A hard knock life
A view of Brandon Perry’s 1906 4 HP West Coast on display at the 2008 California Gold show in Davenport, Calif.
Editor's note: This article ran in the May 2009 issue of Gas Engine Magazine with the horsepower listed as 3 HP, which was the horsepower listed for this specific engine in a collector-produced history of the West Coast Engine Co. The nameplate, however, states the engine's horsepower as 4 HP, and that's what we'll list it as for future reference.
Manufacturer: West Coast Engine Co., San Diego, CA
Serial number: 0327
Flywheel diameter: 28 inches
Some engines need a little more TLC than others. Brandon Perry, Farmington, Calif., found such an engine in a 1906 4 HP West Coast. “When it was brand new, they dropped it while unloading and that bent the crankshaft,” says Brandon. “Over time, that broke the spokes.”
According to Brandon, the engine was purchased new by a man known only as Mr. Bryan, who operated the Big Grizzly Gold Mine in Ned’s Gulch near Anderson Valley, Calif. Mr. Bryan mined in the winter and worked for the Yosemite Sugar Pine Railroad in the summer. The engine was used to run a hoist, which was on a 70-degree incline shaft.
Mr. Bryan died in the 1960s and Brandon’s cousin, Sam Perry, bought all of the mining equipment in the fall of 1970. Sam held on to the West Coast until 1991 when Brandon traded his Winchester Model 12 shotgun for the engine. It didn’t take too long before Brandon saw he had a project on his hands.
“It took one year of work to get it going again,” says Brandon. “I straightened the crankshaft and the cylinder had some major cracks that were repaired. The bore is in bad shape and it has just about no compression. The cylinder probably needs to be bored and sleeved but it runs well enough for exhibition purposes.”
As if the West Coast’s story wasn’t interesting enough, the restoration revealed more. “When I took the main bearings apart, I found some cardboard shims that were part of a poster,” says Brandon. “You could read ‘Ringling Bros. Circus’ but there was no mention of Barnum or Bailey.” The Ringling Bros. bought the Barnum and Bailey circus in 1907 but didn’t merge the two circuses until 1919.
A true original
The West Coast has a 5-inch bore, 10-inch stroke and flywheels 28 inches in diameter. “It’s 100 percent original,” says Brandon. “It even has the crankguard on it, which is rare. Most of the old guys just took those off because they were in the way.”
By all accounts, Mr. Bryan was satisfied with the performance of the engine in his mine, but Brandon says the West Coast is notorious for not running well under light load. “I run it on propane at shows,” he says.