Chance Meetings, Simple Exchanges Lead to Great Finds
I had an interesting August this year, and I thought I would share my experiences with GEM readers.
At the beginning of the month I took my big 22-1/2 HP Bessemer to our first parking lot antique tractor show here in Oneida, N.Y. The Bessie ran very well all day, blowing big smoke rings about 150 feet straight up. A real crowd pleaser, and besides, the tractors mostly just sit there. At one point a man came up to me, telling me about an 1860s Wood, Taber & Morse stationary steam engine in his shop. He said he might want to sell it, and wondered if I would be interested. Two days later I was at his shop looking at it, and the following week Steve Knobloch from the Camillus, N.Y., museum came over and we went and looked at it together. The engine was disassembled, but very complete, as I soon learned. In fact, it came with manuals, sketches, notes, history, just about everything you could possibly hope for. Steve and I conferred briefly and then I discussed a price with the owner. Shortly thereafter I was writing a check for the Wood, Taber & Morse.
I told Steve that since he was kind enough to help me check out this gem their museum could have first crack at it if they were interested in owning it. Silly way to put it, as I should have been able to tell from the way he was drooling over the engine that he was quite interested in it.
A day or two later he called me back and said the museum would take the engine, asking me please not to sell it to anyone else. We made a deal, and now the old girl will have a very good permanent home - and knowledgeable people to tend to it. It is nice having it stay 'home' in N.Y. where it was made, as the Wood, Taber & Morse factory was in Eaton, N.Y., not 100 yards from the house where my grandmother, my grandfather and my mom lived between 1910 and 1945! No doubt some of my relatives on that side of the family worked in the factory at some point in time, as they had lived in the Eaton area since the mid-1800s. And not only does it get to stay nearby, 1 am told it may be the only Wood, Taber & Morse steam engine in the east.
Early in the month I placed a small 'Wanted - old gas engines' ad in a local 'PennySaver'-type paper that comes out once a week. It doesn't cost much to run an ad, and I figured maybe I'd get a bite. A few weeks later a fellow calls saying he saw my ad, and asks if I would like to come see his old 'steam engine,' which he says has been sitting forgotten in the back of a shed for 60 years.
I went over the next evening, and what I discovered was not a steam engine, but a nice, dirty, loose and complete 2-1/2 HP United. He asked what I thought it was worth. I scratched my head and named what I thought was a fair price. He said okay, and the next thing I knew I had a nice United engine. It was missing one governor weight, had a nice four-bolt crossways mag, the nameplate was there (it was under seven layers of grease), even the original starting crank was in the water hopper - they often are.
A few days later, armed with a trailer and the necessary tools, rollers, come-alongs, chains, etc., and accompanied by my wife, Kay, and my daughter, Beth, I went and picked it up. I brought the engine home, and after about four hours lubing everything and freeing up the igniter I cranked it up - off she went, running as sweetly as anything. It has excellent compression, but I have to control the speed manually ('thumb-and-forefinger-governor') as one weight is broken off - Coolsprings here we come! My daughter helped me get it going on its first run, squirting in gas as I choked it and cranked it, and after it fired we ran it for eight or nine minutes - she was impressed.
A week later I was out doing my job (I'm a part-time photographer for Trader Publications, photographing cars, trucks, boats, cycles, and what-have-you for ads) and I got to talking with a man about my hobby. He told me about a fellow up the road with an old engine in a shed. Naturally I went and looked him up, and it turned out he had an engine stored in the lower part of a large barn. Upon seeing it, I immediately recognized it as a 2-1/2 HP IHC Mogul, throttle-governed, with igniter. It was stuck, the mag was gone, the carb was a little rough, but other than that a very restorable engine - even the fuel pump was intact. A good project engine for those cold winter months.
He asked me what I thought it was worth, I told him what I would give for it, and he said 'Sold!' So, for the second time in the same month my daughter came along with me and helped me bring an engine home. It's presently sitting in my shop, sprayed with a liberal coating of penetrating oil and waiting its turn to be repaired.
I first got into this hobby in the mid-1960s, and over the next 15 years I bought about 800 engines. At one point dame fortune turned her back on me: I lost my job, my wife got sick, we had to file for the big B, and I was forced to sell my favorites. And I had some good ones: five Abenaques, a 10 HP Pohl, a Callahan, a Domestic, a Titan, a 1 HP Rumsey; and a lot more. I wish I could have kept them, but in the last 10 years we managed to get our financial feet back, and now, as Arnold S. would say in the movies, 'I'm back!'
Since starting over three years ago, I've acquired 51 engines, and I have six or eight good ones that I hope to keep this time. My favorite is a 6 HP C.P.&J. Lauson tank-cooled, side shaft Badger on a wagon, one of only three known to exist. I hope to do a nice write-up on it sometime soon. For now, I thought you fellows (and at least one girl named Melissa I know who has an Associated she is going to restore) would like to hear how the month of August treated me.
The old iron is still out there, at least in some places it is. Follow all your leads, ask a bunch of questions, and always carry a good photo or two of some typical engines with you wherever you roam - nothing beats a good picture for a conversation starter. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. Or maybe a good find!
Contact engine enthusiast Chan Mason at: 3755 Mason Road, Oneida, NY 13421, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org