The tale of a Perkins Model B that began its working life providing power for a doctor’s practice.
Pedigree: derivation, origin, or history: The engines that can be traced from their original applications and owners to present day are in a distinct minority, but we recently pieced together an interesting story of an unusual little vertical sideshaft Perkins. Let me tell you the tale of a Perkins with a pedigree.
This particular Perkins has a well-established pedigree, as shown by its known timeline:
• Manufacture date (circa 1908) to approximately 1920: Owned by Dr. Samuel Murdock, Sabetha Kansas, founder of the present-day Sabetha Community Hospital, respected physician, surgeon, mayor and philanthropist.
• 1920 to approximately 1970: Owned by the Osterhaus family, farmers/stockmen, Oneida, Kansas.
• 1970 to 2017: Owned by Regis Becker, longtime engine collector, Seneca, Kansas.
• 2017 to present: Owned by Larry Lucke, prominent collector/restorer of rare and desirable engines, Lincoln, Nebraska, area.
The issue of readily available water, or rather lack thereof in the small northeast Kansas town of Sabetha, Kansas, in about 1904 is where our tale of a Perkins windmill engine begins. Cholera, diphtheria and other preventable illnesses were rampant around the turn of the last century, and clean water had been scientifically documented as a deterrent to their proliferation. Doctor Samuel Murdock, by then a well-respected physician and surgeon in the northeast Kansas town of Sabetha, had just moved his growing practice to a large, 17-room house on the edge of town formerly known as the Walker residence.
According to The Nemaha County Republican newspaper, “Dr. Samuel Murdock and local capitalists have purchased the home of Walt W. Walker. The seventeen room home sits on the southwest edge of town in relative quiet, and has been furnished with the best money can buy. Dr. Murdock, is known far and wide, not only for his ability, but his talents, and his patients everywhere will be glad to learn that he has secured a thoroughly modern establishment wherein to care for them in a proper manner.”
Even though the large home had an adequate hand-dug well at the back, a means other than hand pumping was needed to draw the water forth. A fine Perkins windmill was purchased at an established hardware store in neighboring Seneca, Kansas, to complete the task.
After several years of his new hospital’s operation, Dr. Murdock realized the need for consistently available water. Because of the capacities involved, he recognized the importance of having an alternative to an employee pump the water by hand on the infrequent, yet inevitable, days when the wind didn’t blow to turn the Perkins windmill. By that time, the Perkins company had introduced a new alternative for just such occasions: a Perkins pump jack and an engine to power it, which Dr. Murdock purchased. This arrangement served the hospital well for several years.
Some background on Dr. Samuel Murdock is necessary to complete the next phase of the Perkins’ story. In the 1870s, young Samuel Murdock, along with his parents, made the long trip from Kehoka, Missouri (near St. Louis), where he was born, to settle in the farming community of Oneida, Kansas, not far from Sabetha. His rural beginnings had an influence on him, and at the same time he was a prominent physician he also owned a half-section of land. He, better than most professional people, understood the benefit the Perkins would be to a farmer with livestock.
Municipal water became available to the hospital in the 1920s, and since the Perkins outfit was no longer needed, Dr. Murdock sold it to a former neighbor, Mr. Osterhaus, whose farm was near Oneida. Dr. Murdock knew Mr. Osterhaus owned a sizable herd of cattle requiring a lot of water to be pumped by hand on wind-still days. The Perkins and pump jack were well suited for providing the livestock water on these occasions. For a number of years, presumably until the Rural Electrical Association rendered the Perkins obsolete, it did its job, housed in a small shed by the windmill on the Osterhaus farm.
Over the years, the mixer on the Perkins proved to be too much trouble to accurately adjust and rebuild. It was retrofitted with a more modern bowl- and float-type carburetor. A larger capacity external fuel tank was also added. Ease of operation likely prompted a second change in the ignition system, the all-too-common fix that we engine collectors lament when restoring to originality: The ignitor was discarded, a timing mechanism contrived, a threaded conversion plate installed, and a spark plug and coil implemented.
The senior Mr. Osterhaus passed on in the 1970s. Upon attending the Old Albany Days threshing bee and engine show near Sabetha, his son, Leon Osterhaus, mentioned to long-time local collector Mr. Regis Becker from Seneca that he had inherited a “flywheel engine” from his dad. Regis purchased the Perkins and put it safely in one of his sheds on his farm. He didn’t attempt to restore it. With the rarity of the engine and the missing parts, Regis recognized it would have been quite a challenge to put back right in those days. Meanwhile, a thick layer of grease, dirt and oil accumulated over the years of service remained, and preserved the factory paint quite well.
As a side note, keep in mind the only way we collectors had of corresponding with one another back in the “dark ages” before the relative immediacy of the internet was through Gas Engine Magazine, at various shows, an occasional phone conversation and the postal system. Finding parts, even common ones, was often a Herculean effort, and frequently proved to be fruitless.
Regis passed on, but not before having amassed a collection of 30-odd engines, some of which were local, some of which came from as far away as Ohio, according to his nephew, Tom Becker of Platte City, Missouri.
Regis’ passing, and the fact that he rarely sold any engines, prompted the proverbial “engine auction of the year” for us locals last summer. None of us realized he had the Perkins, and admittedly, when my friend Travis McCoy showed me the sale bill (which we believed had limited circulation) and I read “Perkins engine” on the roster, it seemed unlikely it was one of the rare vertical sideshaft engines I’d seen back in the 1980s. The fellow who sparked my interest in this hobby, friend and longtime collector from Meriden, Kansas, Gary Bowen, had the only Perkins I’d seen in person years before. Through the internet, I’d seen other Perkins engines, but never dreamt there was one within 18 miles from me all this time.
Having read the sale bill, Travis and I decided to make the short drive to the seemingly unadvertised auction site a few days before the sale. Disregarding the Perkins engine listed on the bill, we’d actually made the trek to check on the condition of several other engines. After glancing down the rows of engines, I spotted an air-cooled vertical, and knew it was something unusual. At first glance, and at a distance, I’d mistaken it for a vertical air-cooled IHC. Needless to say, I made a bee line for it, only to see the vertical sideshaft as I approached, realizing what it was and immediately appreciating the rarity of it.
In visiting with our friends Rodney and Chris Epping from south central Nebraska, we discovered they had an ignitor and part of a mixer for it; the rest of the mixer and several other parts would need to be built. At that point, I knew a justifiable restoration would involve detailed copying of parts off existing engines for patterns, precise duplication in a machine shop, and countless hours of meticulous attention. Plus, finding parts to copy and owners willing to allow one to disassemble and copy them from a prized engine like a Perkins would be rare, indeed.
I spent several sleepless nights trying to decide if I should bid on it or not. Finally deciding I didn’t have the attention to detail necessary to put such an extraordinary engine back right, I asked the Eppings (who own a remarkable collection of cam stoppers, slide valves and the like) if they wanted me to bid on the Perkins on their behalf. Rodney and Chris are responsible for some of the most innovative and tasteful restorations of high-grade stationary engines, bar none. I knew they would be able to do the Perkins justice, however they decided to stick with larger engines, as is typical in their collection.
After some discussion, we agreed on a price we’d not let the Perkins go below. We needn’t have worried, as on sale day, most of the “who’s who” of regional engine fellows were in attendance. At that point I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about “flooring” the Perkins.
As stated before, Regis had done a fine job collecting engines. At his auction there were plenty of nice engines to bid on. We busied ourselves with recording prices, observing condition and engaging in the conversation one usually enjoys at engine auctions in the Midwest. I set my sights on a 5 hp round-rod Galloway, and Travis set his on a nice Stover W (for which he built an entire fuel pump assembly from scratch in just a few hours, I might add).
Appropriately, a prominent collector of rare and high-end stationary engines, Larry Lucke from the Lincoln, Nebraska, area, turned out to be the winning bidder, and the Perkins now has a fine new home in his exemplary collection. Larry, Joel Mosley and Jared Janssen carefully uncovered the original paint, which is amazingly well preserved. They have found and/or made most of the parts Larry needs to put it back right. The restoration has turned out beautifully, as can be seen in the images. Larry’s shop is a fitting residence for such an engine.
The tale of the Perkins, an uncommon yet remarkable engine, is much like its owners over the course of the years. Telling the uncommon, yet remarkable story of both, while being mindful of the history unwinding in the background, creates an interesting story – that of a “Perkins with a pedigree.”
Thank you to the Sabetha Hospital, Joel Mosely for the fine images of the Perkins, Larry Lucke for allowing me the privilege of writing this article about his beautiful engine and everyone else who helped make this story possible.