Family Jewel: Circa-1918 Gade Engine

An original 6 hp Gade engine changes hands for the first time.

gade engine

Arden Abild's 6 hp Gade engine.

Photo by Loretta Sorensen

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Circa-1918 6 hp Gade

Manufacturer: Gade Bros. Mfg. Co., Iowa Falls, IA
Year: 1918
Serial Number: 7105
Horsepower: 6 hp @ 350rpm
Bore & stroke: 5in x 7in
Flywheel dia: 28in
Weight: 850lb
Ignition: Igniter w/battery & coil
Governing: Hit-and-miss, flywheel weights
Cooling: Air w/ported exhaust


This vintage Gade engine not only held up under more than a half century of use, it survived for practically 100 years under the care of the original owner’s grandson.

Approximately 100 years after this Gade 6 hp gas engine was set up to elevate grain at Sid Abild’s rural Wakonda, South Dakota, farm sometime around 1918, it was rolled out of the now-vintage granary and onto a flatbed trailer, bound for a new home.

Arden Abild, Sid’s grandson, had been storing the engine since 1995 when he left the construction industry and returned to the family farm. Among his reasons for hanging onto the engine was the fact that he grew up using it and learning about its longtime history with the Abild family.

A family heirloom

“My dad, who passed away in 1994, figured he was about 10 when his dad bought the Gade,” Arden says. “The granary where my grandfather was using it was actually his first barn. In 1903 he built a new barn, moved the old one to this spot just west of it and converted it to a granary.”

From family pictures, Arden knows his grandfather used Belgian horses on the farm, using the new barn to house 16 of them on the barn’s west side. Calf pens on the barn’s east side held milking cow calves, which were either fed out or retained in the herd.

“The granary was used to store grain in three separate bins so grandpa could mix different rations for each of his different livestock,” Arden says. “Some 4,000 bushels of corn was stored in the pit beneath the middle of the granary. Oats and barley were stored in the overhead bins. A hammer mill ground the rations.”

When oats or barley were brought into the granary, the Gade was used to operate a bucket elevator that scooped up the grain and carried it to the proper bin. To create different grain mixes, grain was released, gravity-fed into the hammer mill for grinding.

“I’m not sure what prompted my grandfather to design the granary like he did,” Arden says. “It’s possible that he had a local builder who gave him the idea. In this area there were many Dane builders. The way he set the granary up, it was also quite a labor-saving device.”

Arden’s grandfather threshed his grain, loading it into a grain wagon as it blew out of the thresher. A team of horses drew the grain-loaded wagon from the field and up the granary’s earthen ramp into the middle of the building. There, the grain was scooped into a pit and later elevated into overhead grain bins.

Arden can’t be certain where his grandfather purchased the Gade engine. A nearby hardware store (no longer in existence) is one possibility. “Gade engines were made in Iowa Falls (Iowa), which is not too far away. I’m sure that influenced my grandfather’s decision to buy a Gade,” Abild says. His grandfather was also apparently drawn to quality. “He was the kind to find the pick of the litter for everything on his farm,” Arden adds.

Gade Bros.

Gade Bros. Mfg. Co. grew out of the Hardenbrook & Rice company. Carl Gade became a partner in this company in 1903. About six months later, three of his brothers – Fred, William and Louis – joined him and the company was renamed Gade Bros. This apparently followed their purchase of a 1904 Hardenbrook & Rice patent for an air-cooled single-cylinder engine with ported exhaust. The brothers took the Hardenbrook & Rice design, refined and improved it, and put it in production. In March 1911, the firm was officially incorporated as Gade Bros. Mfg. Co.

Gade engines ranged in size from 2 hp to 12 hp, being either portable or stationary. The air-cooled engines quickly gained a reputation for dependability and were advertised as capable of running “under full load, any temperature, any length of time” without overheating.” Other features touted were the electric igniter, the auxiliary exhaust port, a solid billet steel crank shaft, and a circuit breaker claimed as “prolonging the life of the batteries 400 percent.”

Other standard engine features included a galvanized fuel tank and a drive pulley. Engines were shipped complete with batteries, spark coil, ignition wire, muffler and a can of cylinder oil. All necessary pipe, tank and battery connections came with the engine. “Each engine is tested out after all these connections have been made, to be sure that everything is in perfect order,” the company stated in a period advertisement.

Gade claimed its engines used “at least 33-1/3 percent less gasoline than any other make engine” and Gade advertising claimed the engine cost “practically nothing” to operate. The engine’s small number of moving parts were high quality and easy to access, and Gade engines were claimed to start quickly in cold weather. An added appeal was the air cooling, which meant no fears of freeze cracks in the cylinder should the user forget to drain the cooling water in colder weather.

As with other engines, Gade engines were used for many pumping purposes including shelling corn, grinding feed, or running a wood saw, a cream separator, a churn or a washing machine. The Gade brothers were among the leading business men of central Iowa “and worth in every respect of the large success they have achieved and of the high esteem in which they are universally held,” said a period publication

The Abild Gade

As Arden’s father took over the farm, it became his chore to grind feed each week. Memories of his father starting the Gade are clear in his mind. “There’s an art to running gas engines,” Arden says. “My dad wasn’t a big man. Before he used the hot-shot battery to start the engine, he adjusted the gas line, turning it down. He always turned the oiler to make sure it was dripping into the cylinder walls.” After that initial preparation, Arden’s father took hold of the engine’s flywheel, rolling it back to “backlash” it and make the ignition spark. “The engine would cough and wheeze until Dad caught it just right and then ‘boom,’ it would take off,” Arden says. “They called it a ‘breathing engine’ because it took two breaths between each cycle.”

As he grew older, Arden would plead with his dad to get rid of the old engine and bring in an electric one. “But he wouldn’t hear of it,” Arden says. “I know he kept using it up through 1972.”

Nearly 20 years ago, after Arden came back to the farm, he was approached about selling the Gade. Although the price was tempting, Arden turned it down. “The engine has been here for three generations,” he says. “I wasn’t ready to part with the family history that goes with it. I told that guy that it was a day two fools met: He was a fool to offer me so much money for it and I was a fool to turn it down.”

Some 15 years ago Dave Thompson, Beresford, South Dakota, approached Arden about selling the engine. Dave, a longtime collector, became interested in vintage farm equipment many years ago when he worked with Don Hines, a South Dakota prairie tractor collector.

“When I was working with Don, every time we went to pick up a tractor, we’d take back roads and look for old tractors in the trees on farmsteads,” Dave says. “Somehow Don knew Arden had this Gade engine, and he told me about it. That stuck in my head. I never forgot it.”

Thompson ran into Arden at a township meeting and was hauling gravel for Arden’s township when he stopped by the farm to visit with him. They discussed the Gade, but it was clear at the time that Arden intended to keep the engine.

“Recently, I thought maybe it was time to visit Arden again,” Dave says. “I figured some day, as the years went by, he’d be ready to part with the engine.” Dave’s hunch was correct. At just shy of 80 years old, Arden knows it’s unlikely that whoever buys his farm when he finally gives it up will be interested in preserving the old Gade engine. And as an only child who never married, he has few family members with an interest in preserving his family’s legacy.

“Dave assured me he plans to clean the machine up and use it to run some of his Sandwich corn shellers,” Arden says. “That will be a good way to preserve this piece of history for future generations.” Dave is delighted to not only add a quality piece to his collection, but maintain the history of it, as well. “You just don’t find many of these engines on the farm anymore, and certainly not the farm where they were originally used,” Dave says, adding. “Most vintage pieces are sold on auctions or estate sales. To find a piece liked this along with the story of how it was used is practically unheard of.”

For his part, Arden is happy that both the engine and his family’s story will be available for other gas engine enthusiasts to enjoy. “This farm always seemed like home to me. Even though I left here for many years, I could never get that idea out of my system,” Arden says. “I spent a lot of time with that engine when I was growing up. It was a traditional piece in our family and now I know it will be used again.”