One day in 2010, Dave Hills was driving with a 1-1/2 HP John Deere engine in the back of his truck in Muscatine, Iowa, when a man stopped him and asked if he was interested in buying more engines. Being a collector, of course Dave was interested. He already had a few rare engines, like a 1920 5 HP Galloway, a 1908 3 HP Cushman — which he bought at a flea market — as well as engines from IHC, Ideal, Maytag, Handy Andy and Rock Island.
But Dave, of rural Letts, Iowa, had no idea he was about to get the engine that would become the favorite of his 20-some-piece collection: a 1912 6 HP Sandow.
Dave was shown an engine that had been outside for 15 years. Although it did have a cover over the hopper, there were no cracks in it and the head appeared to be in good condition. “All I had to do was take it apart and clean it, put in all new springs and gaskets, which I cut myself, which is what most people do,” he says. “I didn’t have to do any machine work on it. I don’t really care what an engine looks like when I get it, as long as all the parts are there. That’s all I care about. I’ve never bought one that’s running. I like to fix up the engines myself.”
Dave traded his old vertical E. H. Wachs steam engine, which was manufactured in Chicago, for the Sandow. He initially traded for the Sandow because he liked the size of the Sandow, but he also got $500 out of the deal.
What Dave got was an unusual and rare engine that had been used to cut wood only 30 miles from where he lives. The rare 1912 6 HP Sandow, serial no. 60159, came with its original truck and original clutch. The Sandow has a 6-inch bore and 10-inch stroke, and an unusual water injection that drips water from the hopper into the mixer.
“I don’t know all the facts about it, I know it used to use kerosene and dripping the water into the mixture helped it.” Dave says. “I don’t run it on kerosene because it’s more expensive, and water is not added to the gasoline.”
The Sandow has a hit-and-miss governor. Its long 10-inch stroke means it will run slower than an old Chevrolet car engine with a 3-1/2-inch stroke, Dave says. The Sandow has 36-inch flywheels with 3-inch faces.
Dave’s family had a farm, though that’s not where he grew up, but he lives on a farm now. There were some old tractors on the family farm, mostly John Deere A’s, B’s, 60s and 70s.
The first engine Dave ever bought was a 1929 3 HP John Deere. “I wanted an open crankcase engine, and this one was the one I happened to come by first,” he says, “and since I wanted it, I got it.”
The oddest place he’s ever found an engine, he says, was in a little brick building that had fallen in. Under all the debris was a 1933 1-1/2 HP John Deere, still hooked up to a generator, which Dave mechanically restored for the owner.
The most difficult challenge Dave has faced was fixing up a 1915 3 HP Fairbanks-Morse engine that was stuck. “I had to get a new sleeve for it, but I had a heck of a time getting the piston out,” he says. “It had sat outside with no head on it, so I actually had to fill the hopper full of charcoal and let it get hot so it expanded so I could get it out.”
Dave bought a 1927 Briggs & Stratton SH that had originally been an upright but, at some point, had been laid over to make it a horizontal engine with a sideshaft. “The head is homemade, and the gears came out of an air-cooled Volkswagen car engine,” he says. “The VW distributor-shaft and the camshaft gears are used on the sideshaft.”
The Briggs & Stratton runs with a Ford buzz coil, has make-and-break ignition, and has fins, like a motorcycle engine, for cooling. “These small engines don’t really get hot,” he says. He runs a water pump with this engine, and because there aren’t many sideshafts around and the engine and pump are so small, he says people get down on their knees to watch the combination work.
The truck is a scale model item made for Gade engines. “A guy sells them in the rough, and then you finish them,” Dave explains. “He did a really nice job of casting them.”
Not satisfied with having just one homemade machine, Dave wants to build three others. “Because they [Briggs & Stratton SH engines] have big bases with good crankshafts in them, these are best engines to do that with,” he says. “But I think a lot of people are doing that now, so these engines are getting harder and harder to find.”
Dave bought 11-inch flywheels to add to the engines. “They’re a little bit heavier than normal, so a lot of people put them on a lathe to get them really smooth, but I leave all the weight on, because they run better,” he says. “They might not look perfect, but they run better with that additional weight.”
Dave says he doesn’t want all of his homemade engines to be the same. “I’ve got the sideshaft, so I’ll make one that is a pushrod engine, using the original head and different flywheels on it,” he says. “I’ll flip one upside down and make one that’s not vertical. All that is going to take me two years or so.”
Dave says he enjoys attending shows all over the Midwest (he’s attended more than 150 shows so far) so he can see all the different and unusual engines, but he also goes to find parts. One time at the Tri-State Gas Engine & Tractor Assn. show in Portland, Ind., he needed parts for six engines, as well as flywheels for the three homemade engines he’s going to build. Incredibly, he found every part he needed, even the flywheels. “I was shocked,” he says, “and the prices were reasonable.”
Dave recently had his own one-man show in his hometown of Letts, Iowa, only 3 miles from where he lives. “They had a street celebration there, so I put a bunch of them up,” he says. “It took me several trips to get them all there. They were doing a car show and several other things. People who have known me for many years were surprised at how many I had.”
For the future, Dave says he needs a bigger trailer so he can take more engines. “With the trailer I’ve got, I can only haul so much,” he says. “I can only haul a couple, and I’d like to be able to haul eight or 10 of them to a show.”
Dave says he likes to find rare engines, and he especially likes open crankcases. “That way you can see all the moving parts, and it’s a lot easier to explain the mechanical parts to somebody who doesn’t know about engines,” he says. “If the crankcase is open, you can actually see the governing system and everything. I just like the mechanicals of the engines. I’ve been doing it since 1989.”
But the Sandow holds a special part in Dave’s collection. “That Sandow is my favorite, because of how unusual it is, and not many were ever made by the company,” he says. “They were only in existence for three years, and I’ve only ever seen four Sandows, but no others with the water injection. Maybe there are more out there, but I’ve never seen them.”
Dave says he thinks most engine collectors are pretty good people. “If you need anything, or if you have any questions, just ask somebody,” he says. “There are a lot of knowledgeable people who aren’t afraid to share their knowledge. You can ask all the dumb questions because somebody had to ask it once anyway.”
Read more about the history of Sandow in Sandow Engines: A Tale of Two Companies.Contact Bill Vossler at Box 372, 400 Caroline Ln., Rockville, MN 56369 • email@example.com