A 3 HP Backus Engine

Backus engine almost ready to run after sitting in a field for years.

| March/April 2003

  • Backus engine

  • 3 HP Backus Engine

  • Backus engine
  • 3 HP Backus Engine

Stan's 3 HP Backus engine, serial number 1758, as it looked in 1995, still sitting in a field waiting to be rescued. It was probably built some time between 1901 and 1905.

The 3 HP Backus engine, almost ready to run again for the first time in decades. The smaller Backus engines had hot tube ignition, this one was probably converted to spark plug ignition long ago.

The Backus had been sitting in a field for years, seemingly abandoned and unprotected from the elements, and I had worried about it even though it wasn't mine. In the early 1990s I put oil on it, filled it with diesel fuel and I found an old tarp to cover it. It was mostly complete, missing the carburetor and some other pieces. I eventually discovered it belonged to an older gentleman, who told me he had never seen the engine run and that it had been pulled out of a building just before the building was about to collapse.

About 1995 the owner passed away, and I tried to locate any relatives he might have had. It took awhile, but after a year or two I located a sister. I asked her about the engine, and she said it wasn't for sale but to keep in touch. Six years later, in October 2001, she decided the time had come to let the engine go. She wanted me to make her an offer, so I took a chance and sent her a check, hoping she would accept it. A month went by without any response, but when 1 looked at my checking statement I saw the check had been cashed. I called her up, and she said yes, the engine was mine - it had slipped her mind. What a relief! I told her if we found the original carburetor I would send another check.

Two weeks later I met the caretaker of the property where the engine sat. After cutting down some small trees I got close enough to winch the engine on to my truck. With the engine safely on the truck we started looking through the collapsed building where the engine had once sat in hopes of finding any missing parts, especially the carburetor. We found part of a battery tube but no carburetor, and it was just about dark when the caretaker said we should look in another building about 100 yards away. After five minutes of foraging around I saw the green, tarnished brass carburetor on a shelf. It was a miracle.

The Backus is almost ready to start, and it's quite an engine. It's unique in being set up to run in either direction, and it has three valves - two exhausts and one intake. Backus engines were made from the early 1890s to somewhere around 1905 by Backus Water Motor Co., Newark, N.J. My engine is serial number 1758, a 3 HP with a 5-1/8 bore and a long stroke. The flywheels are 36-inch with a 2-3/4-inch face and the engine weighs about 1,300 pounds.


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