The Search for the 15 HP Acadia
I would like to thank Mark Kinzie for the inspiration to put pen to paper and write this story.
I have been collecting engines for around sixteen years. My early years of collecting were highlighted by yearly trips to the maritime provinces to visit family and friends. This trip would happen every year, and would usually find me looking for engines in my spare time. In the early years I would buy almost any engine, but this soon changed. I thought that I would like an engine made on the East Coast. This certainly narrowed the field of choices, because there weren’t many manufacturers on the Coast outside of marine engines. I then decided to find an Acadia engine or two.
I had seen an ad in GEM from a man in Nova Scotia, so I wrote him a letter. It wasn’t long till I got a reply. Many letters traveled east and west. By the next summer I was on my way down with an engine to trade on a 10 HP Acadia.
The Acadia Gas Engine Company was formed in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia, around 1908. There was a large demand for marine engines to power the inshore fishing fleet. This was their main line for the first year or two of operation, but their customers needed stationary engines, too. Some people would take the engine out of the boat for the winter and set it up for stationary power until it was needed again. In order to fill the demand for stationary engines they started to sell United engines. After a short time they stopped buying completed engines and started buying the engines unassembled. This venture was short lived. With the marine engine market growing rapidly, they started to make their own castings for stationary engines. It is unclear if there was an agreement between Acadia and United. The Acadia differs only slightly from United. Some parts will interchange.
Getting back to my trip for the 10 HP. By the time all the dealing was done, I had a 10, 4, 3 Acadia and a 3 HP John Deere. The 3 and 4 HP look to be the same size, just a little larger bore and stroke on the 4 HP. Both of these engines were in a lot less than mint condition.
The 10 HP was in excellent condition and had 85% of the original paint. This engine did not get repainted, but was cleaned and clear coated. That really makes the old paint look nice and is easy to keep clean.
The following year when I returned to Nova Scotia, I met some more engine collectors. This usually means a lot of driving. I also visited the Des Brisay Museum in Bridgewater. They have a small display on the Acadia Gas Engine Company. This included a short video about the company, and showing a couple of engines. One of the people in the video had been an employee of Acadia for some 44 years. This gentleman only lived several blocks from the Museum, so I stopped there for a visit. I was welcomed in, like family. We talked and talked about engines and the company. One of the many questions on my mind was about the 15 HP engine, which is listed in literature as 15-20 HP. My questions were:
Did they actually manufacture this engine or did they just buy in a United and re tag it?
How many were made?
The answer is yes, they did make them, but not very many – 20-30 at the most.
Some stayed in Nova Scotia and some went to Newfoundland. I found all this information most interesting and after a couple of hours I was on my way. I didn’t get an engine that year, I got a shingle mill instead.
The next summer I got a 5 HP and another 3 HP Acadia. Also visited the Fisheries Museum in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. They have a few engines on display, mostly marine engines. Included in the display were some pieces from Acadia, like flywheel patterns, one of which was the 15-20.
It was suggested that I visit the Abco Company in Lunenburg. Abco bought the Acadia Gas Engine Company in the mid-seventies. The company was operated as Abco-Acadia for a short time, then Acadia was dropped from the name. There is one remaining employee from Acadia working at Abco in the parts department. I found my visit with Mr. Baker, although brief, very interesting. Abco did stock some parts for the Acadia engines, mostly marine. The company wanted to be rid of it. The stock was inventoried and sold to Bob Richards of Newfoundland. It didn’t take me long to contact him. My big question being were there any stationary engine parts in the shipment from Abco?
Again, I had another engine on my truck by the end of my vacation. It was another Acadia, a 7 HP. The 7 is an early version of a 10 HP. All dimensions were the same, just the horsepower rating changed. This engine was used to drive a double reduction winch in a lighthouse. Many of the lighthouses along the coast had them. The unmanned lights were visited every couple days by lighthouse keepers. They arrived by boat, and if a storm came up, they would hook the winch to the boat and haul it up till the storm passed. The same setup was used before many of the small harbors were built, to haul fishing boats high up on shore for winter storage.
Over the course of the next fall and winter, I wrote and received several letters from Newfoundland. One letter told of a 20 HP Acadia running a sawmill. It didn’t take long to reply to that letter. I had to find out more about this engine. Not so much if it was for sale, just more about it, because there were not many made and very few are still around, to my knowledge. Several months passed and I never heard anymore about the big engine.
I never pressed the issue, because I only wanted information and maybe a picture. After the show season started again, Spring of ’94, I also started thinking about the engine. Around mid-July I called Bob for the first time. He told me that he would try to get out to see the engine again and get some pictures, but it was over two hours drive away. Again, I didn’t press the issue, because I only expected a letter with a couple of pictures in it. I was eagerly awaiting my holidays in early September, but this had to be delayed because I didn’t have a truck. I was all ready to leave with a ‘new’ used truck just before the last week of September. The day before I left, a letter came from Newfoundland, very brief and to the point. Bob told me he was sorry he hadn’t been able to get out and see the engine, but he did call the owner and it’s for sale! I had to read it a couple of times to believe it. I left for the East the next day as planned, and didn’t think too much about the big engine until after I got to Nova Scotia. While waiting for the ferry to cross to Prince Edward Island I thought, ‘I am this close, I have got to check this out.’
About five minutes later, I was on the phone to Newfoundland. I tried the number of the owner of the engine with no answer, so I crossed over to Prince Edward Island to stay with my aunt and uncle. This was Sunday night. The next morning I was able to talk to the owner of the engine. I asked all kinds of questions, which he answered. He told me, ‘You’d better come over and have a look.’ Sure thing! But, this is not just down the road, there are two ferry rides and a lot of driving. At the end of the conversation I told him I would call again on Wednesday. This gave me a little time to think it over. When I called on Wednesday, I was going! My ferry reservations were made for Friday morning. This meant crossing from Prince Edward Island Thursday to be at north Sydney terminal for 6:30 a.m. Friday. It was beautiful! Crossing, I arrived in Port aux Basques, Newfoundland just after 3 p.m. I had a long drive ahead of me and I don’t like driving strange roads at night, but I kept driving over some of the roughest roads I have ever driven on. I started to see signs warning of moose crossings on the next 14 km. Before you went 14 km you would see another sign. This made me a little uneasy, but I kept on driving.
Then I saw a billboard saying, ‘There have been 17 moose and vehicle collisions this year!’ My fingers were now embedded into the steering wheel and my knuckles were turning white, and I kept driving. I got to my turnoff at about 11:00 p.m. I stayed at an Irving Big Stop on the Trans-Canada Highway. At 7:45 Saturday, I was knocking on the door of the engine owner. We started to walk up the hill behind his house. There was an old school bus body with a shelter built on the side. Through the plastic that formed the shelter, I could see the shadow of the flywheels. I walked into the shelter and looked the engine over. Looked at the tag Acadia 15-20 HP, 250 rpm, serial 15004, it was just as it was described. To my knowledge, there are no serial number lists. The first two numbers denote the size 15 HP, and the next numbers are in order from when it was made. So, this one was the fourth 15 HP made.
After a little discussion we started it up. The engine was belted to a line shaft in the bus and drives a hand feed saw bench. The engine ran pretty good at rated speed. It didn’t take me long to make up my mind to say, ‘I’ll take it!’ The price had been set before I came over.
The next thing was how to get it from the shed to my truck. This thing weighs in at almost 3,300 lbs. The skids of the engine were clamped to a cement pad.
The owner told me to get everything unhooked and unbolted, while he went to get his brother’s loader. In about 15 minutes he arrived back with a big articulated loader. A chain was attached to the front of the skids and out it came. We pulled it out to a spot I could get at it with my truck. I lifted the engine up and blocked it. I backed my truck up to it, put hardwood planks under the engine and onto the bumper of my truck. The 8,000 1b. winch in my truck does come in very handy. With a strap around the engine and roller under it, up it went with no problem. Once I finished with the engine, the spare parts had to be loaded. The loader made quick work of the cylinder and hopper. The head, piston and rod, and other small parts were packed in around the engine. After some fond farewells, I was on my way at about 9:20 a.m. This had taken a lot less time than I figured I had allowed for the whole day. It was not the only unusual truck and load on the road. It was the end of the first week of moose season. I saw lots of trucks pulling trailers loaded with deep freezers, and moose heads tied on everywhere. On top of the truck cap was a popular place. They stared at me and I stared at them.
I kept driving even though my ferry reservations were not until the next afternoon. I enjoyed the drive in the daylight and the truck handled its payload well. I had been going over the ferry schedule in my mind and figured there had to be a night crossing. When I stopped for fuel I called ahead and changed the ferry reservation to 11:30 p.m. that night. The diesel fuel I had just purchased was 72 cents per liter. I arrived at the ferry terminal about 7:30 and had supper. After I ate, I went back out to the truck. There were quite a few people looking at this thing in the back of my truck. Many of them were hunters and most from all over the States. I didn’t know that moose hunting was so popular in Newfoundland. The sea looked like a mirror with the moon shining on it. I was glad it was calm because I slept on the floor of the TV theater. Arrival at North Sydney was about 7:20 a.m. and I was driving it to get to the ferry for Prince Edward Island. I still had another week of holiday to go. I was back at my uncle’s on P.E.I. by 7:30 Sunday night. The next couple of days were show days, as everyone stopped in to see the engine.
By Wednesday I was packed up, ready to leave for home Thursday morning. I am sure it made for a lot of conversation, because of all the heads that turned when I met people on the road. I was back home late Friday afternoon. With the help of Mark and Ian Kinzie, we pulled the engine off my truck and onto my trailer. When I went back to work on Monday, someone asked me what I had seen on my holidays. I told them by the notes on the dash of my truck, I had driven over 8,500 km, including six ferry rides.
After about three weeks I started restoration. The engine was very dirty and had been oiled with used oil from a diesel engine. The head, piston rod, cam gear, push rod, and ignitor were all removed. I started to clean the engine. About ten gallons of Varsol later, it was clean. What a mess! The engine has very good original paint and some pin striping left. I would never paint an engine like that. It was scrubbed with fine steel wool, degreased and sprayed with clear acrylic enamel, just like what’s on your car. This really brings old, dull paint to life. The mechanical condition was fair member, it ran I had seen it!
With the large parts of the engine clear coated, I started working on repairing and reassembly of the rest. First was the piston and rod. The pistons needed the ring grooves turned. We added four new 8 x ?’ rings and wrist pin. The rod needed a new pin bushing and rod bearing. With that work completed, I worked on the head. Both valves were bent and the seats worn to match them. The valves were straightened and ground. The seats were ground, the guides were okay. After welding a crack in the head and assembling, it was ready to go on. The mixer also needed minor work, then it was installed and piped in. The ignitor was so bad I replaced it. The push rod needed a new roller and a guide welded.
The engine was almost completed, but it needed a suitable display skid. The skid I made is all white ash. It is 44 inches wide and 8 feet long, 86 board feet all together. Once the engine was on the skid and running, it was show time!
The first show it went to was Niagara Antique Power Association, then Roc-ton Antique and Hobby Show, followed by Canadian Antique Field Tractor Days, Steam Era, and the International Plowing Match. It only let me down once due to a dirty ignitor. Otherwise it ran trouble free.
It is a lot of work to take a big piece of iron around to the shows. I always have people watching me load and unload. The restoration of and the trip to get this engine was a labor of love. This is the rarest engine in my collection. I only know of two others. This is my current lineup: 2 HP, 3 HP, 4 HP, 5 HP, 6 HP, 7 HP, 10 HP, 15-20 HP. I am currently restoring a 7 throttle governed. This is the only 7 T/G known to me or the other collectors I know.
I am always looking for information on the Acadia Gas Engine Company, also parts and more engines. I look forward to hearing from other collectors.