39443 Glen Road Yucaipa, California 92399
A chance meeting at an associate's place of business with one of his customers led to a once in a lifetime find. We were talking about hobbies and I mentioned that I collected antique engines. He told me he ran across one in somebody's front yard not six miles from where I live. They were using it for a yard ornament and he thought it was a West Coast engine. He asked the owner if it was for sale; it was not!
I checked Wendel's American Gas Engine book for a description of the West Coast, but all I could find was a reference to it in the manufacturer's index.
I thought about it for a month or so and at one of our swap meets in February '91, I asked around about the West Coast engine. The information I got was that it is a very rare engine indeed. After hearing this, yard ornament or not I've got to take a look at it and see if it's worth trying to buy. I called Bob, the gentleman who told me about it, and got directions to its location.
The next day I decided to stop by on the way home from work to check it out. When I saw it for the first time I couldn't believe my eyes! As far as I could tell it was complete, very little rust and well protected with paint. The oilers, carburetor, magneto and fly ball governor were all there. I got permission from the occupant of the house to get a closer look and take some pictures. It was sitting in a flower bed not five feet inside a three foot high chain link fence in the front yard. He told me it belonged to his landlord and it was not for sale. This didn't deter me and I made an offer to pass along to the owner with a bonus for him if he would work the deal. This was March '91.1 would drive by at least once a week to check on the engine to see if it was still there. One day I finally met the owner and he told me the engine had been sitting outside for about six months and he ran it from time to time to keep it loose. He had painted it several times, the last time when he painted his house light blue. He assured me the offer that I made for the engine was a generous one and if he decided to sell it I would be the first one he would notify. I understood that his house was for sale and that would be motivation to sell the engine. I had to keep this find a closely guarded secret, I didn't want to start a bidding war I couldn't win. I only told my friend and engine buddy Don Wiley.
We took some time off in May and went to the Jerome, Arizona, engine show. All I could think about was that West Coast engine.
About two months went by with many calls and weekly checks on the engine. I hadn't given up yet, but my hopes were starting to fade. Then one Sunday night in July I got a call from the owner. Good news! If my offer was still good I could come and get it. I was there the next day bright and early. From the information the owner gave me, the engine had spent its working life at a ranch in Colton, California, and from its condition it was probably kept in a building.
I completely disassembled it, stripped the three coats of paint, light blue, yellow, and green. I repainted it forest green to match the original color which I found under all that paint and grease. The engine has a factory conversion from igniter to Webster H.T. magneto and spark plug. The cylinder was in perfect condition, no rust or pits. It looked like a smooth bore shot gun. The only repair I made was to bush the throttle linkage. That was the only significant wear that I could find. This engine uses all oilers for lubrication, no grease cups. Patent dates are October 15,1901 and February 14, 1905. The engine, a 2.5 HP, has a 4' x 8' bore and stroke, 2' diameter crank shaft and 26' flywheels. It has cam operated intake and exhaust valves. The rated speed for the engine is 400 r.p.m. and is flyball T.G. slide valve. The engine alone weighs 750 lbs.
West Coast engines were manufactured in San Diego, California. They ranged from 2.5 HP to 500 HP. Not many are left today. This is the only 2.5 HP I know of, but I suspect there must be others out there somewhere.
I got it restored in time for our October '91 engine show in Vista, California (San Diego County). The engine runs very well, except with no load it acts like a hit and miss. After ignition the governor will shut off the fuel mixture and it will coast under compresssion until the governor opens the slide valve to take in more fuel mixture, then the cycle repeats itself. Under load it runs like a regular 4-cycle engine. The engine must have done a lot of idling in its lifetime by the looks of the wear it had to the throttle linkage.
The moral of my story is perseverance. Looking back I guess I was somewhat of a pest. The owner really didn't want to sell it. If it were not for my bugging him it might still be sitting there out in the weather and being watered along with the flowers!