Briarpatch Beauty

Old-Engine Buddies Journey to Bring a 22-1/2 HP Bessemer Oil Field Engine Back to Life


| December/January 2003



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One summer evening in August 2001 I was sitting on the front porch of my home in Lincolnton, N.C., with my dear friend and fellow engine buddy Denver Bailey reliving some great memories of past engine shows and dreaming of some future engine endeavors. Our conversation gradually shifted to the oil field engines that I saw at the Tri-State Gas Engine and Tractor Association's Portland, Ind., show, and I mentioned to Denver that I'd like to own one some day.

Denver, who I had known since the 1960s and who got me interested in the gas engine hobby, was exceptionally knowledgeable about stationary engines. In fact, he owned a 10 HP Fairbanks-Morse engine that ran so good that you could set a nickel on the water hopper and not hear it rattle. He was planning to visit relatives at his home in Huntington, W.Va., in a few weeks, and told me he'd see if he could locate an oil field engine for me while he was there. Denver made some inquiries back home and learned that his cousin, Bill Scarberry, and Bill's wife, Jean, were selling a 22-1/2 HP Bessemer oil field engine. I made a phone call and became the proud owner of a Bessemer engine. Now, all I had to do was bring it home.

How in the world would Denver and I ever bring this 5,400-pound engine home? Luckily, two more engine buddies and long-time friends in my area, J.R. Staton and W.C. Helms, solved that problem for us. They were ready and willing to make the long journey with Denver and me in the Dodge Ram 3500 pulling an 18-foot trailer. So, in early October 2001, the four of us engine hunters left on our safari to West Virginia.

I was having some heart problems, and the morning we left to get the old Bessemer wasn't one of my better days. I wasn't sure if my irregular heartbeat was the result of the trip excitement, or it was due to medical discomfort. Denver wasn't any better. I could tell he almost wasn't able to go with us, but he wanted to get the engine so badly that he kept going. The six-hour journey seemed like an eternity.

Clayton's engine buddies inspect an old International Famous: W.C. Helms (from left), Denver Bailey and J. R. Staton. J. R. bought the engine from the same collector that sold Clayton the Bessemer.

Clayton finally got the engine out of the weeds and hauled it back to North Carolina. The flywheels have been attached, but the majority of the restoration is still to come.