The Straubel Story

By Staff
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Proof that the engine runs.
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27 Loon Lake Road Bigfork, Montana 59911

I would like to dedicate this story to the Straubels of
Kaukauna, Wisconsin.

Wisconsin is one of the leading states in the manufacturing of
non-electrical machinery and paper products. At the turn of the
century there were over 123 different makes of gas engines
manufactured in Wisconsin alone. Even today some of these same
famous named engines are still being made in Wisconsin.

This article is about one of the engines built in Green Bay by
the Straubel family.

Louis A. Straubel was born August 1st, 1865 to F. E. and
Christina Straubel. The paternal grandfather was Frederick
Straubel, who with his wife and family emigrated to the United
States in 1846 from Germany. He was by trade a blacksmith and
followed that occupation during his life in America. F. E.
Straubel, the father of Louis, was also engaged in the blacksmith
trade, but in 1871 established himself in the brick-making business
in which he continued until 1893.

Louis A. Straubel worked in the brick yard from age 14 until he
was 23 and was foreman his last five years.

At age 23, Louis was engaged as an apprentice machinist and
acquired his knowledge of that trade during one year of service. He
then took up work as a machinist with the East River Machine Shop
where the firm of Hudson and Sharp is now located. He then worked
for two years in Oshkosh and two and one-half years in Milwaukee,
Wisconsin.

In 1893 Louis and his brother Charles took charge of their
father’s brickyard for one year.

Mr. Louis Straubel was united in marriage in Green Bay, March
27,1900, to Miss Milda Mickelson. They are the parents of two sons,
Clifford and James. The family resided at 518 Walnut Street in a
residence which was built by F. E. Straubel, the father of
Louis.

In 1894 Louis took up work with the Thomas Machine Company and
later with the Milwaukee Sander Company, dividing his time of
employment between these two companies for a period of two
years.

Louis A. Straubel purchased the Holbeck Machine Shops at 112 S.
Pearl Street (west side of Green Bay) in 1896.

Until about 1900 the business was named simply Louis A. Straubel
Machine Shop. About 1905 the name became Straubel Machine Company.
The company was incorporated as a closed stock company in 1907.
This was after Louis’ brothers, Ernest and Edward, became
partners.

In 1908 the firm purchased its present location and built a
structure which consists of a plant sixty by one hundred
fifty-seven feet, one story high. It was built of brick and it has
a ‘saw tooth’ roof construction which was used for better
lighting. Several additions were added as the company expanded.

The Straubel Machine Company employed seventeen skilled laborers
and all the officers of the company took an active part in the
conduct of the business.

At this time we have no mention of types of machines that were
manufactured. From what we have determined, the marine engine was
likely manufactured at the Pearl Street shop.

A side note: F. E. Straubel’s brickyard was near the East
River, north of Mason Street Bridge, and was established in 1869.
At that time the company employed 13 people and produced 10,000
bricks daily. In October 1871, the historic fire at Peshtigo burned
1,280,000 acres of land. Cost of lives was reported to be 1,152
known dead and 350 others presumed so. At least 1,500 were injured
and 3,000 left homeless. Property lost was estimated at $5,000,000.
After the Peshtigo fire, the demand for bricks for use in building
increased enormously.

Ernest T. Straubel was born October 28,1874 to F. E. and
Christina Straubel. He received his early education in the public
schools of Green Bay, Wisconsin. After his schooling he went to
work in his father’s brickyard at Green Bay until the age of
twenty. He then worked as an apprentice machinist for his brother
Louis for one year, and for two years as a master machinist in the
same shop. In 1899 he went to Milwaukee and worked as a machinist
with the Viter Manufacturing Company for one year and later for the
Gueder &. Paschke Company and then the Luther & Gies
Company.

In 1907 Ernest entered a partnership with his brother Louis and
conducted business under the firm name of the Straubel Machine
Company and has since continued to be successful in the machine
manufacturing business.

On July 25, 1906, he was married to Miss Frances A. Sprague.
They became parents of one child, Ernest S. Straubel. The family
resided at 314 South Madison Street, Green Bay.

Mr. Ernest T. Straubel was the secretary and treasurer for the
Straubel Machine Company. He was well known throughout northeastern
Wisconsin as one of the enterprising and successful business men of
his county and state.

I can find no information of the types of machinery that were
manufactured prior to the paper machines that were made in
1917.

The Straubel Machine Company catered to the local paper mills,
designing and improving many paper converting machines. The first
machine for making interfold towels in Green Bay was designed and
patented by L. A. Straubel, and sold to Northern Paper Mills in
1917. In 1922 he designed and patented the first double-fold toilet
tissue inter-folding machine. They also were making cabinets for
the interfold toilet paper towels.

Much of the original equipment was still in good repair and
being used in the factory in June 1979.

Between 1925-1926, the name was changed to Straubel Paper
Company. The company was in business until at least the mid-1970s.
When they went out of business we’re not sure, but they have
not been in business for quite some time.

I had been doing the research on this engine for over a year and
wasn’t getting much help from any of the people I contacted. I
finally had to hire a Genealogical and Historical Research Service
out of Green Bay and they have come up with all before mentioned
information. They have come up with the name and address of the
grandson of Ernest Straubel, his name being Dick Straubel of
Kaukauna, Wisconsin.

Here is his story and comments on the Straubel Engine Company.
Dick Straubel is narrating what his father, Don Straubel, is
telling him:

‘My father was pleased to receive your note and picture of
the Straubel engine. We were a little startled to learn that a
Straubel engine survives in Montana. We would be interested to hear
about the circumstances that took it there. Dad is unable to write
because of a partial quadriplegia caused by a broken neck suffered
in an auto accident. He is 82 years old, and as is true of many
elderly people, memories of his family are increasingly important
to him. His father and two uncles manufactured Straubel engines.
Your note roused many pleasant memories and started him talking
about the old days.

‘There were five Straubel brothers: Ernest (my grandfather),
Louis, Ed, Otto and Charles. Otto and Charles were successful Green
Bay businessmen, but were not involved in the engine business.
Louis started the engine business in 1898 or 1899. His intent was
to sell engines to Great Lakes fishermen. The business was
successful, but he was having trouble finding reliable workers. He
contacted Ed and Ernest, who were working in Milwaukee machine
shops at the time, and asked them to join him in the business. They
did so. They manufactured engines until about 1906 or 1908 when
Kahlenberg marine engines took the market.

‘I recall my father saying that one reason Straubel engines
were designed for such low r.p.m. was because Grampa Straubel did
not believe compression could occur at high r.p.m. Knowing this
thought was in the mind of the builder may help you enjoy your
Straubel more as you listen to it run.

‘The power of the Straubel engines could be increased by
bolting multiple cylinders together. You will notice that the ends
of the crankcase are covered by circular plates bolted to the
engine block. The crankshaft extends through the centers of the
plates. Your 2 HP engine could become a 5 HP engine by adding
another cylinder. Since your engine is stationary, you may not know
that the engines were put into reverse by cutting the ignition,
allowing the engine to come up on the compression stroke, retarding
the spark and turning the ignition back on. The engine would begin
to run in reverse. Reversing the engine must have taken great
practice. ‘The one Straubel I have seen was owned by Dave
Eline, an heir to the Schlitz Brewery fortune. When about fifteen
years old, I watched Dave, who was intoxicated at the time, come in
to his slip at a concrete dock in Fish Creek, Wisconsin. Dave’s
timing was a little off! He thought he had the engine in reverse,
but did not. He ended up accelerating forward and crashed into the
dock. He had been traveling quite fast when he approached the dock
(he liked to show off for bystanders on the dock with a dramatic
reverse move), so the crash was quite impressive. I remember seeing
Dave fly head first down the companionway. Good thing he was drunk
don’t think he felt a thing!

‘I remember hearing that there were less than one-hundred
engines made each year. Serial numbers began with the year (1901
meant that the first digit was 1) and ended with the number of the
engines made that year. The first engine made in 1901 would have
had the serial number 101.1 seem to remember numbers higher than
that, but my father has told that story several times.

‘The green paint on your engine may be original. All
Straubel engines were painted a similar shade of green.

‘Another story my father likes to tell is about when a
salesman came to the engine company looking for my grandfather. The
salesman was told where Grampa was, but he was still unable to find
him. He sought better directions and was told, ‘He is the man
working on that engine over there. His white shirt sleeves are
rolled up, his hands are greasy up to the elbows, and he is
whistling ‘Onward Christian Soldiers.’ Evidently the
salesman was looking for a dignified businessman in a three-piece
suit. Grandfather may have been working on your engine at that
time. If he was not, the chances are still very good that your
motor was blessed with a whistled hymn of some kind. When still a
young man my father asked some of the men at the shop what it was
like to work for Ernest. They said, ‘It is awful. He tells us
how to do something, then does it himself!’

‘Your Straubel engine was made by honorable men who worked
hard and took pride in the engines they made.

‘Ernest was a pillar of the church and community. He
attended the Congregational Church every Sunday, built a fire in
the church furnace everyday the weather called for it, and he was a
great proponent of prohibition.

‘Most of the engines died unceremoniously on rocky Door
County beaches where fishermen dumped them after replacing them
with more modern Kahlenberg engines. The Straubels tended to be a
bit rigid in their approach to changing technology. They seemed to
believe that the Straubel engine had attained a mechanical
evolutionary peak which could not be improved upon. They valued
reliable simplicity. Performance enhancements achieved through the
complication of the engine were not desirable because complication
usually meant less reliability.’

My engine is a 2 HP water cooled marine engine made by the
Straubel Machine Company, Green Bay, Wisconsin. Its serial number
is 1423. It has a bore of 3′ and a stroke of 3′. Connecting
rod is cast bronze with a con rod bearing of 1? ‘ in diameter.
There is no babbitt in the bearing. The ignition system is of the
wiper type off the crankshaft. Four l volt dry cell batteries
supplied the electrical current, connected to a buzz coil. The
spark plug is a Model T type.

The carburetor is of the float type as the fuel tank is mounted
above the carb. There is a primer cup next to the spark plug on the
head, for easier starting. There is no butterfly in the air intake
side of the carb. There is a throttle lever on the carb and also a
gas mixture needle valve on top of the carb. How effective the drip
oiler was is anyone’s guess. Oil was not mixed with the gas in
those days. Also there was no drain plug on the bottom of the
crankcase to drain off excess oil or gas.

To start the engine a handle is inserted in one of two holes in
the flywheel, depending on which direction you want to run the
engine. The two holes in the flywheel are designed in such a way
that the handle would release itself once the engine was
started.

How my engine ended up in Montana is anyone’s guess. Perhaps
someone traveling westward heard about the largest natural
freshwater lake west of the Mississippi called Flathead Lake, and
wanted to see for themselves how big the lake really is. (At full
pool the lake has a surface area of 197 square miles with a maximum
length of 27 miles and a maximum width of 15 miles.

About the only thing I have been able to find out is that the
engine was used in a flat bottom launch type boat owned by the
Kalispell Elks Club. The boat was between 8′-10′ wide and
18′-20′ long. The name of the boat was the ‘Myth.’
The Elks used the boat for fishing parties.

I have talked to an old-timer who used the boat and engine
whenever the Elks weren’t using it.

He tells of the time when he and a friend were caught out on the
lake and a storm came up and they got drenched before they got to
shore. They had no matches, so taking a rag they poured gas on it,
then held it next to the spark plug wire; while cranking over the
engine, a spark jumped and ignited the rag. They then proceeded to
build a fire and get dried out.

The engine was pulled from the boat in 1926 never to be used
again. It went through a few owners’ hands, but no one seemed
to be interested in it. The engine finally ended up beside an auto
repair shop in Lakeside, Montana. It was covered up with a piece of
tin, so it was hard to see it from the road. You ask how did I find
the engine? Well, actually I didn’t. My wife found it for me.
While shopping for groceries one day she ran into our old car
mechanic in the store. She visited awhile, as women do, and he
asked her if I was still restoring old cars. ‘No,’ she
said, ‘John is into old one-cylinder engines and looking for
more. Do you know of any?’ ‘Well yes,’ said Neil,
‘I have one I’ll sell him, send him over someday.’

That evening my wife told me about her visit with Neil and what
he said about having an engine. Supper could wait. I called Neil up
and he said, ‘Yes, I have an old boat motor called a Straubel
and yes, I would sell it as I have no use for it. Come on over and
look at it.’ I said, ‘Yes I will, how about tomorrow?’
‘Fine,’ said Neil. That phone call ended on a high note for
me, as I could not find the name Straubel Machine Company in
Wendel’s book, Gas Engines Since 1872. Boy, this must be a rare
one if it’s not in Wendel’s ‘bible.’

The next day found me in Lakeside, Montana, at Neil’s place
looking at an engine like I had never seen before. We made small
talk for a while, about how he had the engine running one year ago
and how it bounced all over his yard as it is not a balanced
engine, having only one flywheel. I kept eyeballing the engine and
asking myself, ‘Do you really want this engine?’ After all,
a two-cycle engine can be a cantankerous thing to get running.
Something like the old Titan chain-saws. The more I thought about
it, the closer I got to saying ‘Yes, you need this thing. No
one else in the Engine Club has a marine engine and this might be a
rare find and you’ll kick yourself all the way home if you
don’t buy it.’

A price was agreed upon and the Straubel was mine. Neil helped
me load it up into my old ’63 Chevy pick-up and home I went. Of
course, I left it in my pick-up to show it off. Most people looking
at it had no idea what it was or what it was used for. Explaining
the function of the different parts made sense to some of the
mechanical minded people, but I’m sure most people thought I
was about three bricks shy of a full load.

I got the engine unloaded, and for a while it just sat on my
shop floor, while I wondered what to do with my
‘prize.’

During the winter of ’95-’96 I made the cart and the
four wheels to mount the engine on. The engine weighs well over 200
lbs. and is very side heavy on the flywheel side.

It was time to look inside the crank-case and check the rod
bearing. I took the two side covers off and found the rod had too
much slop. Adjusting for the clearance was easy as there were still
shims between the rod and cap. Compression was very low and by
pouring oil down the plug hole it helped a little, but not a whole
lot. I did try to start it one day, just by pouring gas down the
priming hole and cranking it over. I did get three or four pops out
of it, but just until the gas was all used up. Right then I knew
she’d run, but could see that cranking by hand wasn’t the
answer. The cranking handle was too hard to hold into the flywheel
hole.

Next step was to come up with an easier way to spin the
flywheel. Having collected Model A Ford parts for over 35 years, I
was sure a Ford starter could be rigged up to do the job. The
flywheel on the engine is about the same diameter as a Model A
flywheel, so all I had to do was make a 2′ flat pulley for the
starter shaft. A two inch leather belt was made up to run this
starting system. I got a good used gas tank and mounted it above
the carb so the gas was gravity feed.

In June of 1996 our club, the Northwest Antique Power
Association, had a Spring Crank-up and so I brought the engine to
the show. With the help of Nick Poncelot and Steve Skyberg we got
the Straubel running. At a low r.p.m. it really vibrated, but by
opening the throttle up it would settle down. I would guess we ran
it. for 15 minutes before it ran out of gas.

Before I try starting it again, I will put in a set of rings and
hone the cylinder. The mains seem tight so I won’t mess with
them. A good cleaning and a paint job will finish this engine.

I would like to thank Mr. Frank E. Philpitt of Hicksville, New
York, for helping me on getting me going on the research of this
engine. He helped me with names of maritime museums to get in touch
with in Wisconsin. Without his encouragement I might not have
finished this story.

If a person has an engine and wants to find some history on it,
and is willing to write letters, you might be surprised by what
you’ll come up with. If I lived in or near Green Bay it would
have been easier and quicker for me to do the ‘leg work’ on
the research.

I hope all you engine collectors enjoy reading my story on the
Straubel engine as much as I enjoy reading your engine stories in
GEM. Please let me know if there are any more Straubels around.
I’d like to compare notes with you.

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Preserving the History of Internal Combustion Engines