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Sparta Economy Engine News

Author Photo
By Staff

20601 Old State Road Haubstadt, Indiana 47639

It’s not very often that there is information from a former
employee available. Back in 1976 Ray Miller of Fort Erie, Ontario,
wrote to the Sparta Township Library asking for information about
the Holm Machine Manufacturing Company. They referred him to Phil
Bradstrum who was still living at the time. Below is the content of
Mr. Bradstrum’s reply:

E. Phil Bradstrum, 22 Centennial Avenue, Sparta, Michigan 49345,
February 20, 1976

Ray Miller & Sons, 2815 Niagara Blvd., Fort Erie, Ontario,
Canada

Dear Mr. Ray Miller,

Your letter to the Sparta Library turned over to me for a reply
about the Holm’s Mfg. Co. This was a new company formed by
Sears, Roebuck and Company and Holm’s. Money furnished by Sears
and know how by Holm’s. At this time, Holm’s was associated
with the Northwest Engineering Company, makers of marine engines
and concrete machinery at Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Coming to Sparta,
Michigan, a clause in the deal was that Sparta was to furnish money
to build the plant. Having no money for such a purpose, they bonded
the village for $20,000 to build a park, as it was illegal to bond
for manufacturing plants in the state of Michigan at that time, so
a loophole was found. We came to Sparta November 17, 1908. About
1912, Sears bought out Holm’s and they operated the company
until 1914 when they sold 51% of the stock to Hercules Buggy
Company of Evansville, Indiana. They moved the company that same
year. The Economy Engine was the only brand name in manufacturing
in Sparta. I do not have information or names of the officers of
the company, likewise no literature, books or parts lists on the
engine.

This is all the information I can recollect and trust it answers
your interest in this matter.

Yours truly,

E. Phil Bradstrum

Newspapers of that time relate a slightly different account of
the bond issue and Sears’ involvement. Mr. Bradstrum passed
away on January 27, 1977.

The Holm Company started building Economy engines about mid-1909
beginning with the A model. Details of the various models built at
Sparta will follow in later articles. Even though the Holm Company
continued to grow and build more engines for Sears, there was a
nagging problem at Sparta.

Electricity for the village was supplied by steam driven
generators at the Sparta Milling Company. As time went on, the
demand for electricity grew to the point that there wasn’t
enough to supply the homes and businesses at Sparta. The Holm
Company added its own generators and planned to sell surplus power
to the milling company. To make a long story short, things did not
work out. The headline on September 30, 1910 newspaper read
‘Town in Darkness.’ The Sparta Milling Company couldn’t
meet the electricity, demands of the village. How it was all
resolved is unknown.

By the spring of 1912, William Tippet, president of the Holm
Company, contacted William McCurdy of the Hercules Buggy Company at
Evansville, Indiana, and asked that McCurdy build a factory there
to manufacture engines for Sears. McCurdy had been supplying
buggies for Sears since 1903. November 8, 1912, the Hercules Gas
Engine Company was formed and the process of building a new factory
was begun. The rest is history. The Evansville Business Association
put up $ 10,000 to haul all the assets of the Holm Company to
Evansville. Everything was moved, including employees who wished to
move. A severe housing shortage was created in the area just east
of the Hercules factory. Production of the Sparta type Economy
engines was continued at Evansville until the entire supply of
Sparta parts was used up. The first Hercules type Economy engines
were produced in Evansville in mid-January 1914.

The lowest Sparta Economy serial number currently known is 526,
and the highest is 40156. Serial numbers of the 316 currently known
are pretty well scattered through this range except for a gap
between 6,000 and 10,000. The known Waterloo Economy engine serial
numbers all fall in that gap. The serial number gap was left so
that when customers ordered parts for engines and gave their serial
number, the supplier would know what kind of engine it was.

There will be more on the Waterloo Economy engines later.

Sparta Economy Engine News

Author Photo
By Staff

 20601 Old State Road, Haubstadt, Indiana 47639

Once the Holm Machine Manufacturing Company was formed, plans
moved quickly toward actual construction of the factory. A five
acre site was obtained about three blocks southeast of the center
of the village of Sparta, Michigan, along the railroad tracks.
Construction was to begin on Monday November 8, 1908, but the
concrete block making equipment had not arrived from Eau Claire,
Wisconsin. Two days later it arrived and was set up in a temporary
building and the production of 700 concrete blocks per day began.
The goal was to have the factory up and running by April 15, 1909.
Anyone who was willing to work was needed, but it is unknown
whether the April 15th goal was met.

Four buildings were planned, including one 100 by 404 feet to
house the foundry and machine shop. Another was to be 50 by 100
feet and two story for the paint shop, pattern room, crating room,
testing room and shipping room. Two smaller buildings were to house
the tool and stock rooms, the cleaning and rattling room, the
heating plant and the blacksmith shop.

Even with all the obvious construction going on at the edge of
the small village, it has never been officially announced as to
just what it was for. It was said to be common knowledge, however,
among the village folk that it was to be a factory to build gas
engines for Sears, Roebuck & Company.

Shown below is an artist’s conception, taken from a 1911
catalog, of the factory appearance. It should be quickly pointed
out that this picture is much more glamorous than that shown in
early photos of the day or those of the present. Yes, these
buildings are still there, along with the water tower and the
railroad tracks. There have been numerous modifications and
additions.

Over the years since 1913 there have been several businesses in
these facilities, and today it houses the Sparta Foundry, a
division of Goetz Corporation of America. An inquiry at the Goetz
reception room was disappointing. There was a sign saying to use
the phone on the table to get information. Somewhere in the
building a lady answered the phone and acted disinterested about my
inquiry. She referred me to a gentleman somewhere in the building
who, likewise, was unsympathetic to my inquiry.

Just what the exact arrangements, between Sears, Roebuck &
Company and Peter Holm were, is unknown. On February 7, 1909 Sears
purchased the Holm Company and announced four days later that a
$50,000 improvement was planned to the yet unfinished factory.
Chicago people from Sears were put in charge, with William Tippet
being named general manager. Holm was now a consulting engineer and
the former secretary-treasurer was now the purchasing agent. Within
the year, Holm would pack up his family and return to Eau Claire,
Wisconsin.

On July 18, 1909 Holm applied for a patent on a gas engine
governor regulating device. This device was used under patent
pending on the first Economy engines produced at Sparta. By the
time the patent was issued on October 25, 1910, Holm was back in
Eau Claire and his patent was no longer being used on the engines.
Perhaps Sears wouldn’t pay him for it. More details on his
patent will be discussed later on.

Coming up next is an old employee letter and problems at
Sparta.

Gas Engine Magazine

Preserving the History of Internal Combustion Engines