Early California Engine Found

By Staff
article image

1155 Carpenter Canyon Road Arroyo Grande, CA 93420

Recently, I had one of those experiences that every engine
collector dreams about and I would like to share it with the
readers in hopes that they too may never give up the quest for
those old rusty pieces of iron that are still waiting to be
discovered.

I had been enjoying a relaxful week-end, engrossed in one of my
many hobbies which is buying, selling and trading antique bottles.
The annual antique bottle shows are the places to get together once
a year with old friends and acquaintances of some 20 years of
collecting.

During the course of Sunday afternoon sales, I was pleased to
see the presence of an old bottle collector friend from the Salinas
Valley area. After the usual chit-chat about antique bottle finds
for the year, I mentioned that I would sure like to trade some good
‘ole rare’ bottles for an ‘ole rare’ gas engine,
and did he by any chance know of any around his old ranches. He
casually mentioned that he had some ‘old thing’ on one of
his ranches that people had been after him to sell, but he really
had no desire to part with it but maybe for a good ‘ole
rare’ bottle we could do business.

I nonchalantly continued to question him about what kind it may
be, secretly hoping that it would be one of those lost early
California works of art rather than the rusty remains of an
extremely common clunker. Unfortunately, all that he could remember
about it was that it may have said ‘union’ San Francisco on
the side, but he wasn’t positive.

Naturally, my heart skipped a small beat and I tried to calmly
react in a non-interested manner and shortly thereafter, we agreed
that some day in the future we could get together and look at
it.

Monday morning at 8:05, I called his ranch which is about 100
miles from mine and casually mentioned that today would be a good
day for me what about him? Hoping desperately that I wouldn’t
seem too eager, I was greatly disappointed when he declined with
the explanation that he would be in another city all day. Well, I
knew for sure that I had blown it, so I halfheartedly mentioned,
‘Well, how about later in the week,’ and he said,
‘well, call first.’

For the next couple of days, I moped around thinking that I had
blown the find of the century and would probably never get to see
the engine whatever it was.

Thursday morning I pulled myself together and decided to give it
another try. To my utter amazement, he agreed to meet me at 2:00
that afternoon and proceed up into the mountains to the abandoned
homestead for a glimpse of the relic.

At noon, I finally got away from a busy work schedule and
together with my good friend and fellow engine collector, Jim, we
hurried to the prearranged meeting. We were about 15 minutes late
to the rendezvous; however, shortly thereafter we were winding our
way up into the mountains west of Salinas.

After a locked gate and a dirt road, we arrived at what has to
be one of the most beautiful old abandoned farm houses in
California nestled in a grassy canyon with old fences and
barns.

We drove around to the back of the corral and all got out. I
became so involved with the old place, with its fantastic overview
of the Salinas Valley, that I momentarily forgot about what we had
come to see.

Shortly, thereafter, we were led to a section of corral fence
that was being supported by a pile of old lumber out of which was
protruding the top of a rusty flywheel. Sure enough, it was the
remains of a 2 or 3 HP vertical engine. There appeared to only be a
crank case and flywheel with crank shaft sitting on a large iron
base.

As we were all standing around swapping tales, my hopes were
diminishing as I was starting to realize that even though we could
have had a real prize, there wasn’t much hope for it other than
maybe spare parts.

About that time, the owner said, ‘by the way, the rest of
this thing is over in the dump in the gully about 200 yards from
here, but we’ll have to dig it up.’ Almost instantly, I was
in full swing again with rapid pulse and heavy breathing. Could it
be that we could find at least the cylinder? Perhaps I could
machine the rest.

A few minutes later we were all three digging in the ravine full
of 1950’s garbage. As the story went, the cylinder had been
robbed of all brass and discarded in the gulch several years
earlier on a clean-up campaign. As one hour rolled into the second
hour, my doubts were starting to reoccurwe had dug up almost
three-quarters of the dump, yet not a sign of any metal, especially
a 250 pound cylinder.

To make things worse, we had been digging downwind of a recently
discarded decomposed carcass of a cow. Finally, I had had enough of
the smell, and went upwind of it and, grabbing part of the leg,
dragged it out of the way enough so as not to be directly
downwind.

Still no metal that went to the engine had surfaced and as
further doubt began to spread among us, I jokingly thought to
myself that if, in fact, the cylinder were there, and had not been
carted off for another use in earlier years, it would undoubtedly
be located directly below where the decomposed cow had been.

Ten minutes later, that thought came true when we hit pay dirt
directly under where the decomposed carcass had been. It turned out
to be even better than I had hoped for. The cylinder still had the
piston and connecting rod in it. Also, the cylinder head was intact
along with the exhaust valve cage. Last of all, and to my
astonishment, even the wipe spark igniter was complete inside of
the combustion chamber.

It was indeed a dream come true and after we had the parts
loaded, and the deal squared with the rancher, Jim and I had plenty
to talk about on the trip home.

After studying the engine for some time now, and reading about
it in a gas engine book, I’m ready to tackle the restoration.
I’m only missing the exhaust push rod mechanism, the brass
water jacket covers and the connecting rod bearing. There are even
traces of the original striping and the color under one of the
bolts is bright red.

I would dearly like to correspond with any fellow engine buff
who may have one of these pre-1900 relics and could give me any
tips on its mechanical wizardry. Even though it’s a very simple
two-cycle vapor engine, the exhaust valve push rod mechanism
appears to have been an engineering marvel. Any information at all
will be deeply appreciated.

Good luck to all you fellow iron hunters out there and I
sincerely hope that any of you who have never had the thrill of a
good old time engine find will have one this summer.

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