Rediscovering the Walls Engine

Unraveling the forgotten story of Rick Kaufman’s circa-1896 Walls engine.

| June/July 2018

Fifteen years ago, Gas Engine Magazine editor Richard Backus penned the article “The Wonder of the Walls,” (April 2003) discussing the only known surviving Walls engine, which was owned by Rick Kaufman of Danvers, Illinois. Rick still owns the engine, and it is still the only known Walls engine. As I love a challenge, I decided to research the Decatur Gasoline Engine Co., maker of the Walls engine. Comparing notes with Rick, we have pieced together the following history on this short-lived engine company.

Cicero Volney Walls was born in Edgar County, Illinois, in 1848. He and his brother Cyrus N. Walls started in the newspaper business right out of high school, both men owning and operating numerous newspapers in Illinois during their lives. In 1892, Cicero broke from his chosen profession to submit his first gas engine patent, number 498,700. This patent, which was granted a year later, illustrated a horizontal engine with a unique chain-driven camshaft located under the engine’s head to operate the valves. The engine was fired by hot tube, though the patent states that electric ignition could be substituted. What prompted Cicero to design an engine is unknown, but his brother Cyrus patented a document folding attachment for a printing press about the same time. The April 29, 1893, issue of the Decatur Herald-Despatch said, “The Walls family seems to have been blessed with an abundance of inventive genius.” It should be noted that Cyrus Walls founded the Decatur Herald-Despatch in 1879, though he sold it a few months later.

Walls engine ads

While Cicero’s patent was still being reviewed by the Patent Office, the Aug. 12, 1893, edition of the Mattoon Gazette reported that J.F. Chuse & Co. of Mattoon, Illinois, had built Walls’ first engine. The Gazette’s Labor Day issue the following month announced that Chuse & Co. had produced four engines, including one that was on display in the Labor Day parade. The paper said: “For several months Mr. Walls has been engaged in perfecting the engine which threatens to revolutionize the mechanical world.” Dubbed “the Little Wonder,” the engine’s price was said to be “lower than other makes.” Later, in September, the Gazette said Cicero had one of his engines running a broom corn thresher on the G.W. Parish farm near Mattoon at a cost of two cents per hour to operate. For the following year, the Gazette would occasionally mention a Walls engine being sold in a 50 to 60 mile radius of Mattoon. It was even reported that Cicero exhibited a 6 hp model at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.

Cicero’s next patent was applied for in 1894 and issued about a year later (number 537,370). It covered a vertical, 2-cycle engine with a belt-driven governor and an “incandescent igniting tube” (which, again, could be substituted for electric ignition). The engine featured a poppet valve in the piston to bring the fuel into the combustion chamber – an unusual idea to say the least. The same year this patent was applied for, the March 23 issue of the Mattoon Gazette boasted that Chuse & Co. had constructed a 20 hp Walls engine to run a hay press near Newman, Illinois – the first model larger than a 6 hp to be built by the firm.

Things were looking up, but at the end of June the Gazette broke the news that the Keystone Iron Works in Ft. Madison, Iowa, would be the new builder of the Walls patented engine. The following April saw advertisements in the nationally circulated American Elevator and Grain Trade magazine for the Ft. Madison-built Walls. The engine pictured in these ads is the same as Rick’s engine, and was advertised as available “from 1 to 100 H.P.”

The May 1895 issue of American Elevator and Grain Trade carried a short article about the Walls engine. The article mostly pontificated about the usefulness of the gasoline engine in modern industry, but did boast the Walls’ simplicity, with few working parts, and a galvanized water jacket that was easy to repair or replace if damaged by frost (a feature not found on Rick’s engine). The Walls engine was said to be available in both 2- and 4-cycle models. The drawing that accompanied the article illustrated a two-flywheel engine, with the governor on the opposite side of Rick’s Walls, but was otherwise similar in appearance.


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