long bolt that holds the tank to the body is a problem. If the nut that holds the bolt in position is tightened by an overzealous mechanic it would cause a leak. This I can vouch for, because mine leaks. An added gasket is not the answer, I know that for a fact, as I have already tried that remedy. The long bolt that holds the tank in place enters at the top and extends through the tank to the bottom. Here it is tightened in the threads on the top of the engine head. This must have been a real headache for the manufacturer, not to mention the owner. The timer can be moved forward or backward depending on which way you wanted to run. With the engine being enclosed, it wasn’t easy finding the exact location of the piston in regards to the firing pattern. All of these problems were eventually solved and the Woolery runs like it is supposed to.
The Maxi Motor
The Maxi Motor in the photos is also a unique design. It is completely enclosed and sports only one flywheel. The magneto, also out of sight, is a gear driven ‘Red Devil.’ The photo indicates there is a cast iron door that can be removed to allow the operator access to the piston, rod and magneto. Supposedly this door would allow easy access to the inner workings of the engine. However, I can say from experience any adjustments on the magneto are difficult, to say the least. Once the lid is removed and your hand with the proper tool is inside, everything from that point on is strictly ‘by feel.’ Seeing inside is next to impossible. The opening, which is something like four inches wide and seven ‘ inches long, does not allow a lot of freedom for any adjustments. With the lid removed, the magneto, which is gear driven, sets up a tremendous ‘howl.’ With the lid in place the little engine runs along at a nice pace. I also discovered when trying to start the engine for the first time, that fuel must be pulled from the tank, which unfortunately is mounted at the base of the engine. It is delivered from there all the way to the top of the engine to the mixer. After lots of experimenting, I discovered the way to solve this problem was with a considerable amount of ‘choking,’ especially since it is not equipped with a fuel pump. Once started it is a nice runner. It does draw a considerable amount of attention at shows. Some of this is due to the fact the valves are mounted in the head in a vertical position. This does produce a different sound. Like the Woolery, a Maxi Motor is seldom seen at gas engine shows. Neither the Woolery or the Maxi Motor appear to have had a decal.
Author’s note: Since writing this article I have received information from other collectors in regard to these engines. It is my understanding there is a Maxi Motor in Michigan, but I don’t have the collector’s name or address. I also recently received a report there is a Wollery in the state of Iowa. My information is that it is owned by a collector named Wickham. No address at this time.