511 East Main Street, Evansvill, Wisconsin
Fuller and Johnson, Baker Monitor, Cushman, Reo, Hercules, Fairbanks.
Do they sound familiar? Maybe rock and roll groups from the sixties? No, they're stationary gasoline engines that were common in rural areas fifty or more years ago.
These names and archaic terms like priming cup, vibrator coil, low-tension ignition, hit and miss governor, jump spark igniter, and hot shot battery are all guaranteed to quicken the pulse of anyone who worked around those old engines or is an antique engine buff.
Roy E. Sarow of Evansville, Wisconsin is both. He says, 'They were used for grinding feed, pumping water, sawing wood, running washing machines, and other farm chores that electric motors do today.' He has an impressive stable of them in show-room condition.
Kept in a room adjacent to the work shop back of his home on Walker Street, each is mounted on its own wheeled platform ready to be rolled forward for closer inspection.
A Baker Monitor and a Fuller and Johnson are of special interest because they were made locally. The latter is unique in that it cranks to the left to right. Both are complete with jacks and old fashioned up-right pumps.
The Baker plant is two blocks from Sarow's home and the Fuller and Johnson works was less than twenty-five miles away.
Fuller and Johnson was a victim of the Depression but Baker Manufacturing Company is alive and well. It presently makes pitless water well systems, oil field pumping units, and the familiar drinking fountain type hand pumps found in parks and rest areas across the United States and Canada.
Baker's employee profit sharing plan, the first in America, dates back to 1899. The company celebrated its centennial in 1973.
These old engines, slow and heavy were made in an era when things were built to last and planned obsolescence hadn't become a way of life for manufacturers. They didn't wear out easily.
For someone like Sarow who understands the functions of all their components, it's possible to rebuild them so they run like new. If parts are missing and replacements can't be located, he makes them.
Born and raised on a farm, Sarow attended auto mechanic classes for two winters at the old Janesville Vocational School. There he learned to bore engine blocks, rebabbit bearings, build batteries, fit wrist pins, scrape connecting rod bearings, and many other skills seldom used today. He started working in a garage in 1927 and, except for a stint in the hardware business, stayed in automobile servicing and merchandising until retiring in 1971.
In his shop was a 1.5 horsepower one cylinder John Deere and a 1.25 horsepower one-cylinder Baker Monitor upright engine glistening with new paint. He cranked them both. They started immediately and ran beautifully. Two Maytags were being reconditioned, one a single cylinder horizontal, the other a two-cylinder horizontal 'Multi-Motor.' Waiting its turn was an old upright Briggs and Stratton FH with overhead valves, an unusual model.
Sarow patted the Baker Monitor and said, 'These were real farm engines. Everything was simple and strong. This one even has a cast iron gas tank.'
'When I was a boy, we had a Baker engine that pumped water for a stock tank down on the marsh. When the stock was on pasture, one of us would go down there each morning, put in a quart of gasoline, start the engine and leave. When it ran out of gas, the stock tank would be full. All the old engines were built to function with little maintenance. They were made to run for hours or even days unattended, exposed to all kinds of weather.'
Has he ever used his engines?
'I have an old burr mill powered by a one cylinder Reo. I use this to grind corn for bird feed and by setting it to grind finer, I make wheat into flour and corn into meal for johnny cake.'
'My respect for and interest in old motors was revived in 1973 when several other Trout Unlimited members and I received permission to use a city-owned 50-year-old pumping rig, if we could get it back into operating condition, on a stream project north of Evansville. It consisted of a single cylinder horizontal gas engine and two big pitcher pumps mounted on a trailer. We had to make extensive repairs on both the engine and pumps before the unit was usable.'
Trout Unlimited is a club devoted to preserving and restoring trout habitat.
'The old pump sat on the stream bank and ran weekend after weekend sucking silt, sticks and other debris out of a big spring hole. Occasionally a stone would be drawn into one of the pumps and hold a valve open. We would shut down long enough to remove that, but the old engine never faltered.' Sarow recalls.
After that he began acquiring and renovating old gas engines.
He finds them in farm yards, barns and sheds around the country side. Most of them are covered with rust and few are complete or operable when he gets them.
Each one is dismantled, cleaned, inspected, reconditioned, then painted its original color. Even ascertaining the correct paint color can involve extensive research.
He doesn't operate a museum as such, but visitors are welcome and as word gets around more and more people are stopping to see the 'old fashioned engines that run.' He has put together a slide program on the engines that he shows to clubs, schools, senior citizen groups, and historical society meetings. These have all brought leads that have resulted in his locating other engines.
A feature story in a Madison, Wisconsin newspaper about his collection brought a deluge of letters and calls in addition to more visitors. One was from a University of Wisconsin professor who wondered if Sarow would be interested in an old engine that had to be removed from some property the professor had recently inherited.
He and a friend went to see the engine and found it rusting away in the remains of an old pump house. It was something different than either had seen before so Sarow made an offer that was accepted. After unbolting it from the pump, which the owner wanted to keep, and sliding it out into the light, they found a tag identifying it as a Fuller and Johnson 'Farm Pump Engine,' serial number 39518, patented in 1909.
Later research ascertained it had been made in 1914 and was rated at 1.5 horsepower.
This is the Fuller and Johnson farm pump engine Roy acquired as the result of a feature about his collection in a metropolitan newspaper.
Now, after a thorough refurbishing, it's one of the highlights of his collection. A model rarely seen at shows, its air cooled cylinder is in marked contrast with the water hoppers of comparable engines, and the left hand crank intrigues visitors.
He also has a 2 horsepower type NB Fuller and Johnson made in 1927 and a 2.5 horsepower type NC made in 1929. Lampblack added to New Idea green gives him the original Fuller and Johnson color.
Why does he do all this? 'Well,' he says with a grin, 'For me, working with old machines must be kind of therapeutic. I retired because of ill health, and although I am probably as busy as when I was working, I feel better than I have for years. Besides, I meet a lot of nice people.'