A Family's Inspiration

Collector bit by the bug at age 10

| April 2007


'Vern Ellingson shows off his 1919 14 HP Manitoba, serial no. 2038, after restoration. '

Vern Ellingson of Wood Lake, Minn., was bitten by the gas engine fix-em-up bug earlier than many collectors. "When I was very small, my grandfather moved to town and we moved onto his farm near Hanley Falls, Minn.," Vern says. "He left an old 1-1/2 HP Sta-Rite engine lying in the shed. It didn't run or anything, but I was always fascinated by it. It was sitting on an old belt pulley, so at times I would just go in and look at it."

When his grandfather came to visit, Vern asked what it was. An old engine, he said, an old pump engine. "To him, everything small was a pump engine. So my first recollection of a pump engine was a double-flywheel engine, like that Sta-Rite with the donut flywheels," Vern says.

When he was 10, Vern decided to make that engine run. "I wanted to un-stick the rust, but I didn't know anything about anything," he says. "If a hammer didn't do it, that was about it. So I did some damage to it. Eventually it was thrown out."

Forty years later, Vern retrieved the parts with an eye to restoring it. "At the time I didn't know about getting parts, so the Sta-Rite stayed on the back burner for 15 years," he says. Then he found a duplicate and decided to restore the engine he'd attacked as a child. "I borrowed parts, had them cast and today it runs great," he says. "I've got a picture (below left) with me standing by my grandfather's engine and it means quite a bit to me."

Without a tag it's difficult to know, but Vern thinks it's a 1908. According to some reference works, that was the year they changed from the donut flywheel. "I've heard of maybe half a dozen around the country," he says, "but it's hard to know how many exist. I do know that when I show it to people from Wisconsin, where it was built, they want to buy it."

Vern began collecting in 1979 after meeting older guys who had a bunch of gas engines, especially the open-crank, hit-and-miss engines. "They've intrigued me," he says. "I like the concept, old and crude." So the first engine Vern ever bought was a 1-1/2 HP John Deere.