| March/April 1990

Unknown Engine


Richard Glass

Looking back over 25 years of GEM, it soon becomes evident that our hobby has grown beyond anyone's wildest imaginings. Going back still further to the late 1940s and Elmer Ritzman's

Farm Album, later known as Iron Men Album, it is evident that gas engines and tractors occupied very little attention; at that time, steam was king! By the mid 1960s, tractors and engines had come into the scene so strongly that steam power was forced into a holding pattern, and so Rev. Ritzman embarked on the new venture of Gas Engine. Magazine.

We suppose that there are a great many reasons for the tremendous popularity of engines and tractors, and we also suppose that there are many reasons for the comparative change in priority of gas power versus steam power. It must be remembered that eighty years ago, the old-line steam engine and thresher builders held the new-fangled gasoline tractor in low esteem, and given its early shortcomings, they were at least partially correct. Even in the 1920s, many manufacturers and agricultural journalists felt that steam power would always play a role in mechanized agriculture. Thus, there have been two trains of thought over the years; there are those who still believe steam is king, and there are those who have little or no interest in steam power, preferring instead to devote their energies to the restoration of internal combustion engines.

The Reflector opines that steam and gas power have both played a major role in the development of mechanized agriculture and industry, and that both have a role in our preservation of the past. From a practical standpoint, steam power is fitted for relatively few collectors. It just wouldn't do to have a 65 horsepower Case steamer sitting in the driveway of a residence in Covina, California. However, a dozen gas engines can be stowed in the garage or a backyard storage shed. The high cost of maintenance on a steamer is another factor not in its favor. Repairs of any kind are expensive, and if extensive boiler work is required, the cost can become exorbitant. By comparison, the cost of restoring a rusting and corroded hunk of iron that still claims to have been a gas engine, usually is but a fraction of the expense.

Perhaps the most important factor is that today's generation has been raised with gas power. Many of today's generation have never thrilled to the heartbeat of a steamer strutting her stuff on a thresher or a sawmill. Their veins aren't tainted with coal smoke and steam cylinder oil, and they have only the most simplistic understanding of steam power. On the other hand, the relatively simple mechanism of a hit-and-miss engine is easy for anyone to understand, given a little study.

We know that there are other factors involved, and we know that there are other opinions on the subject of gas versus steam power. We also know that a balanced approach to the preservation of our mechanical past requires that we give attention to both. With this in mind, it is our hope that during the next quarter century of Iron Men Album and Gas Engine Magazine, we can in some way continue the pleasant task of helping both fraternities. Perhaps the unique feature of the steam and gas power hobby is that we can restore and preserve these engines, literally bringing them back to life. In this way, ours is a living hobby, rather than one where our precious artifacts are stowed away in glass cases where we can look, but never touch.