Discovered: Engine in the Wild

By Staff
1 / 3
I spotted a flywheel buried in ivy.
2 / 3
Weathered green brass parts were everywhere.
3 / 3
With Bill Honey's help I skid the Lathrop across the yard on plywood

West Tree Frog Lane, Chilmark, Massachusetts 02535

It had been several years since I had discovered an early engine
in the wild, and I was beginning to think that those days were gone
forever. A few weeks ago, however, I got a lead at the town dump
that sent me scrambling to locate and uncover an old engine.

This story involves some luck-being in the right place at the
right time- and also a technique I have often used in the hunt for
old iron-advertising. That day I went for a ride on my 1950 Solex
motor bike and decided to swing into the dump to see what treasures
might have come in.

I noticed an elderly fellow inspecting the Solex.

‘I have one of these,’ he said enthusiastically.

‘A Solex? I asked.

‘Not a Solex, a Mobylette. I have several of them.’ He
explained that he lived part of the year in Bermuda and had used
the Mobylettes for transportation on the island since the

We talked about old machinery and I told him that I have been
collecting and restoring gas and steam engines for 25 years. I
invited him to come to my place sometime and see the collection.
Fifteen minutes after I arrived home, a blue van came slowly in the
driveway and I recognized my friend from the dump. I opened a row
of doors to my engine shed.

‘Oh my!’ he exclaimed. ‘I’ve never seen anything
like this!’

I went through my usual routine about how farm engines were used
in the countryside before electricity and named all the machines
they powered. I could see he was fascinated.

I closed the choke on a 2 HP Simplicity, casually rolled the
flywheels through compression once and then brought her up a second
time. I gave the flywheels a hard pull and off she went with a
hearty puff of smoke. My guest

gave a shout of glee and watched the Simplicity hitting and

‘I have an old engine in my yard that you’re welcome
to,’ he said. ‘It’s pretty far gone, but maybe it would
be of some use to you.’

Sensing once again the thrill of the unknown, I asked him what
kind of engine it was.

‘I can only tell you that it sits this way’-he motioned
up and down- ‘and it has a big wheel on its side.’

‘One flywheel, not two?’

‘Only one, as I remember. It’s a big, heavy

I imagined a diesel from the 1950s that had been salvaged from
some wrecked fishing boat. Nonetheless, any lead deserves an
investigation. I told him I would like to have a look at it. He
went to his car and wrote a note authorizing me to visit his
property, as he would be away for a few days. He handed me the
note, saying the engine was in the bushes behind the garden.

A week later I called the number my friend had written on his
note and got a recording saying the Old Oyster was not at home-but
I knew I was welcome to visit his place in his absence.

With my engine buddy Bill Honey, I walked into the Old
Oyster’s yard and found a small sunken garden at the edge of
the lawn. Behind the garden was a wall of dense bushes. I scanned
the vegetation for a sign of the engine, but saw nothing; I walked
along the back edge of the garden, searching the tangle of growth
and suddenly spotted a flywheel buried in ivy.

I carefully pulled away the ivy and removed a heavy steel plate
resting on top of the engine. A two-cycle, marine type upright
engine was slowly revealed, but I immediately saw that this was not
the usual marine model. It had a large spoke flywheel about twice
the diameter of a marine flywheel, and the engine sat on a tall
cast iron base that flared out gracefully on all four sides. When I
got the ivy cleared I saw a governor with flyweights between the
flywheel and cylinder. A two-cycle stationary engine! Finally I
noticed a big cast tag on the back side of the cylinder. I had just
acquired a 4 HP Lathrop stationary made in Mystic, Connecticut.

I was able to push the engine up on one edge of its base and
slide a piece of heavy plywood underneath it. Then I skidded it out
onto the lawn using two 4′ x 4′ pieces of plywood, one in
front of the other, and across the yard to the truck.

I took a moment to look over the engine. It was a beauty!
Weathered green brass parts were everywhere: water pump, governor
weights, igniter and other ignition parts, primer cup and even an
original oiler with its glass intact. I saw traces of nickel on
some parts. The Lathrop showed the usual effects of long outdoor
exposure: all nuts and bolts were rusted down to little pointed
cores and all other steel parts were half their original size. The
iron, however, was excellent. Only the water jacket on one side was
seriously damaged; several square inches of iron were missing.
(When I began to disassemble the engine, I discovered that the
headless bolts were almost hard tight and were still shiny and
perfect where they were not exposed to the weather. The cylinder
above the piston, never having seen water, was also excellent.)

As of this writing, the Lathrop is apart, except for the stuck
piston; the cylinder is soaking in ‘weasel juice.’ Unlike
open crank farm engines, most marine types have closed crankcases-
which means the piston has to come out of the top of the cylinder.
On headless, jug cylinder models the going gets even tougher.

I had one surprise while I was taking the engine apart. The
entire crankcase cavity was chock full of lamb’s wool! Mice had
come in the intake pipe and made themselves a very warm apartment
house. At some time during its retirement, the old Lathrop must
have spent time on a sheep farm.

I have learned about the engine’s history from the Old
Oyster. He bought it, along with other heavy treasures including a
200 lb. bronze bell from a bell buoy, from a junkyard in the 1950s
for yard sculptures. The junkie told him the Lathrop operated a
winch that was used to haul out boats on a railway in Woods Hole,

Are there other Lathrop stationeries out there? If anyone in
engine land has information about another one, I would like to know
about it.

Gas Engine Magazine
Gas Engine Magazine
Preserving the History of Internal Combustion Engines