Restoring a Perkin's Gas Engine

The waiting game pays off

| July/August 2004

"Good things come to those who wait." The actual meaning of that proverb has probably been lost to time, but I have a hunch that whoever first said it was talking about an old engine. In my case, at least, that's exactly what it means.

In 1975 while visiting a friend in Owensville, Ind., a neighbor just happened to stop by to say hi. As usual, one of us asked the neighbor if he knew of any gas engines in the area. 'There's one in the shed down there on the corner where I used to live,' he said. So, the three of us went off to take a look. On a concrete pedestal in the center of a small farm shop sat a 3 HP side shaft Perkins Windmill Co. engine. A line shaft and a ceiling-mounted pump jack were situated directly above it, which kind of reminded me of a Rube Goldberg cartoon since the whole setup operated a pump out in the cistern.

The guy who rented the farm was a good friend of mine. With that in mind, I asked my friend to make contact with the engine owner, who lived out of state. Time passed and nothing happened. The tenant eventually retired in the mid-1980s, and his son took over the farm and built a new house on 2 acres near the farm. On top of that, the little farm shop that housed the Perkins had been torn down, and the engine was moved to a lean-to in another building where it sat slowly rusting. I told the tenant to cover it with old motor oil to preserve it, but he didn't heed my advice.

Every now and then, I kept inquiring about the possibility of obtaining the engine, but I always received the same answer: 'The owner doesn't want to sell it.' I even wrote a letter to the owner, but to no avail. All he told me was the missing igniter parts were still around somewhere, but they were never found.

In late summer of 2002, I stopped by to see if I could take another look at the engine - it would only be the second time I had seen it. Seeing it again, I wanted it even more. The Perkins was rusty and stuck and was the kind of challenge that I love.

In late October 2003, I wrote another letter to the engine owner. Five days later, the phone rang, and it was the engine owner. After a pleasant conversation, he offered to sell me the engine. He told me he had always planned to do something with the Perkins, but at 89 years old he doubted he would ever get to it. I asked what he wanted for it, but he insisted that I make an offer. Since I mess with these things and go to engine shows, he insisted that I would have an idea what these kinds of things are worth.