Andy Bowers, Hughson, Calif., and Dave Wallace, Modesto, Calif., have a 25 HP engine that they’re confident was made by Samson Iron Works of Stockton, Calif.
And with Samson being the featured engine at the California Gold V show in Davenport, Calif., in May 2008, they figured their fine example would fit right in. Instead, it ended up sticking out like a sore thumb. “We found out there’s a bit of controversy,” says Andy. “Apparently, some of the guys at the show were questioning if it’s a Samson because no one has ever seen one like this.”
Breathing life into a mystery
Andy and Dave bought the engine in 1994 from an old ranch in rural Modesto. “There was a guy who had an old museum and this engine was there on an old steel cart,” says Andy. “It was there for 30 years or more.”
Not long after they bought the engine, the pair got it running. But then they noticed it needed some work, so they decided to take it apart and give it a full restoration. “We had it apart for years,” says Andy. “We ended up making a new sideshaft, as well as new beveled gears due to wear.” The result is a finely-tuned machine. But is it a Samson?
The nameplate that Andy and Dave found on the engine clearly identifies it as a Samson. Furthermore, it states that the engine was manufactured in Samson’s first factory, meaning that the engine dates between 1898 and 1902.
Samson collector and expert Lester Bowman also spent time with the engine and left convinced that Andy and Dave had a very rare, possibly one-of-a-kind Samson on their hands. Common characteristics that Lester found between known Samsons and Andy and Dave’s engine included the flyball governor assembly, igniter assembly, exhaust valve, and the ignition and carburetion systems. “From the valve box forward, it’s a Samson,” says Lester.
But then there are some unique features that are not characteristic of Samson. “It has a spur and bevel gear for the timing, and the larger timing gear is set behind rather than in front,” says Lester. “I’ve never seen another engine that has bevel cut gears like that.”
Trusting it’s a Samson
Despite the questions, Andy and Dave are still confident that their engine is a Samson. Andy has a couple theories as to why their engine is so different. “They could have taken some of these features away on later models or maybe this was their commercial or industrial engine,” he says. Others suggest that it might be a prototype or engineer’s test engine.
Still, Andy and Dave admit there’s a chance it’s not a Samson. And if it isn’t, they’d like someone out there to tell them what it is.
Contact Andy Bowers at