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First Experience 1927

Author Photo
By Staff

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.

Gas Engine Magazine

Preserving the History of Internal Combustion Engines