The Canadian United 6 hp Acadia

An Acadia engine that lived a harsh life on the coast finds a home in Minnesota.

| February/March 2018

  • Steve Spencer's 6 hp Acadia.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • A rear view of Steve Spencer's 6 hp Acadia, up and running. Acadia engines were popular in Canada, where they were made, but are a relative rarity in the U.S.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • A front view of the Acadia. Although clearly patterned on United engines built by Associated in Waterloo, Iowa, Acadia engines were built in-house.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • The cable winch powered by the Acadia was used to pull fishing boats up onto land for storage. This type of setup was very common in Canada's fishing regions.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • A close-up view of the cable winch frame shows the Acadia name cast into the frame.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • The Acadia running. A large chain drives the winch.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • Steve with his 6 hp Acadia. Its year of manufacture is unknown.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • A 1964 price list shows the 6 hp Acadia selling for $598. Acadia engines were in production until 1975.
    Image courtesy Bill Vossler
  • A 1921 ad for Acadia engines.
    Image courtesy

6 hp Acadia

Manufacturer: Acadia Gas Engines Ltd., Bridgeport, Nova Scotia, Canada
Year: N/A
Serial no.: 54277
Horsepower: 6 hp @ 375rpm
Bore & stroke: 5in x 8in
Flywheel dia. & width: 27in x 2-5/8in
Weight: 800lb (engine only)
Cooling: Hopper
Ignition: Make and break w/battery and coil
Governing: Hit-and-miss w/battery and coil

Even though he is only 49 years old, Steve Spencer, Big Lake, Minnesota, started collecting old iron long before many other people. “My dad, Bob Spencer, collected tractors, and still does. When I was young, I’d go to all these auctions and shows with him. One time at a swap meet, Dad bought me a small Briggs & Stratton Model WMB engine. I was in the eighth grade, and that’s when I started collecting, then buying a 1925 1-1/2 hp John Deere.”

With that, he started collecting walk-behind garden tractors, Maytag gasoline engines and then stationary gas engines. He has 28 of them today, including a 2-1/2 hp Root & VanDervoort, a line of engines he’s very partial to. He also bought 2 hp and 3 hp John Deere engines. “When I was an eighth-grader, some of my friends thought my collecting was a little odd. They’d say things like, ‘What’s the point in having something like that?’ But some thought it was neat. I found them intriguing and interesting.”

As often happens with collectors, Steve stumbled onto his 6 hp Acadia engine by accident. “My brother and I went to buy a small tractor from an older collector, and afterwards he showed us some other stuff, including the Acadia. I was attracted to it because of that winch on it, which makes it pretty unique. About a week later, I purchased it from him and brought it home.”

After examining the engine, Steve decided it must not have done very much work in its early life, because other than cleaning the mixer and gas tank, he didn’t have to do much engine work on it to get it running.

Acadia history

Founded in 1908 by W.T. Ritcey as Acadia Gas Engine Co., Limited, Bridgewater, Nova Scotia, in 1917 the name was changed to Acadia Gas Engines, Limited. At one time, Acadia was Canada’s largest manufacturer of marine engines, used extensively by Canada’s Atlantic fishermen. Stationary engines were added to the line beginning about 1920, with those engines being virtual copies of United engines built by Associated in Waterloo, Iowa. The relationship with Associated is unknown, but it is known that Acadia engines were built entirely in-house.

The marine engines were built in large numbers. According to an article by Jim Simon in the May 1992 issue of GEM, by 1941 Acadia had made a claimed 30,000 marine engines and employed some 130 people. Acadia continued producing marine and stationary engines after World War II, although in what numbers is unknown. Ritcey died of a stroke in 1946. In 1966 Acadia was acquired by Grimsby Group of Canada, and continued producing stationary engines, at least. Remarkably, Acadia engines stayed in production, although only on special order, through 1975, making Acadia one of the very last North American companies still making stationary engines. The company went bankrupt in 1979 and the factory was eventually razed, replaced by condominiums.

Relatively common in Canada, they are somewhat rare in the U.S. Incredibly, Acadia continued to make engines until 1975! In June 1966, Acadia Gas Engines was acquired by the Grimsby Group of Canada, Halifax, N.S., and it went out of business in 1981.

6 hp Acadia

Steve’s engine is a hit-and-miss, like all Acadia engines. One problem he had to deal with is rust, a common issue with engines used in coastal settings. “I was told that lots of times in Canada they used calcium chloride in the water to keep engines from freezing. But that creates rust, I’ve been told, and the bottom of the water hopper was full of rust. I cleaned it out as best I could, and put glycol in it to prevent it from rusting more. Cleaning the rust can be a problem because the area you’re working on could be weak because of rust.”

An interesting feature of the Acadia is its removable water hopper. “That probably had to do with the casting,” Steve says, “but the upshot is that you could have different size water hoppers depending on the application. Some Fairbanks-Morse engines have removable hoppers, too, and some other engines, so it’s not a unique feature.”

Another interesting feature is its manganese-bronze connecting rod. “The entire rod is manganese-bronze,” Steve says. “I’m not sure exactly why they’re made it that way instead of the more normal cast iron or steel. Maybe because it wouldn’t corrode or rust so easily?” 

C.H. Wendel, in his book American Gasoline Engines Since 1872, points out that the Acadia engines had four compression rings. “All Acadia stationary engines used make-and-break ignition with a battery and coil as standard equipment,” Wendel says.

Among the engines in his collection, Steve doesn’t have much in the way of implement items, so the winch attached to the Acadia made it especially appealing. An engine with a winch is a little different than what is normally seen at shows. “Being a matched set was attractive to me, too. I take it to a show, and people ask what it does. I have the engine set up and run it with the cast-iron linked chain. I hook up the chain and let it spin so it makes a bunch of noise. I don’t know how rare the engine is, but I know you don’t see them around Minnesota. If you go to the East Coast or to Canada, where they were made, you might find more of them. But I don’t know how many they made.”

Steve has been told that the winch on his Acadia was used to pull fishing boats out of the ocean. “I was told that this engine was mounted up on a bank, and used skids to pull the boats up.” Winches were also used for hoisting sails, cargo and anchors on schooners. The company also made accessories such as driving gears, heaving outfits, pumping outfits and mill friction drives. Some Acadia gas engines included an Acadia-built lobster hoist. Steve hasn’t used the engine and winch to do any pulling.

There are no serial number lists for Acadia engines, making it difficult to date Steve’s 6 hp engine. Judging by known serial numbers, however, it seems likely his engine was built in the 1960s. A 1964 Acadia price list Steve has lists the 6 hp engine selling for $598. An air-cooled 2 hp engine is also listed, for $376.

Contact engine enthusiast Bill Vossler at Box 372, 400 Caroline Ln., Rockville, MN 56369;


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