By Lester G. Bowman
2440 Thomas Street, Ceres, California 95307
When gas engines were first built in Stockton, California, no
one really knows. However, records show as early as 1884, a score
of gas engines were built by Matteson and Williamson Machine Works
during the winter of 1884/85, to pump out flooded basements.
Stockton, California, is rich in agricultural and machine
history. During the California gold rush, it was the hub-city that
supplied miners with tools and equipment. This is where Holt
developed his track layer. This is where Harris built their
harvesters. Here is where the Samson gas engine was
July 6, 1869, John M. Kroyer was born in Denmark. When he was
seventeen years old, he emigrated to America. He settled in Chicago
and secured a position with Crane Company, manufacturers of valves
and piping. He learned the machinist trade. Later he moved to
California and settled in Chico, where he worked for Chico Iron
Works. (Is it possible he helped develop the ‘Mery Gas
Engine,’ also built by this foundry?)
In the spring of 1889 he moved to Stockton, California, and went
to work for Holt Manufacturing. He moved from there to Globe Iron
Works, manufacturers of mining equipment. Later, he worked for
Matteson and Williamson Machine Works, and from there he moved to
Haines and Covey Company, where he was put in charge of the gas
January 1, 1898, John M. Kroyer established the Samson Iron
Works, at Washington and California Streets. Here he built a line
of centrifugal water pumps for reclamation and irrigation. It is
not known if engines or any other products were built at this
July 12, 1902, Samson Iron Works incorporated for fifty thousand
dollars, with shares selling for one dollar each. Sometime in this
time frame, the company moved to Aurora and Jefferson Streets. I am
not sure if these two events occurred at the same time. The truth
of the matter is that the iron works was growing and needed a
Engine advertising goes back to 1901, proving engines were built
at the old address. The earliest known engines date from this
period. It is not known if any pre-1900 engines were built or
John M. Kroyer built these engines using his experience and
resources. He was an engineer and clever businessman.
Samson Iron Works was a large machine facility with modern
up-to-date tooling and fixtures. The foundry poured large castings
of gray iron and crucible steel and developed their own alloy for
bearings and brasses. His engines were unequaled in quality and
finish. They had a good reputation for a good product and fair
dealing. The Samson Iron Works prospered.
The Samson irrigation package was very successful. This was an
engine and pump complete with batteries, battery box and coil.
These outfits were available in sizes from 2 to 35 HP.
Samson built vertical engines from 40 HP to 200 HP. These are
multi-cylinder units. There was also a very extensive line of heavy
duty marine engines, of which little is known.
Two views of a 3 HP Samson type N, serial #3263 owned by Lester
There are basically two styles of Samson stationary engines. The
earliest were long stroke engines, reminding one of a steam engine.
These engines sometimes had the ‘wipe ignition system.’
This is an early form of low tension ignition. All had a
belt-driven vertical flyball governor using a leather belt, driven
off the crankshaft via the flywheel hub. These are throttle
governed engines, handsome and well proportioned. They were made in
horizontal and vertical versions. Most had air pre-heaters fitted
and used an unusual linkage system to operate the exhaust
I have heard it said that the early engines were called the
‘M,’ while the later style was called the ‘N.’ This
has not been verified.
The later Samson gas engines used a shorter stroke and possibly
a higher operating RPM. The governor was still belt-driven, but
redesigned to lie horizontal. Under 15 HP, the cylinder was cast
integrally with the base forming an extremely rigid construction.
These engines are heavy built and rigid. Each engine carried a cast
brass builder’s plate stating the serial number, operating
speed and the horsepower. All Samson gas engines are four-stroke,
and can be run on gasoline, distillate or natural gas.
The Samson guarantee was this: Careful selection of material,
first-class workmanship, that make our always ‘satisfied
It is said that wages and labor were higher in California than
back East during this early period. Eastern competition caused John
M. Kroyer to look into other areas and thus he began experimenting
His first design was built in 1902. It was a three-wheeled
tractor using a two-cylinder vertical engine. From this beginning a
very popular tractor evolved, called the Samson Sieve Grip tractor.
This used a special ‘sieve grip tread’ that functioned well
in the soft Delta peat.
The model ‘M’ Samson came next, which in due time, was
purchased by General Motors Corporation, along with the entire
ironworks. This was in 1918. Up to this time John had been
president and general manager of Samson Iron Works.
General Motors promoted the Samson tractor through its Chevrolet
dealerships. They intended the Samson tractor to compete with the
ever-popular Fordson tractor. This was not meant to be, and the
whole project was scrapped in the mid-Twenties. The whole venture
had been a dismal failure.
John M. Kroyer now had a pocketful of money. He developed yet
another tractor, four-wheel-drive and known as the ‘Wizard
In 1919, it shows up as being built ‘by Kroyer Motors
Company,’ in San Pedro, California. It was steered by clutches
on each side of the machine and used a roller chain drive to the
In 1924, the Wizard 4-Pul! was acquired by Wizard Tractor
Corporation, Los Angeles, California. It was built at least until
I wish to add a few additional comments. I have handled a small
testimonial booklet extolling the virtues of Samson engines,
vintage about 1905. On the front of it is Samson’s sales
slogan, ‘We don’t toot our own horn, we let others do it
for us.’ In the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History is a 1910
Samson sales catalog. It depicts the Samson line of 1910 showing
stationary, vertical and marine engines. Samson Iron Works
established territories where agencies sold engines on a commission
basis. Basic requirements were a repair facility.
Samson engines are hard to find today. They are highly sought
out by California collectors. They are one of the few engines built
on the West Coast using belt-driven governors. Some are more scarce
than others. I have seen several vertical engines all under 3 HP. I
have seen a handful of the early horizontal, vertical flyball type.
I have seen a large engine of perhaps 25 HP, with a side shaft
design. It has wipe ignition.
Late style engines are the most common (horizontal). It is quite
possible that these engines were built until General Motors
purchased the company in 1918. I don’t recall seeing a serial
number higher than 6,000 on any engine.
The engine in the photo is my 3 HP Samson engine. It is a late
style, serial number 3263. It weighs 675 pounds and runs like a
sewing machine. I purchased it from the grand son of the man who
bought it new. It ran a centrifugal pump for irrigation.
The vertical engine in the photo is a 2 HP unit, serial number
2270. Note that it is a side shaft engine. When this photo was
taken, it was owned by Percy Goesch, Hughson, California. The small
centrifugal pump in the photo is the smallest size made. It is
1-inch inlet with a 1-inch outlet, capacity of 30 gallons per
minute. In retrospect, it is remarkable how many of these engines
survived. They were built in an age when quality and long life were
designed into their construction. They represent the best of the
foundry man’s art; their engineering cannot be excelled. The
role they played created the strongest nation on earth.
John M. Kroyer was a remarkable man. A poor immigrant who built
his dream with iron and steel. He left a lasting legacy in the form
of Samson gas engines. Highly sought after and greatly prized,
these engines represent the great opportunity that America offers
to those who work hard and dream. The technology has changed but
the dreams are still the same, the opportunities just as great. I
am proud to own a small piece of John M. Kroyer’s dream!