11801 52nd Drive NE Marysville, Washington 98271-6225
Back in 1964, after a beekeeping hobby that turned into a situation of too big for a hobby and too small for a commercial enterprise, I sold out. Left with nothing to challenge my mind, I turned to mechanical devices. A set of flywheels on the top of a junk pile in a rancher's front yard got my attention. Speaking to the owner revealed the engine was a l HP Economy, make and break ignition, Webster tripolar oscillating mag, price $1.50. Now you are thinking that this new guy on the block has made the buy of a lifetime. Not so. Read on.
This engine had powered an air compressor in a back country gas station where there was no electricity. One day the compression shed caught fire and put the engine out of service. Main and crank bearings melted out, piston and valves stuck, the mag melted into a blob. After unloading the Economy at home, the wife took one look, and said, 'What the hell did you bring that thing home for? It will never run!' Never tell a German it can't be done, because those words will fire him up to accomplish the impossible.
The first thing that came off was the head. Second thing was to free up and remove the piston and loosen rings. Third, hone out cylinder. Fourth, make up a jig to babbitt crank end of the connecting rod. Fifth, removing the flywheels from the crankshaft. Sixth, clean up the crankshaft journals. Seventh, attach connecting rod to the crank-throw. Eighth, put piston in cylinder, prop up crank in such a way so it could be rotated 360 degrees to make sure that the timing gear teeth ran true, and the piston traveled freely in and out of the cylinder. Ninth, babbitt the lower half of the main bearings with crank in place. Tenth, place a few shims and then do the bearing caps. At this point, I will tell you all that I knew about babbitting bearings I learned from watching my grandfather babbitting mill machinery bearings back in the early thirties. Eleventh, I had the valves and seats faced off and ground in. It took a little time to figure out the exhaust valve timing; with that out of the way I was dead in the water.
The ignition system was a whole new kettle of fish. I had freed up the igniter, but what about this mag? I showed the blob to various people who didn't even know what they were looking at. One day I got lucky. A car collector friend of mine said he saw something like it at a vintage auto parts outfit in Spokane, Washington. He believed the price was $10.00. I mailed a check for $15.00 and a rough drawing with instructions to ship. A week or so later I had a Webster tripolar in the best of condition, hallelujah, not quite yet. This mag was the next size up from what came on a 1 HP Economy. Where to from here? I am too far into this project to quit, and my heritage was not going to let me stop. I made an adapter to the mag bracket and mounted up what I had. I am not out of the woods yet. Figuring out the adjustment and timing of the linkage, mag, and igniter was a very trying experience. To do all of these last procedures required a lot of rolling over the flywheels. This was an on and off ritual that spanned about six months. One day the old engine gave off with a puff of smoke, later a spit and finally a putt, putt, putt. That's it folks, from then on I was hooked on engines.
As you collectors know, most engines are not out in plain view. I needed a plan to ferret them out. I am new at the game and with no printed or personal advice on how to proceed. My aim was to get the word out that I was interested in old engines. This was accomplished by posting notices in areas where country people gathered, also old car collectors and restorers. By word of mouth, eventually leads came in and then I had another problem to solve. How does one approach a gas engine owner and not act or appear too anxious to buy at any price? One has to remember that two strangers have come together, one to sell and one to buy. There usually are many differences between the two: age, income, occupation, upbringing, and on and on. Small talk gets the conversation moving, and this does not include politics or religion; common interests and acquaintances work best. Eventually you will be told of the engine and the owner's memories connected with it. Don't ask too many questions, let the owner do the talking. This person's engine may be tucked away in a building, or down in the south forty where it was last used during World War II. Make a good overview and express some interest. Up to this point, all has been a pleasure, but the hard part is just around the corner asking price. Negotiating a price is where I didn't want our relationship to fall apart. I always ask, 'What do you expect this engine owes you in dollars?' Once in while an owner will tell you outright, which is good because if the price is too expensive, in my opinion, I can negotiate downward or walk away. In most cases the answer will be he doesn't know. Make an offer. Now the ball is in my court and I'd better not flub it.
To break the log jam at this point leads the conversation off on a tangent, this being the cost of living and particularly the price of groceries. The price of groceries seemed to be an economic sorespot with most everybody back in the 1960s and '70s. The engine owner would usually go off on a long lengthy story about how many dollars his wife had to spend at the grocery store last week, over the week before. At this point I would offer the dollar equivalent of one or two weeks groceries for the engine. This never failed every time I used this method. As I said back a ways, sometimes the owner knew exactly what he wanted for the engine, and if it was unreasonable, I excused myself. Many times at a later date I would be approached by the same person, or someone acting in his behalf, with an offer to sell at a lesser amount. It paid to keep the best relationship whether there was a purchase or not. This I learned and practiced always.
Now is a good time to head out and find a few engines. Over on Camano Island in a person's driveway, big and bold as could be, sat a Sears and Roebuck 5 HP buzz saw on a manufactured wagon, gas tank and belt missing. A $50 bill made me the new proud owner. Before leaving the property, I asked the now previous owner if he knew of other engines thereabouts. Yes, the neighbor has one. So over we go to have a look. A complete 5 HP Economy comes into sight. The owner lives in Seattle, but through a letter and $25 I have another engine to haul home. Before the week is over I picked up another 5 HP Economy for $25. As you can see, I am not going broke buying engines, but space to store them is running short.
One day a friend of mine told me the location where from the main road he could see the top edge of what he thought may be a wheel of some sort. In due time I arrived at the scene, and this is one of those occasions when your mouth falls open and your heart goes into double time. Lo and behold, a 25 HP Foos, serial number 3990. Talking to the owner about the engine's history, he tells me of buying it secondhand at a machinery depot in Seattle to power his small log circle saw mill. His lumber production took a licking for lack of power, so the Foos was set aside for a World War II radial diesel tank engine. The mill was long gone and the Foos with its nose down in the dirt awaiting its fate, I asked about his intentions for the Foos. His reply was he had intended to scrap it. At 4,000 pounds and a penny a pound at the scrap yard, the $40 wouldn't pay for his labor and delivery so he let it sit. At that point, I offered $40 and a good home and he graciously accepted. My mouth fell open once more and my heart nearly stopped. Enough excitement for one day. Many years ago, I loaded up a dozen or so Aermotor pump jack gas engines near Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. Three or four of the engines were complete. I was able to complete several more after buying missing parts from a California person. My return trip stateside required a stop at U.S. Customs. 'What have you here?' I was asked. Right then and there I knew he hadn't the foggiest idea as to what he was looking at. I explained and he began to think of duty dollars. I took the wind out of his sails real quick, by stating the fact that they were manufactured in the U.S.A. and classified as reentry there was no duty. His quick reply was, 'Prove that the engines were manufactured in the U.S. A.' My final shot, 'Mister, look at the flywheel, on each engine and you will see Aermotor, Chicago, U.S.A.' I was out of there with my wallet intact. The tractor collectors up in Lynden, Washington, had a great deal of experience with U. S. Customs along the western end of the border, and informed me to use the old machinery-friendly crossing at Sumas, even if it may be out of my way, at a later date. At least twice in gathering in engines I thought for a moment that I may have been asking for too much after the seller nearly gave away his engine.
Novo gas engine on a Cunningham winch. Winch manufactured in Seattle, Washington, in 1927.
Up on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada, a friend of mine told of some engines in a junk yard and gave me good verbal directions how to get there. Upon arriving, I asked the owner to show me the engines. His reply was, 'I have no such engines.' One of his employees overheard the conversation and remarked that there was something down in the far end of the yard. It turned out to be a 2 HP fluted hopper Aermotor, a very good buy at $20. I asked about loading it onto my truck as part of the purchase price and his men, by hand, dragged that engine to the truck and loaded it on. The rest of the story is, I made a wrong turn and wound up in a junk yard that my friend didn't even know existed. On another occasion, a 5 HP round rod Galloway was bought for $10, owner's asking price. I informed him that I had no way to load up. No problem, he said. With some chain and the front end loader it will be aboard quickly. I guess one would say that is the icing on the cake. As you old timers know, the GEM in its early years was a bimonthly publication, with E&E. You would get one one month and the other one the next month. When GEM went monthly, I couldn't keep up with all that reading so I dropped the E & E magazine.
I started out with GEM Vol. 1, No.l. I am still with it 36 years later. In 1978 a new issue (Antique Gas Engine and Tractor Magazine) came upon the scene. H. L. Healy of Scarborough, Ontario, Canada, was the proud publisher and editor. Eleven bimonthlys were printed before he gave it up. Mr. Healey told me that the magazine was consuming so much of his time that it was cutting into his making a living at his true occupation. There was something about his magazine that I felt was lacking in GEM and E&E.
In the beginning, collecting gas engines meant going out and buying from their resting places. And piling them up for rehab at some later date. Much later on the pile became large, and trying to find engines became discouraging. At this point, collectors begin swapping or selling engines to other collectors. This way you could get rid of your surplus engines and also upgrade your collection. Joe Kwaitkowski up in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada, a manual training teacher at a church school, had time on his hands during summer holidays. He would head out to eastern British Columbia and Alberta, buying up engines and tractors. Joe had a large pile of each when he discovered there wasn't a retirement plan at work. His solution to the dilemma was to liquidate the iron pile and put the money into a retirement plan. He had ready buyers to take his tractors (steam, gasoline, kerosene) off his hands. The gasoline and oil engines didn't seem to attract any interest until I came along and contributed to his retirement fund. I don't remember how many engines of Joe's came home by the way of the engine-friendly border crossing at Sumas, Washington, to round out my collection. There were Fairbanks N, R & H engines, GSM and Foos and Arrow to name a few.
I do remember most of the National meets of Early Day Gas Engine and Tractor Association that I attended. Santee Lake, El Cajon, California; San Jose, California; Antique Power Land, Brooks, Oregon; Borsk Park, Centralia, Washington; Springfield, Missouri; Platte City, Missouri. EDGE&TA branches that I have been member of include: Branch 15, Oregon; Branch 20, Washington; Branch 26, Washington. My membership in independent organizations include: Puget Sound Antique Tractor and Machinery Association, Lynden, Washington; Fraser Valley Antique Farm Machinery Associa-tion, British Columbia; Inland Empire Steam and Gas Buffs, Spokane, Washington; Northwest Steam Society, Seattle, Washington; and Puget Sound Railway Historical Association, Inc.; Snoqualmie Falls, Washington. Magazines that I have subscribed to are, GEM, E&E, Antique Gas Engine and Tractor Magazine, also numerous books and descriptive literature.
A person could not spend thirty-odd years collecting engines and not make many friends, some more outstanding than others, but all of good quality. From Washington State: Clyde and Millie Schurman, Paul and son, Alan Schurman, Chuck and Anita Waters, Mel Anderson, Gilbert Merry, Carl Neitzel, John and Cindy Neitzel. Oregon: Harvey Hilands, Tom Graves, Jack Versteeg. South Dakota: Richard Geyer, Jim Johanssen. California: Bill May, Bill Santos. Iowa: Charles Wendel. Minnesota: Karl Marquardt. British Columbia: Rod and lone Miller, Joe Kwiatkowski. These are but a few of many.
To name a few shows around the U.S. that I have attended besides the National meets: Boonville, Missouri; Rollag, Minnesota; Mt. Pleasant, Iowa; and a show grounds near Chilliwack, British Columbia, and many others, now long forgotten. Going to engine and tractor shows I would say is the climax to collecting. All of us have attended local gatherings, most have traveled to another state or province. For myself, two trips to England and two to Europe was the topping on the cake.
The 1,000 Engine Rally in England is the place to see the British finest. A Fordson 500 Rally that I attended had over 1,000 Fordon, Fordson tractors and homemade and manufactured attachments. Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Holland didn't yield large collections but all were shipshape. Both England and Europe have top notch mechanical museums.
I must confess that engine collection and all of its ramifications was a great learning period in my life. Every collector has at least one big engine. I had two, 40 HP Otto, and, 35 HP Saint Mary's oil engine.
The Otto has the best story behind it. This Otto, serial #10475, was manufactured in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1914 and with a gas producer was shipped down the East Coast by boat, across the Isthmus of Panama by rail, and thence up the West Coast by boat. It was installed in the mechanical engineering Department of the University of Washington. Sometime in the 1950s, the building was torn down and Ballard Transfer got the Otto for free, just for the taking. After taking up room in their warehouse for a considerable length of time, it was destined for a foundry in Georgetown. On its journey to Georgetown, it was intercepted by Bert Trudeau, a collector of nearly everything. The Otto was unloaded at a used truck parts company and put in the care of the owner who was a friend of Bert's. Years passed by and the Otto just sat there in the weather. A friend of mine, here in Marysville, said that he and his brother were in Seattle buying used truck parts and came about this huge engine. I asked Cecil where it was located, but no reply, because he had his sights on acquiring it. All of this got me to thinking about many years back, when I had gone with a friend to Seattle for used truck parts. I drove to the general area, and lo and behold, there sat the Otto.
The business owner told me of Bert and where he lived. Paying Bert a visit was very informative, but he said a VW auto sales company was buying it for a landmark. A few more years passed and I ventured to Seattle to check up on the Otto. When arriving in Georgetown, to my surprise and dismay, everything was gone, truck parts company and the Otto. I checked with Bert and learned that the Otto was not sold, and that it rested in a contractor's equipment yard between his home and mine. I stopped on my way home to make sure I had heard him right, which I had. A month passed and the Otto bugged me so much I wrote a letter to Bert asking if he would reconsider and sell. I had an answer nearly as fast as if I had driven down to his place. The reply read, 'Bert has died; come down and make an offer,' signed Mrs. B. T. Now I am really uptight because I have to make an offer and am dealing with a just-become widow. I put on my best manners and behavior and made a call on the widow. We sat around making small talk about Bert, and when that subject ran thin I stated my offer, which was very low. Expecting her to counter with a more expensive price, to my great surprise she immediately accepted. I couldn't hold off asking why. Her answer, The junk men were offering her less, and Bert would roll over in his grave if they got it. Her final statement was she knew I would give it a good home. Some engines are a mechanical marvel, almost reaching the zenith of a Rube Goldberg. I guess to keep from infringing on someone's patent and to accomplish the same thing, all of this came about. Watching all the monkey motion can dazzle the mind.
This is an account of an engine that got away in a very unusual manner. It started down in Seattle when I came upon a 4 HP Novo and a Cunningham single drum winch married together upon a heavy cast iron base. Cunningham built marine gear, and I calculated that this unit was a deck hoist. The people at the engine location told me that it was acquired by them through default of the prior owner. This default came about, as interrupted through their real estate purchasing agreement. So stated, any personal property of the seller left on the real estate after one year would become property of the new owners. I paid up front for the engine and winch with promise to pick up within ten days. About five days passed, and the people called and said the prior owner had made off with the equipment. I called the prior owner and stated his agreement with these people. His answer, 'I have it, what are you going to do about it?' The seller did return my money. After 35 plus years of collecting, I have many stories untold, but will not bore you readers to death with anymore of them. It has been a great life.
A type of broadcast seeder known as the knapsack seeder. The illustration is from Equipment For The Farm and The Farmstead, Harry Ram-sower, published by Ginn and Co., in 1917.