One Family’s Famous Engine

The history of the Allen family’s 1914 10 HP International Harvester Famous engine.

| April/May 2014

Gathering information on a piece of equipment that is almost 100 years old can be challenging, but here’s the story of the Allen family’s 1914 10 HP International Harvester Co. Famous engine.

According to members of the Allen family, Melvin V. Allen (1882-1940, Floyd County, Ky.) purchased this “used” IHC Famous sometime shortly after 1914. The engine is 10 HP, 350 RPM, tank-cooled and throttle-governed with serial no. EA432.

Melvin purchased it in the small town of Boldman, Ky. He mounted the engine on skids on a concrete slab in the “Wood Shop” down the hill from his house, and he hooked the engine to a line shaft to run many pieces of equipment, including several different saws and lathes, a grist mill for grinding corn and wheat, and a water pump for supplying water to the farm. Melvin and his family ground corn for cattle and mules on the farm and also for neighbors in the Floyd County area, making the Allen farm a busy place. Water to cool the engine was supplied from a 55-gallon barrel mounted on the roof of the “Wood Shop.” The exhaust pipe from the engine was vented through the roof of the “Wood Shop.”

According to family members, one cold evening one of Melvin’s sons was to drain the water from the engine but didn’t, and the water jacket cracked and was later brazed and repaired. There was a natural gas well and a natural gas line on the Allen farm, so natural gas was used to power the engine. In the 1920s, Melvin purchased a farm in Carter County, Ky., and also purchased a “sister” engine for the farm in Carter County, but that engine is no longer in existence.

As the years passed, the 10 HP Famous engine was used less and less — the last time family members can remember the engine running was in the early 1950s — but it remained in the “Wood Shop” until it was removed by Melvin’s grandson Larry Allen  around 1980, when the “Wood Shop” was torn down. When Larry moved the engine, he unbolted the skids that were anchored to the concrete and left the skids attached to the engine base. The engine piston was stuck when Larry moved the engine.

Larry and a friend took the engine apart and reconditioned the internal parts. They replaced the exhaust valve and got the piston to cycle smoothly, but mixer/carburetor issues kept them from getting it to run. In the 1990s, Lenn Ratliff (Melvin’s grandson) and Brad Ratliff (Melvin’s great-grandson) moved the engine to Lenn’s home in Knightstown, Ind., and started restoring it. In 1993, Lenn replaced the points in the magneto and started fabricating a water tank, but he passed away before he could get it finished and the engine running.