The Battle of the Alamo

A 26 Year Saga Draws to a Close

| October/November 2001

Alamo engine

In 1836, the Battle of the Alamo lasted 13 days. My personal battle of the Alamo was a 26-year saga beginning in 1975 and culminating in 2001. As with the overwhelming odds in the original San Antonio battle - 189 defenders to 4,000 attackers - the probability of successfully completing my highly cannibalized Alamo engine seemed as remote. However, through a series of unique coincidences and chance encounters with my own forms of Davy Crocketts and Jim Bowies, not only was I able to stage a moral and strategic victory but a restoration victory as well.

In the early 1970s I discovered the fun of finding and restoring old one-lunger engines and I was always looking for them. In the summer of 1975 my wife, Pat, and I traveled to southern Utah with my parents. I maintained my vigilance and inquired, when convenient, about interesting old iron. We were staying in St. George, Utah, where my dad had grown up, and one day Dad and I were driving near some corrals on the south side of town when he stopped to visit with Ray Schmutz, his lifelong friend.

At one point in our conversation with Ray, I asked him if he knew of any old engines around. He said there was one on a ranch he owned out on 'The Strip' and I could have it if I wanted it. But, he cautioned me, I probably would not want it because the flywheels and other parts were missing. I asked him if he had any idea where the flywheels might be, and he said an old pump that was with the engine and some other 'scrap iron' had been taken to another ranch about 25 miles from there, but he never saw the flywheels. Thanking him for the offer, I told him I would plan to retrieve the engine.

'The Strip' is what people in southern Utah call the northern part of Arizona that is cut off from the rest of the state by the Colorado River. Only a handful of people live in this part of Arizona, and the few roads that exist were little more than ribbons of sand in 1975. I took the camper off our pickup, and Dad's brother, Tom, led our reconnaissance mission for some 80 dusty miles across the desert to an abandoned ranch house.

Filled with intrigue and excitement we neared the dilapidated place; heat waves radiating from the iron monolith created a mirage-like image. Approaching on foot as the dust drifted away we made a closer examination that revealed the obvious missing parts; flywheels, crankshaft, connecting rod, piston, bearing caps, and a few small pieces.

Even so, I knew this was a unique engine as I noticed the three-flyball governor, the unusual head with both a spark plug and igniter, and an elaborate air pre-heater attached to a dual-fuel carburetor. My dad and uncle both asked if I really wanted to haul the hulk back and I enthusiastically voiced my affirmation.