In the spring of 2005, I got a very interesting
letter in the mail from a woman stating she had a large engine for
sale. She was the granddaughter of the original owner who purchased
the engine in 1912. She got my name from an article in Gas Engine
Magazine and wondered if I was interested. From her description and
some digital photos, I could see it was a Domestic, with an igniter
and fuel pump. Of course I was interested, so I made the 2-1/2-hour
trip to look at it that weekend.
It was a 6 HP Type A stationary engine, shop no. 6876. It was
used on a farm near Huntington, Long Island, N.Y., to pump water
for the road crews building the Long Island Parkway (now the LI
Expressway, or Northern Parkway). This was one of the many projects
undertaken by the Vanderbilt heirs (probably Frederick).
Unusual features of this engine (for Domestics, anyway) are the
overflow carburetor with fuel pump, round connecting rod, brass
“marine” big end and ported exhaust. As per the original sales
catalog, it is a skidded engine, set on two channel iron skids with
the cast iron gas tank serving as a subbase. It also features
make-and-break ignition with a dynamo and the signature Domestic
spark saver. Another unusual feature is the use of two-piece piston
rings. Each ring set (except the oil ring) consists of a
loose-fitting ring deep in the groove that acts as a spring on a
thinner, snug-fitting ring on the outside. The outer ring is only
about 1/16-inch thick.
The engine had been moved from its working location on Long
Island to Germantown, N.Y., some 10 years prior. It was partially
disassembled at that time, so I elected to move all 1,700 pounds of
it in pieces in the back of my truck – and it’s a good thing I
The April day I chose to retrieve the engine was in the middle
of a wet spell, even wetter than normal for this neck of the woods.
I had to have my two-wheel-drive truck towed into the barnyard
where the engine was, and used a come-along around a tree to move
it into position. If I had used a trailer, I’d still be stuck
there. We used a chain fall to carefully remove the flywheels from
the frame, and rolled them onto the truck. The frame and cylinder
were winched up on 2-1/2-inch pipe rollers. All other parts removed
at that time were loaded into the cab to keep them dry. After that,
the truck mucked itself out of the mud just fine. As I pulled out
of the driveway, I discovered one of the brake lines on my old
truck had sprung a leak. This made for a very dicey drive home.
Luckily, it was almost all interstate driving, and only the rear
brakes were affected.
The engine had been kept inside for the most part, although it
sat under a tarp for the last 10 years, which didn’t help things.
It was complete with starting crank, dynamo, battery box, coil and
the remains of an original sales catalog. Water had seeped into the
main bearings, so the journals and bearings needed to be cleaned
up. The engine wasn’t stuck, but the cylinder also needed some
work. There is quite a bit of the original paint left, with
pinstriping evident on the side of the hopper and base.
All in all, the resuscitation of the engine wasn’t too
difficult. I started it for the first time at a gas-up that Wayne
Grenning had at his place in Lockport, N.Y., on May 7, 2005. I
would like to say it started on the first pull, but it really took
about six cycles before firing for the first time in 30 years. It
was also exhibited at the Mohawk Valley Power of the Past Show in
Westmoreland, N.Y., the weekend after Memorial Day, where it
(almost) never missed a beat.
In this day of hi-tech equipment capable of incredible things –
but with limited life span – it’s still amazing to find a bit of
technology, obsolete and inefficient as it may be, that can still
be operated as it was when built 95 years ago. There are very few,
if any, things made today that will be so lucky. This particular
piece of archaic technology is now enjoying a peaceful retirement
as a semi-permanent installation in my garage, with the exhaust
piped outside, just like the old days.
Contact engine enthusiast Woody Sins at: 3 Edna Terrace, New
Hartford, NY 13413; firstname.lastname@example.org