Ernest Leroi Hallowell holding an Olds Gearless igniter which he has built from scratch. The original igniter was built by Olds in 1898, the year Ernest was born.
Born on March 21, 1898 in the small town of China, Maine, Ernest Leroy Hallowell has become known to many as the 'father of the gas engine', who has kept the wheels in Maine turning for over 75 years.
At the early age of 5, Ernest's fascination with flywheels and smoke rings began with a love affair with an Abaneque gas engine which was pulled by horses from town to town, cutting up hundreds of cords of wood along the way. Memorized by the distinct sound of the mighty engine's exhaust, Ernest would wait for hours at a time to get a glimpse of the powerful contraption which was mounted on four wheels. A few years later his father purchased a 6 HP IHC Famous portable engine which was used to cut wood and run a threshing machine. Ernest recalls this event as one of the happiest in his life. Walking in the morning, knowing that an engine was part of the family, was the answer to the greatest of his childhood dreams. From his early experiences with the Famous gas engine a mechanical background was founded which he would build upon for the years to come.
As the stationary engine became more popular with the Maine farmer, so did Ernest Hallowell. At an early age he gained the reputation of being a master mechanic, travelling from farm to farm working on the then little-understood power plants. As gas engines became a common fixture of the pastures, horseless carriages began to make their appearance on the back roads of Maine. Between the repair of gas engines and powered buggies, Ernest's mechanical ability was in great demand.
Fascinated by the growth of the auto industry, Ernest enjoyed the challenge of keeping up with the ever-changing designs of the automobile engine. In 1918 he started his first business under the name of Hallowell's Garage. The firm specialized in automotive engine repair. In 1923 he sold the business to take the position of shop foreman with a leading Studebaker dealership. After 16 years with the company he went on to establish the firm of Turner and Hallowell. The new company specialized in engine rebuilding. By this time Hallowell had become an established name in Maine for automotive engine repair.
In 1962 Ernest retired after 50 years in the automotive repair industry. Through this period he witnessed the development of the automobile along with the development and disappearance of the single cylinder stationary engine.
Shortly after he retired the single cylinder gas engine made a reappearance in his life. Having been approached by many engine enthusiasts to repair parts, pour bearings and make piston rings, he realized that 'retired' was not the word to describe his way of life. A better word was 're-tooling' and that he did with the addition of a complete engine repair shop in his basement which could handle any machining miracle required to restore an old engine. There is nothing that he won't tackle. He builds complete engine heads, connecting rods, igniters and gears. At the same time no job is too small as evidenced by the hundreds of pairs of igniter points 'making and breaking' in combustion chambers throughout the state.
Ernest's shop has become known as the 'gas engine hospital of Maine.' At any one time his patients number over 20 and are discharged only after receiving a clean bill of health. His present projects include building a running scale model of an Olds Gearless engine, I.H.C. fuel pumps and reproducing igniters in detail. Besides the work in his shop he has been very active in the Maine Antique Power Association, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the heritage of gas and steam engines.
Ernest Leroi Hallowell is a man who sparks the hearts of many engine enthusiasts. He is a very happy man who has travelled in a great circle, returning to his childhood fascination and love of flywheels and smoke rings. Along with other 'chief igniters' throughout this great country of ours, Ernest is a major spoke in the flywheel of a fast-growing and fascinating hobby. He is much appreciated by all of us here in the state of Maine.