Update On A 'Cover Girl'

| September/October 2001

  • Samson gas engine
    Frank Ferguson of P.O. Box 67, Forest Ranch, CA 95942
    Frank Ferguson
  • 200 HP Snow diesel engine
    Photo from 2001 Steam and Gas Show Directory

  • Samson gas engine
  • 200 HP Snow diesel engine

E-Mail address: mpmurph@cooper-energy-services. com

I thought you might want some additional history on the engine that appears on the cover of the 2001 Steam and Gas Engine Show Directory.

Back in 1991, Chris Eby of Paradise, Pennsylvania, introduced me to a Mennonite farmer from Lancaster County who had an old single-cylinder diesel engine sitting in the woods on his farm. He was interested in selling it, and as a collector of diesel engines, Chris thought that I would be interested in the engine.

Sent this photo of an 8 HP Samson gas (or distillate) engine, built circa 1902, fitted with a vertical governor and belt driven. The engine worked in California Gold Country.

I met the farmer at the Rough and Tumble Reunion in '91, and we drove out to his farm from the show grounds to look at the engine. When we finally arrived where the engine sat, it was obvious that the elements had had their way with the old thing for many years. Supposedly, the engine had been used in a fishing boat on the Chesapeake Bay many years ago, but upon closer inspection I noticed degree marks on the flywheel. The engine was obviously a Caterpillar, as I recognized the remains of the injection equipment and the valve cover. Being a single-cylinder engine with the degree scale on the flywheel, and having injection equipment (the fueling cam, etc.) and dainty levers exposed precariously to the elements, I knew it had to be a laboratory engine.

Unfortunately, the piston and rod were missing, and many of the components on the exterior of the engine were damaged or severely weathered. Well, I thought I could give it a better home and at least get it out of the weather, so I made a deal with the farmer and bought the old Caterpillar engine. Chris Eby moved it to Coolspring during the fall show in '91, where it sat until a few years ago.

Having always admired the job John Wilcox had performed in stacking the flywheel halves for the 200 HP Snow diesel back in '82, I placed the Caterpillar engine next to them. Over the years, I tried to keep the engine covered against the weather, but I would always uncover the engine during shows at Coolspring so folks could see it. About five years ago, Jim Rush approached me about buying the engine. I finally sold it to him, knowing of his skills in restoring engines and his great interest in diesels. I knew I would not be able to take on such a monumental task as restoring the old Caterpillar engine in a timely fashion, but I felt strongly that Jim could.

Over the last couple of years, Jim would give me updates on his progress with the engine, and what a sight to behold last year at Portland! Jim did a wonderful job of restoring the engine, and I think Mike Cummins pitched in as well. Really great to see the engine again, in restored condition and running.

When I first saw the ad for the Directory, I immediately recognized the engine and the setting. Then I noticed that I was in the photograph! That's me, leaning against the tent pole, flapping my jaw as usual! What tipped me off for sure was the autogiro image on my tee shirt; there are not many of those shirts out and about!

From research I performed, the engine in the photo was developed by Caterpillar for studying lubrication and wear characteristics of pistons, rings and cylinder liners back in the thirties. Apparently, several hundred of these engines were built, and they ended up in use by Caterpillar and oil companies in their efforts to improve engine life and durability through materials and lubrication research. When corporate research methods changed and the engines were no longer needed, some ended up in laboratories at various universities. Finally, as engineering education and research evolved, the Caterpillar lab engines were scrapped. I do not know of any others that have survived, but I am sure they are out there somewhere. One example that appears to be in original condition, including the Caterpillar gray paint, can be seen at the show in Elnora, Indiana.

I just thought readers might want to know a little more of the recent history of the engine. Keep up the good work on the magazine, I still look forward to receiving it every month.


Gas Engine Magazine A_M 16Gas Engine Magazine is your best source for tractor and stationary gas engine information.  Subscribe and connect with more than 23,000 other gas engine collectors and build your knowledge, share your passion and search for parts, in the publication written by and for gas engine enthusiasts! Gas Engine Magazine brings you: restoration stories, company histories, and technical advice. Plus our Flywheel Forum column helps answer your engine inquiries!

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