A 3 HP Backus Engine

By Staff
1 / 2
2 / 2

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

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

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

I have located about 10 Backus engines around the country,
including an inverted 3 HP, three 3 HP engines, a 4 HP and two 14
HP engines. My serial number seems to be the lowest of these
engines, but I’m sure the inverted is older. I would like to
hear from other Backus owners to make a list of serial numbers and
to share information on Backus engines.

Contact engine enthusiast Stan Matlowski at: 118
Hunlock-Harveyville Road, Hunlock Creek, PA 18621, (570) 256-7422,
or e-mail: smatlowski@yahoo.com

‘Twice a day, for over 20 years, I drove past this old
engine. Of course it was never for sale and couldn ‘t be
bought, but in December 2002 it finally arrived at my

Gas Engine Magazine
Gas Engine Magazine
Preserving the History of Internal Combustion Engines