As any old iron collector knows, persistence pays off. Mike Trotnic, Parsons, Kan., can illustrate that fact by pointing out two gas engines from his collection: one a 1906 2-1/2 HP hopper-cooled Foos, the other a 1900 2-1/2 HP tank-cooled Challenge.
For about 30 years, Mike had his eye on the Foos. “I knew [previous owner] Bill Krueger since I was 10 or 12 years old but didn’t know much about engines then,” says Mike. “I just knew they were back in his garage all covered up.” As Mike recalls, Bill was a retired electrician, who also collected a pension from General Motors. Over the years, Mike kept asking Bill if he could buy the Foos, but the answer was always a polite “no.” Then, at age 97, Bill finally agreed.
In addition to the Foos, Bill was also willing to sell the Challenge – an opportunity that Mike wasn’t about to pass up. Mike asked Bill what he wanted for them and Bill said he’d listen to any offer. “I said, ‘How about $500 a piece?’ And he said sure,” recalls Mike. “I said, ‘No, no – I’m only teasing,’ but he actually did sell them to me for $500 a piece. He’d been offered a lot more for each by other people but he wanted me to have them. Selling them to me for $500 a piece was the same thing as giving them to me.”
Bill bought the Foos in the 1950s from a town about 50 miles east of Cherokee, Kan. Bill couldn’t remember the name of the town and Mike hasn’t been able to find it either, but Bill remembered that the engine was used to run a linotype printing press. The Foos was only used for six or eight months before the town got electricity, then taken off the line and stored in a warehouse. For that reason, the engine was in excellent condition when Bill bought it and remained that way for more than 40 years in his care.
The history of the tank-cooled Challenge is a little more intriguing for Mike. “Bill claimed that the engine belonged to my uncle, Rudy Trotnic, and that he used it in his blacksmith shop in McCune, Kan.,” says Mike. “My dad doesn’t remember that and neither does my cousin, but that’s what Bill said.”
After Mike bought the Foos and the Challenge, Bill wanted to see them both run one more time. “I didn’t have to do a thing to them but clean them up, put some gas in and oil them,” says Mike. “After I ran them, Bill had tears in his eyes. Those were his babies.”
Not long after Bill sold the engines, he went into a nursing home and a day before his 99th birthday, he died. “He was just a very nice, sweet guy,” says Mike.
Mike’s fondness for Bill applies to the engines as well. He is keeping the engines as is because he likes how they look in their work clothes. “Kids see some of these new-looking engines at shows and they don’t even realize they’re old,” says Mike. And just like Bill, Mike plans to hold on to both engines for as long as he can, with the hope of being able to pass them along to someone who appreciates them as much as he and Bill did: “My kids aren’t interested, but I’m hoping that my grandkids will be.”
Contact Mike Trotnic at 5201 W. Main St., Parsons, KS 67357 • (620) 423-2500 (cell)