Good Things Come to Those Who Wait
'Left: Note the original decal on the side of the engine base. Had it not been exposed to the elements for 10 years, this engine would be in much better condition. '
The saga of this engine has spread over 10 years, with several engines and tractors in between. In early 1993, a good friend showed me a beautiful sideshaft, 8-1/2-inch bore and 16-inch stroke 20 HP Saint Mary's Machine Co. engine. The engine was purchased new by the town of Sedro Woolley, Wash. Although no known records exist, it is rumored to have been purchased between 1910 and 1915. Its purpose was to pump water from the Skagit River at the old city water pump station. In later years it was used as a standby engine in the city sewer plant until sometime into the mid-1960s.
At this point in the Saint Mary's life, a prominent city industrialist acquired it. He was a member of the family who owned Skagit Mfg., makers of heavy logging equipment from 1919 until the 1980s.
The Mac Tugger was the first winch unit, or "yarder," produced by Skagit Mfg. It utilized a Fordson tractor for power - less the rear wheels, which were replaced with a cast sprocket and a chain to drive the winch. Henry Ford himself made a trip to Sedro Woolley, because, as he said, "I want to see where the trainloads of Fordsons are going with no rear wheels." Evidently he was satisfied, as Skagit Mfg. produced 1,500 Mac Tuggers. I have an early photo with a Waterloo Boy tractor being used as the winch power unit. No doubt, cost was instrumental in Skagit Mfg. choosing the Fordson over the Waterloo.
Staring with a humble $1,400 Fordson-powered yarder in 1921, by 1982 Skagit Mfg. was producing a world-famous yarder selling for $500,000. After 1991 and a couple of buyouts, the company folded.
When we first looked at the Saint Mary's, most of the original paint, pinstriping and fancy brass pieces were still intact. The only major piece missing was the governor. It was decided I would find the parts, get it running, mount it on a trailer and show it - with the stipulation the Skagit Mfg. owner maintained ownership. We had gone to their farm, selected a trailer, and were moving toward the eventual day of getting it going. This had taken about three months: Then the owner died, and all progress was put on hold. For several months we tried to purchase it through the estate, but to no avail. Eventually, it ended up being sold as part of the building it was stored in.
The new owners of the building decided they wanted to restore the engine and set it outside on the street as a reminder of the city's history. I was contacted again to restore the engine, but after telling them the cost involved, they decided it wasn't worth it. So out on the street it went.
Those of you not familiar with northwest Washington's weather cannot begin to understand what happens in a short time: The heavy saltwater rain begins to destroy a lifetime of beauty in just a couple of months. Now add the destructive abilities of misdirected youth, and you have a fatal combination. The engine sat on the street for seven years, and several people asked to purchase it over the course of those years.
I had almost written it off, but still kept tabs on it. Finally, it was moved off the street behind a storage building the owner had built. Another good friend rented the building and kept me informed of any changes in location.
We are now at 10 years - and counting - when I got a phone call from my original partner, Tony Splane. (Tony had spent most of his working life with Skagit Mfg. and was their major troubleshooter.) "You had better get over to Pete's; he's having a big sale to clean out his storage building and I think he'll sell the engine." Needless to say, I was out the door instantly. I connected with Pete and we looked over the engine, plus a few broken parts that had been taken off and stored. We agreed on a price, and in May 2004 the engine was mine.
I have been involved as chairman for our Fourth of July Antique Engine and Tractor Show held in front of the Sedro Woolley Museum. I decided to make every effort to get it going for the 2004 show.
My first order of business was to free the piston and clean the crank, rod and sideshaft bearings of years of rust and dirt. Working most of a month, I was able to get it rolling over, but it didn't have any compression. I pulled the rod and piston, struggling to get it out of the engine. With the piston cradled in my arms I thought, "Man, this is heavy." An old bathroom scale in the shop showed it weighed a whopping 165 pounds! After getting the rings loose, it took three of us to put it back in.
I rebuilt the igniter and slide unit, made a heavy I-beam base, and was ready to go two days before the Fourth. I had tried to turn it over at home and could only get a pop or two out of it, so I decided to take a belt and use one of the tractors at the show to turn it over and play with the fuel mixture. As I have no governor, I figured I could use propane and govern it using one of the three needle valves. I had to repair these, as the town hoodlums had bent and broken them, along with the wonderful old brass rod wiper oiling system. I silver-soldered the brass units together, and after buffing and polishing, they look remarkably good.
The Fourth arrived. Sitting on a trailer, we used a club members' restored John Deere M and belted it to the engine's large pulley. Several thousand people watch the parade, so the town is full of "lookie-lou's," and they seemed particularly interested in the engine belted to the tractor. Once we got it turning over, we shot some primer gas into the cylinder and it fired right up. A couple more tries and we got the governor valve and propane set, and away it went. People couldn't figure out what was running what: "Is the engine starting the tractor?" "Why is that belt hooked up when both the tractor and engine are running?"
After some explaining, most of them understood, but some probably never figured it out. We left it on the belt for over an hour, and the engine ran flawlessly. What a great feeling to see it running after 50 years. I was one happy guy that day, especially when the son of the previous owner ran to tell his Dad, "He got that engine running." His Dad said, "No way!" They told me this when they stopped to talk and watch the engine run.
After 10-plus years, my contact for the governor had sold long ago. That means I still need a flyball governor about 14 to 16 inches high with a beveled gear mechanism controlling the slide valve system, plus the brass nameplate that's missing. The engine has serial no. 3704 stamped on almost all engine parts. Every number matches, so it's all original. Best of all, it's running. If you ever feel discouraged about an engine, remember - just be patient, and it could be yours.
Contact engine enthusiast Morrie Robinson at: 10789 Potts Road-Day Creek, Sedro Woolley, WA 98284.