Advocate for Air-Cooled Engines

Iowa man dedicated to educating the next generation of collectors with air-cooled engines.


| February/March 2014



Sam Ruth Air Cooled Engine Collection

A portion of Sam Ruth’s air-cooled engine collection on display at the 2013 Midwest Old Threshers Reunion.

Photo by Sam Ruth

Sam Ruth is not new to old iron. Born in 1949, he started attending the Midwest Old Threshers Reunion, Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, in 1950 with his parents, who were deeply involved with the show. “My brother, my nephew, my whole family have always been involved with Old Threshers,” he says. “It’s always been a part of my life.”

He got his first engine, a rough 3/4 HP Briggs & Stratton, when he was about 10 years old. He spent his 20s in the military, and when he returned he decided to get serious about collecting. Thirty years later, his collection is more than 50 strong.

Thanks to his lifetime of exposure to the hobby, Sam’s on a mission: get the younger generation interested. Through his collection of air-cooled engines, he wants to bridge the gap between the “old” technology of hit-and-miss engines and the technology in modern internal combustion engines. “With new tractors you need a computer to see what’s wrong,” he says. “I can listen to an old engine and tell you what’s wrong.”

Sure, Sam admits, he’d love to have a few hit-and-miss engines, but because of the cost and space they just aren’t feasible options. So the focus of his collection is on older air-cooled engines. “These engines are very primitive compared to today’s engines,” Sam says, “but there are similarities. But with these air-cooled engines, younger people can look at them and see how they relate to today’s engines. It gets attraction and attention from people.”

And Sam knows a thing or two about getting attention, having worked in marketing and also working for John Deere. The key, he says, is having a plan.

“I know the size of the frames, then make a formula to make them fit,” Sam says. He even uses a protractor to get the angles just right. “People always say, ‘Your display catches our eye.’ And it’s because I utilize my space.”