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Love at First Sight!

Author Photo
By Staff

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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.

Gas Engine Magazine

Preserving the History of Internal Combustion Engines