An Old Iron Adventure (Aren’t They All?)

By Staff
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Les Brantingham (left) and Dan Ehlerding (right), surveying a small portion of the 'find.'
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The 4 HP Model N vertical binder engine before restoration.
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Jack D. Hilton, 26045 Rotunda Dr., Carmel, California 93923, took this photo of a Lanz oil burning engine at a steam fair in England in September of last year.
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The 4 HP Emerson-Brantingham Model N pictured above is the subject of 'An Old Iron Adventure,' a story by John R. Brantingham, 10634 Oakford, White Lake, Michigan 48386, inside this issue.

Brantingham 10634 Oakford White lake, Michigan 48386

Did you ever notice how it’s always the ‘other guy’
who always manages all the good luck and you always seem to be the
one with what’s left? I know the feeling. I’m the one the
bank clerks wait for to get to their window before closing for
lunch break. I’m the one who drives 300 miles to an auction on
Thursday, only to find out that all the hit-n-miss engines are
going on the block on Saturday (the day of my son’s piano
recital!), and I’m the one who missed all the numbers in the
Michigan lottery by one number because my mother-in-law gave birth
to dear Phyllis one day late! And I’m the one who scrimps and
saves to buy my son a Michael Jordan rookie basketball card for
(never mind the price!) his birthday. And on the day in question,
he pulls one out of a 50 cent pack of bubblegum! Do these stories
sound familiar?!! Well, guess what, that luck doesn’t last
forever as you are about to learn.

To digress for just a moment, you may have noticed that my last
name is part of an agricultural machinery company name which, in
its day, was a fairly large business concern. And until 1928 when
Case acquired it, the Emerson-Brantingham Company of Rockford,
Illinois had made significant contributions with their product line
of EB, Peerless, Geiser, Osborne, and Newton equipment. We’ll
discuss the rise and fall of EB at another time; suffice to say
that although the company is long gone, a lot of the old red iron
is still around and begging to be found and restored.

Meanwhile, back to our story, since I got stuck with the same
name as my dad, and he from his, and so forth back to where they
were hanging by their tails … if old Charles Brantingham could
build ’em; then young John Brantingham can collect ’em;
something to do with keeping it in the family or something.

These old red engines aren’t really rare, but it isn’t
exactly like trying to find a Briggs either. Thanks to dear Phyllis
(remember her, she is the family CPA!), and our good friend Hal
Dunbar (of Adrian, Michigan fame), we got our first EB (a running
2? HP model S) on New Year’s Day, 1988. Dad already had a
beautifully restored H, so now we both had one; I guess that’s
that.

Wrong!!!!!

What about one for Phyllis, or Jenny, or Johnny, the dog, the
cats . . . Phyllis walked out to the garage the night we got the S,
put her hands on her forehead and with all the convictions of
someone who grew up in the sixties said, ‘I have a dream!’
Look out, this sounds expensive!!! She continues, ‘A tandem
axle trailer with eight shiny red EB’s all running in
harmony.’ (Actually, it was six, but by the time this gets to
print, inflation will have started affecting her imagination.)

Shortly after this, an ad appeared in GEM, offering ‘several
Emerson-Brantingham engines for sale’. Several?! Heck, it took
us years to find even one. We rarely see any at the shows, and even
more rare is one for sale. Not only that, but the guy who owns them
is practically in Dad’s backyard in southwest Michigan.

About the same time I read the ad, my good friend Dan Ehlerding
(an EB collector from way back) calls and wants to know if I saw
the ad in GEM. ‘You make the arrangements, I have the truck
unloaded, and I’m on my way.’ So with that, Dad and I made
plans to visit our friend in Bangor, Michigan that next Thursday
night. On that Thursday, Dan drove up from southern Ohio and picked
me up in Detroit, and we headed for Lake Michigan. Did I mention
that it started snowing about noon on Thursday? We picked Dad up
near Kalamazoo and continued on with our trip (it’s still
snowing).

We finally made our destination about 5:30 p.m. After exchanging
greetings and old iron stories our host pointed to the barn that
held what we had come to see. We made it through knee high snow and
when the door was dug out and opened, we stood there in awe. There
was red iron everywhere!!

Our most gracious host, by the way, was John Lavora, who many
midwestern iron folks know from several shows. As is the law in
this hobby, financial concerns are left behind the barn doors, and
that law will not be compromised here. (It’s still snowing!)
After a lot of handshaking and bartering, it was decided that it
was time to get all these pieces of iron to their respective new
homes. It got rather quiet as we all stared through the snow at the
full size van (minus seats) that I had opted to bring, after
leaving Dan’s pickup in Detroit.

John laughed and Dad said, ‘NO WAY’!’

Dan and I looked at each other, he being the first to speak,
‘Company van?’

‘Yes.’ I started to smile.

In unison, ‘NO PROBLEM!!!!’

You know, I finally learned what bump stops do. They act as
insulators to keep the frame rails from squeaking against the axle
housing! (Did I mention that it’s still snowing?)

So with our heads held high and the nose of the van held even
higher, we headed for Dad’s. Our twenty minute ride turned into
a two hour snow plowing marathon. There were tracks in the snow all
right. We made ’em!

When we go to Dad’s, we unloaded his engines, warmed up with
coffee, grew hoarse with lots of restoration discussions, and about
11:00 p.m. decided to head back to Detroit. Dan came in from the
van and said, ‘The good news is it finally stopped snowing. The
other news (engine people never have bad news, only other news) is
that the bump stops are still firmly sandwiched between the frame
and the axle.’

‘NO PROBLEM!!!’ (For the same reasons given
previously.)

We left with Dad standing in the driveway, hands on hips, and
shaking his head. I know that look; it’s the same one I saw way
back when, the night I tried to tow my buddy’s dad’s
Peterbilt with my ’67 Cougar. (I hope tonight’s ending is
significantly different from that night). Our normal two hour trip
turned into many more and we made it just in time for Phyllis to
ask what we wanted for breakfast.

After enough sleep to get the red out of the eyes, we unloaded
my engines, moved Dan’s to his pickup, and sent him on his way
back to Ohio.

That was several years ago, and one by one our old rusty iron
(the 4 HP N, the 1? HP S, the 2 HP U, etc.) are showing bright red
enamel once again. Last night, Phyllis walked out in the garage
again and had that look again!

‘Forget it dear! Unless someone gives us a Kenworth, a low
boy and a new pole barn, there’s no more room.’ She stood
there with a blank stare on her face. By then I was wiping down
flywheels, when she turned around and headed back inside muttering
something about a used Kenworth that she knew of. Stay tuned!

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