A rare half-breed engine

The best of both worlds

| October/November 2007


Dick Bouma with his rare half-breed engine from the oil fields of Pennsylvania.

Dick Bouma acquired this rare engine in 2001. Until last year, it resided at the Coolspring Power Museum in western Pennsylvania and now it’s in Ontario, Calif. The engine is a half-breed, a M. Lytle & Son cylinder on a Gibbs, Russell & Co. bed.

Early industry utilized steam for power, and steam engines were made in sizes from fractional horsepower to thousands of horsepower. As much as steam engines advanced industrialism and production, they were not without their drawbacks. Steam boilers required an experienced engineer, engines were maintenance intensive and start-up could take hours. Despite these drawbacks, steam power was used extensively, especially in oil production.

Technology marches on
The latter half of the 19th century saw great strides in the improvement of the internal combustion engine. Problems in production, fuels and ignition were being resolved so that internal combustion was quickly becoming a viable alternative to steam.

Just as is the case today, economics drove business. As good as internal combustion engines were, it was not always economically feasible to replace a good or repairable steam engine with a brand new internal combustion engine. The market’s answer to this economic constraint was the half-breed engine.

An owner of an engine could buy a kit that would convert his engine from steam to internal combustion. Included in the kit would be a new cylinder, piston and flywheel (or flywheel weights). Generally, the half-breed retrofits were of 2-cycle design, which did not require the elaborate mechanisms of a 4-cycle engine.

The old steam cylinder would be removed and the new cylinder installed. The steam bed would be reused, as would the crankshaft and a single flywheel. In the case of Dick’s engine, rather than adding another flywheel, a “ring” was bolted onto the original flywheel to add mass and momentum. The half-breed style engine was especially well suited for oil field use, as it could run off of the well-head gas that was a byproduct of oil production.