Bigger is Better

By Staff
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The original 16-foot diameter wooden band wheel powered by the 20 HP Olin belonging to Steve Cox. The band wheel and Steve’s Olin engine were in use on an oil lease during the late 1800s. The band wheel now belongs to the Wood County Historical Museum near Bowling Green, Ohio, and is part of the operating oil well display at the museum.
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“Shooting the Well,” probably taken in 1897 or 1898 at the oil lease where Steve’s engine provided the oil well pumping power.
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The water circulation pump and plumbing activated by a small crank arm on the end of the engine crankshaft
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The “gasometer” – shows the top half inserted into the bottom half. The incoming oil well natural gas would raise and lower the top half activating the shut off valve as the gas filled the can, this would provide some pressure regulation and the can would also act as an accumulator tank.
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The 1898 20 HP Olin engine from the back of the flywheels, showing the 7 HP Briggs pony engine and the rubber tire used as a starting wheel when it contacts the Olin’s flywheel. This will spin the engine at 30-35 RPM and provides an easy way to start the Olin.
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Steve’s machine shop inside his engine shed.
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Future projects that Steve Cox hopes to work on include a 1912 25 HP Superior apart in the shop.
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10 HP Spang 2-cycle.

Oil field engine collector Steve Cox of Perrysburg,
Ohio, started out small. “I started with a 1-1/2 HP International
engine, then something a little bigger. Then I thought, ‘Why not
bigger; why not the big oil field engines?'”

This turn of the century Olin 4-cycle natural gas engine was
built primarily for use in oil field applications, mostly powering
pumping centers for oil production. It was built in Titusville,
Pa., in 1897 or 1898; the patent for this type engine was filed in
1894 and issued in 1896. “This engine was probably installed on an
oil lease in the northern part of Wood County or possibly in
Sandusky County, Ohio,” says Steve.

Pumping for black gold

Around 1898, the Olin powered a large 16-foot wooden band wheel
(this band wheel is the one used at the Wood County Historical
Museum, Bowling Green, Ohio, to demonstrate oil well pumping).
There were 12 oil wells operated off that lease, seven wells on one
farm and the remaining five on another farm; this engine could
probably pump about eight oil wells maximum. “The farthest well was
almost 3/4 mile away from the pump,” says Steve. “You can imagine
how heavy 3/4 mile of shackle rod would be to move back and forth
plus pumping the oil well.” All oil wells being pumped would have a
pump jack and shackle rod connected to the band wheel to provide
the pumping action. This engine and the 16-foot wooden band wheel
were probably in use until the 1950s or 1960s; no good records


Manufactured: Titusville, Pa.
Horsepower: 20
Year: 1898
Serial number: 1823
Weight: 7,500 pounds
Normal RPM: 180-200
Show RPM: 25-30
Bore: 10-1/2-inch
Stroke: 20-inch
Flywheel width: 6 inches
Flywheel diameter: 68 inches
Belt pulley: 16 inches in diameter, 11 inches wide
Fuel: oil well natural gas; now propane
Compression ratio: 4.5-to-1 or 5-to-1 (estimate)

Getting it back in shape

“This Olin engine was removed from the oil lease 10 to 15 years
ago, I bought it in the fall of 2003 from another local engine
collector,” says Steve. “I started working on it in the spring of
2005 and by fall, except for the water circulating system, I had it
pretty much finished and took it to several shows.” During these
shows the head gasket would keep blowing on the valve chest body.
Steve says, “I removed the valve chest body and found it to be
warped; I machined it on my horizontal milling machine,
re-installed it and found that the problem was solved.” Steve has a
small machine shop in his engine restoration shed.

“During this same time period I modified the frame to make it
narrower so it would fit on my trailer properly,” says Steve. “The
‘I’ beams were cut and 8 inches were removed from each beam. They
were re-welded and then a new out-board bearing support was
fabricated and installed.” A water-circulating tank was added and
plumbed into the original water pump located at the end of the
crankshaft. This was more for demonstration as the engine runs very
cool when being operated just for show use.

A little help

“Rotating the crank and flywheels even with the connecting rod
disconnected was quite a task, so I decided that a pony motor of
some type would be needed,” says Steve. The small engines in his
collection were either too big or too small and would have to be
restored before they could be used. He decided the best way was to
buy a new 7 HP Briggs & Stratton engine with a gear reduction.
The pony engine assembly was mounted on a sliding frame with a foot
pedal that engages a small solid rubber tire against the flywheel.
According to Steve, “At full power the pony motor will turn the
flywheels about 35 RPM, which is just about right.” The 4-cycle
Olin valve mechanism can be set to partially skip the first
compression cycle and reduce compression cycles thereafter. This
gives about three rotations for the flywheels to get to a
reasonable speed for ignition to take over. With the pony motor
installed the Olin can easily be started.

The particulars

“The compression ratio of the Olin is about 4-1/2-to-1 or
5-to-1; this is relatively low compared to today’s standards,” says
Steve. It has a 10-1/2- inch bore and a 20-inch stroke; the
flywheels are 68 inches in diameter and almost 6 inches wide. “The
flywheels, crank and clutch assembly weighs 3,400 pounds, which is
why a pony motor is needed just to get that mass spinning.” The
belt pulley is 16 inches in diameter and 11 inches wide, and it has
a built in clutch controlled by a lever so power to the belt wheel
could be stopped. The serial number of the engine is 1823 and
matches other numbers on the engine.

The tank you see under the engine is an accumulating tank that
provides a volume of natural gas, or propane in this case, ahead of
the intake cycle. For normal, or slow idle operation, a tank of
this size would not be necessary. “If the engine was working under
a load then a typical tank should have a volume three to four times
than that of the engine displacement,” Steve says.

The gasometer

“The small tank you see in front of the engine is called a
‘gasometer,’ which performs some of the functions of an
accumulating tank. But in addition, it serves as a kind of pressure
regulator for the natural gas coming from the well to provide fuel
for the engine,” Steve says. The gasometer consists of two cans,
the upper can fitting inside of the lower can. Inside the lower can
are two gas pipes that extend through the bottom about
three-quarters of the way to the top. The lower can was filled
about halfway with a liquid, crude oil during the oil pumping days,
and with water today. The upper can is slid into the lower can with
the water providing a seal to prevent gas leakage. The top can is
connected to a gas valve, and as the gas comes in the top half as
it is raised up. As it comes up, the gas valve is closed
accordingly. Therefore you have an accumulator tank and a simple
gas regulator. “The gasometer is not being used right now,” says
Steve. “I have it there for show so I can demonstrate how it used
to work.”

Keeping it cool

The water-circulating pump on the Olin is driven off the end of
the crankshaft. Several methods were used for engine cooling. One
was to pump the salt brine coming from the oil well through the
engine and out into some type of ditch or drain. This method
greatly reduced engine life due to corrosion or the plugging up of
the internal water passages of the engine. A natural spring could
be used or even drilling a water well if there was just no other
water. Another way was to bury a barrel in the ground so the water
would not freeze in the winter; the water pump circulated this
water through the engine for cooling.

What’s next?

“I started collecting when I was in my early 30s and like a lot
of other people – who collect engines I started with 1-1/2 HP
engines Fairbanks, International, John Deere and so on,” says
Steve. From there it slowly grew; a 1-1/2 horse was nice, a 3 HP
would be better, or how about a 5 HP? This led to tracing down some
of the larger oil field engines. “Once I got into restoring these
engines the history behind them became just as important to me as
the restoration. It was intriguing to me to find out how and where
they were used,” says Steve. “The ingenuity that people had 100
years ago to create and build something is unbelievable. Showing
your collection is fun, but I like the challenge of restoring it
and getting whatever it is to function like it did 100 years

“This 20 HP Olin is the biggest operating engine that I have,”
says Steve, “I have a 1912 25 HP Superior sideshaft but it is still
undergoing restoration after many years.” There are several oil
field engines and other projects sitting off to the side waiting
more time. These include a 10 HP Spang 2-cycle, a 7-1/2 HP Kootz
combination with the pump mechanism built right into the engine and
designed to pump two oil wells, a 20 HP 4-cycle S.M. Jones, and a
very early Ball half-breed with a curved spoke flywheel, probably
an 1885 or thereabouts. “These are future projects,” Steve

Steve Cox, Perrysburg, Ohio can be contacted at: and visit

Contact Don Voelker at: 5511 Kimberley Road, Ft. Wayne, IN

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