P.O. Box 247 Dushore, Pennsylvania 18614-0247
The year was 1898 and by some unusual circumstances my father found himself in the 'Furniture and Undertaking' business. It was in that environment that I grew up. One day in the summer of 1927 I had the following experience.
There seemed to be quite a commotion going on around a road improvement project near our house. Several men were tugging on the flywheel of a large hit and miss engine, which was belted to a rock crusher, but the engine would not start. There were horse-drawn wagons loaded with field stones, waiting to be crushed, standing by. This was quite a project to be held up by one cranky engine and it created quite a dilemma. Nearby there was a dentist's office. Either the silence of the normally noisy operation, or the boisterous verbal comments directed towards the engine, prompted the dentist to investigate the project. He conferred with the job foreman and decided to prime the engine with liquid ether that he normally used for patient sedation. I think the liquid ether was administered through a priming cup, but it may have gained entry through the air intake. One of the crew gave the flywheel a mighty pull and the explosion that followed was fearsome. Fragments of the engine flew everywhere!
My next experience with a gas engine was not quite as explosive as my first encounter. I was visiting a friend of mine whose father was a farmer. He took me to a wagon shed and proudly showed me an International 10 HP, portable engine. It was quite obvious that the engine was his pride and joy and he proceeded to demonstrate it. After checking the wires to the ignitor and rocking the flywheels to an exact position he gave a strong pull and 'bang,' it started. The engine picked up speed and suddenly stopped firing, but kept on running-I held my breath, was it going to die, then it would fire and repeat the process over again. Life has certain occasions that stand out above all others-some of the occasions are trivial, but remembered. After all the years that have passed, I am still transfixed, when I observe a big hit and miss engine running idle.
I have had many encounters with gas engines during the last seventy years. Some of my projects were frivolous and some were successful. My father's furniture and undertaking business gradually evolved to a home appliance store and one of the items we sold was Maytag washers. It will take another chapter to recite the events that transpired while merchandising these washing machines. They had many virtues for the consumer, but from a salesman's point of view, the engines were unpredictable. An example of the above statement occurred once, when a customer came in the store and asked for a demonstration. I rolled the washer out to the back porch. I kicked and kicked the starting pedal but the engine would not start. Despite as much mumbling as I could do to try and convince him that this was an unusual circumstance, the customer walked out the door. I went out to the porch again and looked at that miserable little silent engine. I'll give it another kick and bang! it started.!
I attend shows from Canandaigua, New York, to Kinzers, Pennsylvania, and many in between. This winter I had a new experience. In 10-degree weather my wife and I drove to a place called Jacktown near the New Jersey border. It took us nearly as long to find the place as it did driving the 130 miles to get there. It was a nice show devoted almost entirely to engines. Many were running and many were in the process of trying to run.
The growth and progress of this great nation was so greatly associated with the development of the gas engines, that I become troubled when so many young people ask me, 'What is a hit and miss engine?' I think our educators have missed the boat by not covering the gas engine in detail as an important part of a history lesson.