3286 Cramlington Drive Gibsonia, Pennsylvania 15044
This natural gas engine was found sitting in a flower garden
near the city of Butler, Pennsylvania. I have not been able to find
it in C. H. Wendel’s book. I have seen many similarities to the
design of the engine’s base, but nothing that matches the
cylinder design. The engine has been shown at the Coolspring Power
Museum summer show, the Rough and Tumble Show in Lancaster,
Pennsylvania, and the Drake’s Oil Well Museum in Titusville.
During all three appearances, nobody could identify the engine.
Could you please shed some light as to who might have built it?
Until someone can positively identify the engine, I will take
the liberty and call it a prototype. There is no serial number and
only one casting number on the crank’s throw, C-412. Other than
this one casting number, the engine is devoid of any markings. The
base is similar to early steam engine bed plates, the typical 1920s
Victorian curve is absent. It has a cross head shoe with a five
inch stroke. The piston has only one ring land with two rings
present in the same land. An expander ring is under the rings, this
could have done it at a later point in time, I don’t know.
The Coolspring staff commented that the studs were 12-thread,
which could possibly date it some time around 1905 to 1910. When
did manufacturers start using 12-thread bolts and studs? The
connecting rod is hollow and looks to be made of steam pipe, the
wall thickness inside is at least inch-plus. One central grease cup
supplies grease to both the cross head wrist pin and the connecting
rod bearing. The cross head bearing is bronze and is one-piece with
a split at the top to tighten a bolt to close the bearing around
the wrist pin.
The connecting rod bearing is of a two-piece design but is
threaded vs. the typical smooth hole commonly found on connecting
rod bearings. The valve chests are removable, although I have not
taken them out. They appear to be threaded into the cylinder head.
The engine utilizes hot tube ignition. The hot tube screws into a
bronze ignitor plug, which screws into the back of the cylinder.
This ignitor plug is located above the cylinder and is a common
chamber with the atmospheric intake valve for natural gas. Access
to the valves is gained by removing one or both screwed in plugs.
Each plug has a six sided nut machined onto the plug for easier
The flywheels do not have a counter balance section. Each wheel
has only five spokes. One wheel has a crowned surface, possibly to
hold a governor belt or operate a small lathe. One side of the
crank shaft has been made to accept a starting crank that is placed
inside the shaft, not on the outside where it would grab a piece of
The inventor was thinking when he mounted the intake and exhaust
valves above the piston. Should a valve spring break and the valve
be sucked into the gas chamber, the engine coasts to stop. The
valves appear to be tapered, not flat sheets like on an Able Auto
Power. A small reservoir surrounds the cylinder and holds
approximately one-half gallon of water. The engine is tank cooled.
The engine utilizes a crude, possibly homemade, mixer. When I got
the engine, a one-inch nipple threaded into a one-inch pipe Tee was
the mixer. On top of the Tee, air is regulated by reducing the
one-inch down to ? inch pipe. The bottom of the Tee has been
reduced down to inch pipe where my propane is regulated by a ball
valve. Yes, when you turn on the natural gas, gas free-flows out
the air side of the Tee. And yes, it has caught fire from the hot
tube burning. I am speculating that this engine could have had a
small two-ball Gardener governor mounted where the one-inch nipple
enters the engine. This is the same side in which the flywheel is
tapered. I am searching for a inch Gardener steam governor to try
on the engine.
I am currently operating the engine with propane, and since
propane is a heavy fuel, starting can be ‘iffy.’ Does
anybody offer natural gas bottled? Pro pane is just too violent for
this engine. Would you recommend using hydrogen like some of the
early Crossly used?
If any of the readers have any ideas as to who built this
one-of-a-kind, please drop me a line or send a letter to me at the