PORTLAND. Say the word outside of the old iron hobby and most
people think of Oregon and the West Coast, oceans and mountain
vistas. But say the word to anyone in the old iron collective and
their thoughts turn immediately to engines and tractors, gasoline
and oil. The king of old engine events, the annual show in
Portland, Ind., gets the blood rushing like no other. And Portland,
as we’ve come to expect, delivers the goods.
August 21-25 saw the 37th annual show at Portland (known
formally as the Tri-State Gas Engine & Tractor Association Inc.
37th Annual Anniversary Reunion), and the numbers were pretty much
equal to last year. According to Ken Doherty, president of the
Tri-State Gas Engine & Tractor Association, 1,933 engines of
various stripe registered for this year’s show, and that
doesn’t count the extras that invariably dribble in during the
course of the five-day event. On the self-propelled side, 629
tractors registered this year (again, the actual number was
probably higher), and there were 35 antique trucks, 30 antique cars
and six steam engines on hand. Toss in the 150 arts and crafts
dealers and the 300 parts dealers who participated and you start to
get an idea of just how big this show really is.
The tractors are impossible to miss as you enter the Jay County
Fairgrounds, presenting attendees with a veritable phalanx of
antique machinery immediately upon walking through the entry gate.
But impressive as they are, they simply whet the appetite. A glance
to the left sees rows and rows of parts dealers selling everything
from ‘remanufactured’ Ford tractors to perfectly preserved
Olds engines. Wrecked carcasses and complete engines pack the
vendor area, surrounded by trailers stuffed with just about every
imaginable part needed to complete a restoration. Off to the right
steam rises from a grove of trees, the unmistakable chuff of a
traction engine under load and the sound of a blade spinning
through rough lumber signaling the steam engine and sawing area.
And from farther beyond the tractors comes the enticing sound of
hundreds upon hundreds of running engines, from little 1-1/2 HP
John Deere Model Es to larger 15 HP and 25 HP Reids, and on up to
an enormous 1923 100 HP twin-cylinder Fairbanks-Morse Model YV
diesel, centerpiece for the large engine area.
The engine exhibit area at Portland is the core of the show, and
it’s easy to lose yourself as you wander through looking at the
stunning variety of engines on hand. And while there are engines
that make it to Portland year after year, there are always new
additions, or simply engines you never made it around to the year
before. Walking though the Portland show, looking at engines
ranging from perfect restorations to original runners, is
overwhelming, and the engines described here are, at best, merely a
sampling of what the Portland show has to offer.
Jim Zook, Converse, Ind., brought a rare 10 HP sideshaft Shelby,
built by the Shelby Foundry & Machine Works, Shelbyville, Ind.,
sometime in the very early 1900s. The Shelby’s been in
Jim’s ownership since 1976, and early on Jim had the good
fortune to meet the son of the original owner, who remembered
starting the engine when he was 6 – in 1906. Jim’s Shelby,
which originally did duty at a blacksmith shop, is an interesting
engine, featuring separate return cooling lines from the cylinder
and head and a separate cast water hopper that could, ostensibly,
be removed for conversion to tank cooling if conditions
Jim had to make new sideshaft gears as the originals had worn
badly, mostly, he thinks, because someone had fitted an excessively
tight spring to the exhaust valve. Jim believes the added load
placed on the sideshaft cause premature wear in the gears, and
while it still ran okay, he had a new set of gears made up to quiet
the engine and keep it in good form. A remarkable engine, made all
the more so being in its original state, right down to the battery
John Davidson, Bristol, Wisc, had a pair of rare engines on
hand; an 1898 2 HP inverted Webster and a 1902 2 HP Eli. The
tank-cooled Webster, built by Webster Manufacturing Co., Chicago,
Ill., runs hot tube ignition and is in very nice, unmolested
condition. The Eli, built by Moline Pump Co., Moline, Ill., is a
two-cycle engine with piston contact make-and-break ignition, and
its construction is reminiscent of steam engines with a crosshead
arrangement between the cylinder and crankshaft. Amazingly,
John’s Eli has its original cooling tank, a feature that proved
invaluable to Paul Frasier, Carleton, Mich., when he restored his
1903 3 HP Eli. Working from photos of John’s Eli, Paul
recreated the tank and lettering for his own Eli. Paul’s Eli,
which was featured in the May 1996 issue of GEM, was also on hand
for this year’s show.
Illinois-built engines were the feature engines for this
year’s show, and Steve Barr, Piano, Ill., had his 4 HP
Independent Harvester on view. A very original unit, Steve’s
engine shows serial number 3381 and was built some time before
1910. Independent Harvester was a jobber, and Steve’s engine, a
sideshaft with a vertical flyball governor, was actually built by
Rockford Engine Works, Rockford, Ill. Anyone doubting that had only
to wander a few steps away and examine the 4 HP Rockford belonging
to David Thompson, Lancaster, Ohio. The engines are nearly
identical. David’s engine shows serial number 3257 and is only
slightly older than Steve’s.
Peter Stauffer, Rocky Gap, Va., brought along his circa 1916 2
HP The Maynard. Pete’s engine, which graces the cover of this
issue of GEM, was sold new by The Charles Williams Store, Mew York,
N.Y., and was built by Jacobson Machine Manufacturing Co., Warren,
Pa. Nelson Bros., famous for building engines for a number of
jobbers, eventually took over production for The Charles Williams
Store, but Pete says his engine, serial number B9827, is clearly
sourced from Jacobson. Pete says the cylinder, hopper, engine bed,
crank guard and flywheel castings on the pushrod The Maynard appear
to be identical to those of the concurrently built sideshaft Bulls
Eye, which was produced by Jacobson for Montgomery Wards. The
Charles Williams Store advertised The Maynard 2 HP for $39.50 in
their 1916 catalog.
Nick Rowland, New Washington, Ohio, and his dad, Ed, had their
stunning circa 1905 6 HP Cushman, just back together after getting
rid of an annoying ‘chinking’ sound Nick said the engine
had. Nick and Ed tore the Cushman down, and what they found was a
strip of sand that apparently was never cut out of the cylinder.
After spray welding the piston and boring the cylinder, the noise
was gone, and the Cushman ran beautifully at the show. A two-cycle
tank-cooled horizontal, these engines were introduced around 1903,
with production continuing to around 1906.
Jim Phillips, St. Peters, Mo., had his circa 1900 2-1/2 HP Mietz
& Weiss oil engine set amongst a flock of Woodpecker engines
belonging to fellow Missouri engine collectors. Jim’s Mietz
carries an interesting story, Jim buying it from a fellow who had
traded a 22-caliber rifle for it years ago. Jim says the engine
spent its early years sawing wood in Missouri, and it was saved
almost by accident – the fellow who traded the rifle for it made
the deal with a tractor operator, who was supposed to bury the
Mietz when the barn it was in was being cleared away. The Mietz was
stuck when Jim got it, but once he freed it up he was able to reuse
the original piston and rings.
Among the Woodpeckers sharing space next to Jim was a 1906 3-1/2
HP tank-cooled Type E belonging to Clarence Swarthout,
O’Fallon, Mo., that Jim restored for Clarence. And right next
to Clarence’s engine were three more Woodpeckers, all in the
collection of Don and Rick McKee, St. Louis, Mo. The crowd favorite
in their collection was probably the 1910 3-1/2 hopper-cooled Type
J that Jim Phillips restored for them. Jim, in case you hadn’t
figured it out, is a busy guy, and he clearly loves restoring old
Sixteen-year-old oil field engine enthusiast Zach Williams,
Felmont, W.Va., had his latest find on hand, a Tillinghast oil
field conversion engine built on a circa 1870s steam engine bed.
Zach found the engine buried in a mountainside in the wilds of West
Virginia, and he had only barely gotten the engine running before
towing it to Portland. Zach said it took almost two days just to
get the engine unburied and another two months to get the engine
freed up enough to move.
Glenn Meyers, Adrian, Mich., had his beautiful 1913 1-1/2 HP
hopper-cooled sideshaft Wisconsin set up and running. Built by
Lauson-Lawton Co., DePere, Wise, and featuring a vertical flyball
governor, these were among the finest engines of their time, and
Glenn says aside from new rings and lapping the valves, the engine
was in solid shape when he bought it some eight years ago.
Jim Harvey, Blufton, Ind., had a couple of rare ones at his
site, including a 3 HP AT. Jones air-cooled single-cylinder
vertical that once did duty pumping water at an oil field site.
Built in Shinglehouse, Pa., not much is known about these engines,
although there’s some thought they were patterned after engines
built by Myrick Machine Co., Olean, N.Y. Featuring hot tube
ignition, a belt-driven fan blows air over the cylinder for
cooling. Sitting next to the Jones was Jim’s circa 1920 12 HP
tank-cooled Foos Model JK.
As it has for the last few years, the Antique Tractor Internet
Service (ATIS) group held its annual charity auction at the Back 40
Junction Restaurant in nearby Decatur, Ind., on the Thursday night
of the show. ATIS members from around the country were on hand for
the annual dinner and auction, and $2,500 was raised, every penny
of which is funneled into programs benefiting either the old engine
hobby or local charities.
A less welcome repeat performance came from the rain that poured
down hard on Friday afternoon, sweeping through the area and
leaving engines, tractors and people drenched. The commitment of
volunteer workers was amazing, all of them maintaining their posts
on the road leading out of the grounds, directing traffic even as
the rain and accompanying wind cut visibility to mere feet.
Then again, most of us have come to expect that kind of
dedication: It seems to go hand in hand with the old iron hobby,
one of the rare groupings of people where commitment and honesty
are the norm, not the exception. It was a point proven well just as
I took my leave on Saturday morning. Booming over the public
address came an announcement that, ‘A wallet with a goodly sum
of money has been turned in, if it’s yours please come forward
and claim the contents.’ Only at an engine show.
Richard Backus is editor of Gas Engine Magazine. Contact him at
1503 SW 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609-1265, or e-mail:
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