1905 6 HP Kansas City Hay Press Lightning

The amazing Lightning Balanced Engine from Kansas City Hay Press Co.


| November/December 2004



Portable Lightning engines

Tommy Turner's amazing 6 HP circa-1905 Kansas City Hay Press Lightning engine. Portable Lightning engines were unique in that the cart was an integral part of the engine structure.

Photo by Richard Backus

Company: Built by Kansas City Hay Press Co., Kansas City, Mo.
Model: Lightning Balanced Engine
Shop number: 878
Year: Circa 1905
HP: 6 at 350 RPM
Bore: 6-3/4-inch
Stroke: 5-1/2-inch
Flywheel diameter: 39 inches
Flywheel width: 3-1/4 inches
Ignition: Hit-and-miss, low-tension magneto and igniter
Retail price in 1905: Approximately $900

For mechanical engineers, the quest for the perfect-running engine has always been a holy grail of sorts. Even in the earliest days of the internal-combustion engine, engineers worked at designing engines that would do more than simply run. They would be models of perfection, perfectly balanced, delivering power in carefully orchestrated mechanical concert.

Horizontally opposed engines, which effectively cancel out primary engine imbalances, were among the earliest designs to address this basic quest, and manufacturers across the spectrum of engines adopted the design. To this day, the opposed engine is still the prime mover for a number of automotive manufacturers, chief among them are Porsche and Subaru.

But what if you were an engine designer at the dawning of the 20th century, searching for the answer to a smooth-running engine without the complexity of extra cylinders? Current technology applies weighted countershafts to cancel out inherent engine imbalances in single-cylinder and inline engines. For whatever reasons, early engine designers didn't go that direction, but they did pursue some interesting avenues of their own.

By 1900, the Kansas City Hay Press Co., Kansas City, Mo., was an established manufacturer of hay presses and other agricultural implements. The boom in engine building was on, and the company clearly decided it needed to move with the times and develop its own line of farm engines.

In 1901, E.H. Korsmeyer, working for Kansas City Hay Press, applied for a patent for 'new and useful improvements in governing and valve-operating mechanism for gas and vapor engines.' Although Korsmeyer's patent application (granted patent no. 708,485 on Sept. 2, 1902) specifically addressed ignition timing and valve actuation, it is the overall design incorporated into the engine that captivates engine collectors to this day.

Balanced action: The opposed single

About 1901, Kansas City Hay Press began manufacturing and marketing Korsmeyer's design as the 'Lightning' line of engines. With the Lightning engine, Kansas City Hay Press presented its answer to the quest for the perfectly balanced engine. Offered in sizes ranging from 4 HP to 22 HP, Lightning engines were an entirely different proposition in farm engines.