2052 North Ridge Road Painesville, Ohio 44077
Three years ago, I had no interest in antique gas engines. My cousin, Ronnie, had been collecting them for more than twenty years. I couldn't understand why anyone would want to waste time and money on a gas engine, let alone collect them. Ronnie encouraged me to go to an engine show with him one weekend. After thinking about it, I finally agreed. What an eye opener, and that is an understatement.
The first show we went to was at Coolspring, followed by a lot of other shows in Pennsylvania, topped off with Sistersville, West Virginia, and Portland, Indiana. I just couldn't believe the interest in antique gas engines, and this tickled my fancy. I do like antiques and old collectibles that are unusual so I was beginning to think that maybe gas engines weren't such a bad investment after all.
You probably won't believe this, but the very first engine I purchased at an auction was a Royal Crown gas engine. It was built in 1883 and had a flame-licker ignition. It was a museum quality engine with all original parts and in excellent condition. However, it was small, and I didn't have much interest in it initially. That was before I had inquired what it might be worth. Many people were interested in purchasing it. They called me from all over the country inquiring about it. Bottom line, I sold it for a nice profit.
I really wanted a much larger engine, something like those big oil field engines. I own and operate a screen printing business and embroidery company, and I wanted to use it as an ornament or landmark, for my business. My original thought was to purchase one from Ronnie, who owns about 185 engines, all sizes, types and horsepowers. I asked him if he would sell me one of his. I told him I just wanted an old engine. It didn't have to be running or have all the parts. After all, I was just going to use it as an ornament. I couldn't have been more wrong. He said, knowing me, I would want to get the engine in top running shape with lots of brass and pin striping!
I told him that I wanted an engine that would make a statement. He said look around his collection (remember, 185 old engines), and maybe I would see something I liked. He asked me what type of engine or horsepower I was looking for. I told him I hadn't a clue, because I don't know a thing about engines, but I was looking for something between 15 and 30 HP, primarily for the size. He suggested a 25 HP Bessemer. I asked him where it was. He told me I walked by it every time I was looking at his engines. He forgot to mention it was overgrown with vines, brush, ground cover and other items that were stacked up against it.
I asked him if I could clear out the growth and other things that were hiding it, so that I could get a better look. He agreed and advised me to be careful. Well, it was 'love at first sight.' What first caught my eyes was the width and size of the flywheels, almost eight inches wide. It was getting dark and late, so I said, let me think about it overnight. But I knew in my mind and heart that I had to have it.
The next day I went over to Ronnie's house. I checked out the Bessemer again, and found out that it was not frozen and had excellent compression. I knew I had to have her. It took a while, but we finally agreed on a price, now all I had to do was convince my wife. I originally thought it was a lot of money, but then I remembered what that little Crown engine was worth.
My mind was made up without my wife Julie's initial support. It took a week to convince her. I went back to Ronnie's house, this time with an envelope containing money. I slid it across the kitchen table. He opened it, and I still remember the look on his face as his chin almost hit the tabletop. He said he didn't think I would pay the price he asked. Also, he called my Julie to ask her if she knew what I was buying from him. He knew she was dead set against my buying it. She told him yes, and that she wasn't exactly thrilled about it, but she knew I wouldn't be happy until I had it. With our agreement, Ronnie asked me when I wanted it. I told him two weeks, the time I figured it would take me to build a permanent foundation of concrete, complete with gingerbread decorations. My family and friends all know me to be a workaholic. I won't stop until the job is completed, especially when I enjoy what I am doing. Working on Miss Bessie is therapeutic for me.
I constructed a foundation using 3 cubic yards of concrete. My biggest concern was the bolt pattern on the foundation matching up with the holes of the engine base. No matter how carefully you measure an engine at one location and the base at another, there is a chance of error. Well, it worked out perfectly. I had plus-minus 1/8 inch on the bolt lineup and it fit like a glove.
Next I talked with anybody who was willing to answer all my questions. There are a lot of great people collecting engines who are willing to help or share thoughts on theory.
Before I would buff and polish this old engine, I thought it would be best to see if she would even run. A friend brought his John Deere tractor over to help start the engine. We belted it up for the first attempt to run the engine. Surprisingly, after a short time, it fired and scared the heck out of me. A five-inch exhaust has quite a bark. It only ran for about three or four minutes and then it quit. I was thrilled because I wasn't sure if it ever would run after coming out of the work field. No one knew the last time it was operational. I decided the intake valve was in need of a complete overhaul to prevent blow-back and to be seated properly. I took the intake valve apart and had a local machine shop regrind the seats and make two new rings. I had the parts back in three days and had the intake valve back together. A week after the first start, we tried again. This time it ran much better, but it still had a sporadic run-stop situation. After more questions and answers along with testing, I determined the magneto was at fault. I promptly sent it away to have it completely rebuilt. It took three long anxious weeks to get it back. This gave me time to fine-tune other things that needed attention.
The next couple of times, Ron and I tried starting it by hand by turning the flywheels. Sometimes it would start very easily and other times it didn't want to run. A lot of engine people told me I'd need a pony motor or air starter to start that big an engine. I was determined to have it start easier. I remember telling my cousin that if I ran the engine once or twice a year I'd be happy. Well, I think I caught the engine bug, because I wanted to be able to run it any time I wanted.
After a lot of research, I thought a hot tube might be the answer. Russell Farmer, founder of O.F.E.S. and a contributor to this magazine, sent me a hot tube he had built out of stainless steel. I was able to start Miss Bessie a lot easier with it, but it still wasn't as easy as I was hoping for. I knew that the fuel pressure is very critical, so I decided to build a gulp tank system. What a difference! The hot tube and gulp tank did it.
This 25 HP Bessemer starts so easily now, even with those giant flywheels, I can now start it by myself whenever I want to hear that beautiful sound of a running engine. This summer I went through three 100 lb. tanks of propane. That is a long way from running it once or twice a year. Some engine people told me when it gets colder or the weather changes, it will be harder to start. I've proven them all wrong. This Bessemer will start in the wind, rain, cold, snow or whatever. I believe it was just a matter of setting everything up right. The engine was designed to operate 190 rpm under a load. On the first start up it ran around 175-200 rpm. Now the sweet lady idles at 60-65 rpm.
I've also restored a pump jack that is operable, with a belt that you can see behind the engine. I even have the original pipes for gas and oil line hooked up to look operational with natural gas pressure gauge showing 195 pounds pressure. A lot of people ask me if that pumps oil/gas, or is it just for show. My answer is 'yes.' I tell them that with the price of natural gas and oil, I had to do something to save money. That statement was always good for a laugh or two.
Well, I am pretty proud of what I have done with this old and tired engine. I feel I have breathed new life into it, and it looks great. At least that's the way I feel. I actually brought Miss Bessie home September 6 and had it running October 16. I had painted, replaced missing original parts and added pin striping by the following spring. The complete restoration took about ten months.
P. S. My wife Julie also thinks it looks beautiful now that it has gotten a beauty treatment. It is amazing how many people stop to see it running.