Gas Engine Magazine

The Atlas Engine: An Indiana Engine in Texas

Harry Seidensticker’s 1907 4hp Atlas engine is sure a well-traveled one, ending up in Texas by way of Indiana, while exchanging a few hands along the way.

Circa-1907 4hp Atlas

Manufacturer: Atlas engine Work, Indianapolis, IN
Year: Circa 1907
Serial No.: 29744
Horsepower: 4hp @ 425rpm
Bore & stroke: 5in x 8in
Flywheels: 36in x 2-1/4in
Belt Pulley: 12in x 12in
Ignition: Spark plug w/magneto Hit-and-miss with vertical flyball governor
Fuel: Gasoline
Cooling: Tank, thermosiphon

The Indianapolis Car Works was established during the early 1870s. It manufactured a variety of products upon demand. In 1874 the company was reorganized as the Atlas Works, and again in 1878 as the Atlas Engine Works. The company experienced rapid growth producing stationary steam engines, and in 1880 company officials decided to limit their production to steam engines and boilers. It soon became the largest company in the world devoted exclusively to the manufacture of these products. During the 1880s, Atlas was renowned for its portable farm steam engines and its steam traction engines. In 1897 production was expanded to include gasoline engines and in 1910 Atlas started producing Hvid (thermoil) diesel engines. In 1878 the Atlas Engine Works had 600 employees; by 1902, the company employed approximately 1,500 workers.

Atlas engines

The Atlas Engine Works produced 2hp to 5hp vertical gasoline engines and 6hp to 24hp horizontal gasoline engines, as well as steam engines and diesel engines. By 1907, the 5hp gasoline engine had been replaced by a 4hp model. Atlas gasoline engines had separate fuel tanks. Gasoline engines sold as King Bee engines had the fuel tank incorporated in the base. Both lines had separate cooling tanks. Engines were numbered in sequence, regardless of whether they were steam engines, gasoline engines or diesel engines.

The Atlas Engine Works experienced a number of setbacks, and it went into receivership in 1907. In 1910, the gasoline engine portion of the company was sold to Max Krueger, the owner of San Antonio Machine and Supply Co. By 1912, all assets pertaining to the production of stationary gasoline engines had been moved to San Antonio, Texas, and a new company, Krueger-Atlas, was formed. Krueger-Atlas manufactured Atlas, Krueger-Atlas and Atlas Junior gasoline engines. Atlas Junior engines were hopper-cooled.

Automobiles and tractors

The Atlas Motor Car Co. was established to produce diesel engines and gasoline automobile engines. In late 1912 this company was absorbed by the Lyons-Atlas Co. The Lyons-Atlas Co.’s diesel engines and its Knight sleeve-valve and standard poppet-valve gasoline engines were highly regarded for their quality, and sales were brisk. The company produced Lyons-Atlas automobiles from 1912 to 1914 and Lyons-Knight automobiles from 1914 to 1916. These featured 4-cylinder and 6-cylinder Knight engines. Lyons-Atlas acquired the Hume Tractor Co. in 1917 and produced those under the Atlas name until 1918. Unfortunately, the Lyons-Atlas Co. experienced the same fate as the Atlas Engine Works and it went bankrupt in 1918.

In 1919 the Lyons-Atlas Co. merged with the Hill Pump Co. to form the Midwest Engine Co. The Lyon-Atlas Co.’s primary product was diesel engines, whereas the Hill Pump Co.’s principal products were turbine engines and pumps. In 1922, the Midwest Engine Co. was reorganized as the Midwest Engine Corp. The Midwest Engine Corp. manufactured large turbine engines for ships, as well as smaller diesel and gasoline engines. Engines produced by the Midwest Engine Corp. were recognized for their quality and were used in some Huber and Bates Steel Mule tractors as well as tractors and trucks produced by other manufacturers during the 1920s. The Midwest Engine Corp. also manufactured Utilitor walk-behind garden tractors and for a brief period the company experimented with the production of automobiles. The Midwest Engine Corp. was dissolved in the 1930s.

Harry Seidensticker’s 4hp Atlas

Harry Seidensticker’s Atlas gasoline engine was produced by the Atlas Engine Works in Indianapolis, Indiana, in the early 1900s. It is serial no. 29744. The engine produces 4hp at 425rpm. It has a 5-inch bore and an 8-inch stroke. It weighs approximately 1,300 pounds, not counting the truck that it rests on. The flywheels are 36 inches in diameter and 2-1/4 inches in width. The belt pulley is 12 inches in length, with a diameter of 12 inches. The engine’s speed is regulated by a hit-and-miss system. When the engine begins to run too fast, the flyball governor holds the exhaust valve open, thereby preventing the piston from creating a vacuum in the cylinder, which, in turn, prevents the atmospheric intake valve from opening and admitting the fuel-air mixture.

The momentum provided by two large and heavy flywheels enables the engine to maintain a somewhat uniform speed. Each of the flywheels is mounted on the crankshaft by a split hub with two keys. The ignition system consists of an igniter with a battery and coil, with the igniter contact points inside the combustion chamber. A somewhat unusual feature is that the contact points are opened by a latch arm on the back stroke of the exhaust pushrod. The curved exhaust pipe leading to the muffler was advertised as being specifically designed to reduce back pressure, reducing fuel consumption and increasing engine power.

Fuel is contained in a separate tank. Before attempting to start the engine, a lever on the left side of the engine must be pumped to suck gasoline from the tank and prime the fuel pump. As is common, the engine is started by rotating the flywheels. A nice feature is the cast iron tool rack mounted on the back of the engine to hold wrenches, an oil can, and other tools and equipment.

Harry first learned about his Atlas engine in 1984. At the time he was an inspector for the Texas Department of Highways, and was discussing old engines with the superintendent of a company that was working on a project for the state. The superintendent mentioned that he knew of an old engine in Spicewood, Texas, a small town near Burnet in the Texas Hill Country west of Austin. Harry and his friend Ted Krueger, also a collector, located the engine in a blacksmith shop in Spicewood that had been closed for some time. Harry was able to buy the engine for $150, which was a significant amount at that time, and he and Ted moved it to Harry’s ranch. This was not an insignificant feat, as the engine was resting on its base and was neither mounted on skids nor sitting on a truck. Harry was able to get the engine running by himself, which was a source of much personal satisfaction, as this was one of the first engines he acquired, and he did not regard himself as a skilled mechanic.

Ranching consists of a series of “ups-and-downs,” and one of these occurred in the late 1980s when Texas experienced a severe drought and money was tight. Harry needed some ready cash, so he sold the Atlas to Tim Bolen, an acquaintance who also collected engines. This was a difficult decision and one that Harry often regretted, although at the time it was the logical thing to do. Tim maintained the engine, mounted it on a substantial truck, replaced the cooling tank and did some work on the connecting rod bearings.

In early 2019, Harry came into a bit of money and called Tim and asked if by any chance the Atlas engine might be for sale. His timing couldn’t have been better. Tim was getting on in years and had determined that no one in his immediate family was interested in the engine. He was pleased to sell the engine back to Harry because he wanted the engine to remain locally and he knew that it would have a good home.

Harry is delighted to have the Atlas engine again and he enjoys showing it to friends and relatives. He has already decided that his grandson Ryan will eventually inherit the engine, a fitting continuation of the engine’s history in Texas.

Contact gas engine enthusiast Harry Seidensticker at 444 Old No. 9 Highway, Comfort, TX 78013; (830) 995-3343

  • Published on Nov 10, 2020
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