We thank the PEOPLE PACER Magazine, house organ of the Western Farmers Association, for permission to reprint this article. It originally appeared in their September/October 1979 issue.
Engines that cough a little, wheeze, sputter and then patter on their way make beautiful music to Don Stanley's ears. And be they large or small, short or tall, he loves them all.
Don, who lives in Junction City, Oregon, has over 60 small gas engines and five antique trucks which he hoards in a building purchased specifically for that purpose. And his tinkering is reproducing history.
'Both Shirley, my wife, and I love old things. We started collecting antique trucks and gas engines during the gas crisis five or six years ago when we had a little extra time from our trailer sales business which we lease out now,' reflects Don.
'We figured collecting and restoring antique trucks would be a good investment. But soon the hobby became a family project,' he says.
And chasing antique shows, swap meets and engine, car and truck shows to find old parts has kept the family social life swinging between tours, parades and displays in Oregon and Washington over three or four years. For the hobby is something the Stanleys' children also relish.
'My two sons, Ron, 20, and Gary, 16, help me clean the engines and get them running for shows. They each have two to three engines of their own, and Gary is restoring a 1950 Chevrolet now because it is so valuable. Ron is taking a body/fender and paint class at Lane Community College nearby,' Don says while 'steering' the conversation toward his most prized relics.
'My favorite trucks are a 1929 Model A and a 1920 Samson. I found the Model A in Longview, Washington, after it had been retired to a storage shed for 20 years. It is made with redwood, and has a chickenwire supported roof. After three years and $8,000 it looks like new,' he states while hopping aboard the glossy tight-looking rig.
'I found the Samson in Eugene, and after 1? years and $6,000 had restored its bird's-eye maple. There are probably only six Samson truck owners in the western states, and I have often been asked to have it photographed for publications. In the old days it sold for around $750,' he says.
Both trucks were used on farms to haul loads of dairy products, livestock, grain and hay. Don painstakingly disassembled each one piece by piece, replaced parts, steam cleaned them, restored and painted the engines and frames, and reupholstered the interiors.
'Shirley made the seats for the Samson, but I had the Model A's upholstery done professionally. The parts I couldn't buy I had made, like two wooden spoked wheels which had rotted on the Samson.
'It took hours just to load the old Model A on a trailer when I bought it. After 20 years of storage it just wanted to fall apart. We moved it a few feet at a time to keep it all in place. Then we just learned as we went,' he reflects.
He also owns two Moreland trucks (1927 and 1928) and a 1924 Federal truck.
'I enjoy going to look at trucks I hear about, and finding different kinds. I'd like to have the finest antique trucks I can get eventually. And there are over 200 makes of gas engines to hunt for,' he says.
Don also collects the booklets and engine manuals on the antiques which he finds by digging through swap meets, antique shows and shops. But his best deals, he says, come from private parties. He has compiled a complete record and history of each engine he owns, and has assembled a scrapbook of newspaper stories and pictures about old trucks and engines.
'To begin with, almost every truck company made one-cylinder engines and horse-drawn wagons and tractors. Then some started building trucks,' Don explains, gesturing toward his roomful of small gas engines. He owns about 60 of the ruddy little 'chuggers,' and belongs to Engine Backfire, a nationwide organization. His rarest engines are a 2? horsepower Eclipse model, a Fairbanks brand, and a one horsepower Stover.
My 1915 Olds 4? horsepower was probably used to grind feeds, pump water or run a small feed mill or cleaning plant. These small engines were the early power for the 1900s, after horsepower,' he explains. 'They are getting so hard to find you can only acquire them by trading. You can't buy them anymore. Occasionally an engine turns up in odd places on farms, etc. (under hay) and you hope the people who have them kicking around will sell them. If you show too much interest, however, they won't,' he says strategically. 'I have been offered five engines for my Eclipse model.'
Don also belongs to the Historic Commercial Vehicle Club of Portland, the Gas Engines Club of Salem and was vice president of the Oregon Steam Association last year. He is treasurer of the Horseless Carriage Club and goes on tours once a month; the Model A club often tours over 100 miles. He is also a member of the Early Day Gas Engine and Tractor Association.
'We dress up in our antique old-fashioned clothes (he wears bibs and a white hat) and have a lot of fun as a family. Last year we even went to Bend. I'd like to start a little museum, set up more displays in banks and antique stores, and take my trucks to three or four shows a summer,' says the memorabilia buff.
So someday, readers visiting Junction City may get a historical guided tour through his private museum!