82 Years of Yankee Enginuity

By Staff
article image
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.

Box 277, Owls Head, Maine 04854

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.

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