Foos-Itis: The Elusive 15 HP

By Staff
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2600 Shoshone Street Idaho Falls, Idaho 83401

A couple of years ago, an older fellow came into my shop to have
a cracked cylinder head repaired (that’s what my shop does:
repairs all types of broken cast iron). As he was looking around
the shop, he spotted some of my old engines being repaired, or
sitting upstairs in storage, and he came up to me and said, ‘I
know where a big one of these is.’

He told me that he remembered seeing such an engine run when he
was a young man. It had been on a ranch about 400 miles from Idaho
Falls, Idaho. Before he left, he gave me enough information for me
to start my quest for this unknown ‘big’ engine. He
didn’t remember the make or size, but he gave me the number of
someone who might know more.

About five minutes after he left, I called the number, and
reached the person. He told me that there was indeed an old engine
of some kind, way up in the mountains, about 70 miles from the
nearest paved road. I asked him for more information on its make,
etc., but he knew only that it had still been there the last time
he had been up. That had been several years before. I asked him if
I could buy it, and he told me to give him some time to think about
it, and call back in six weeks.

Six weeks to the day later, I called, but he was not in. He
wasn’t in for the next nine or ten weeks, although I called
every week or so. Finally, I called and he answered the phone. For
some reason, he told me I had to wait until the end of summer
(seven more months!). He said he wanted some ‘old-timers’
to see it before it got away.

So, the whole process started all over again, and after seven
months I started calling again, and again, and again. I finally got
through to him, and after all this, he told me, ‘No.’ Well,
I nearly had apoplexy, because I knew that the engine would
probably just sit right where it was, until it either rusted away,
or was cut up for scrap. I asked him for an explanation, and he
said that while he didn’t have any personal attachment towards
it, it was part of the ranch history; sort of like having a family
album full of people that you didn’t really know, but you still
didn’t want to let it go to a stranger.

I told him I could understand that, but I was really sick about
it. I’ve seen so many pieces of old machinery that people
wouldn’t part with, and then someone else buys the place, or
the grandkids they’re ‘saving’ it for don’t want
it, and it goes for scrap. I decided to make one last-ditch effort
to get this engine (remember, I still don’t even know what it
is). I asked him how he would feel if this hypothetical ‘family
album’ were going to be lost forever if it weren’t passed
on to someone-even a stranger. Wouldn’t it be better to see
that it was saved?

I asked if he had ever even gone to see the old engine since I
had first called him, and he said he hadn’t. I asked him what
was preventing the engine from being vandalized, and if it was
protected from the elements. After a long, long silence, he said,
‘Come and get it.’

I left the very next day; somehow I knew that if I waited, I
might not even get to see it. I took another man, because I
wasn’t sure how big this thing really was. After hours of
driving and backtracking to find the spot, we got there, and nearly
fell over when we saw this thing! We looked at each other and said,
‘We’ll never get this thing out of here!’ It was in the
back of an old building, 50 feet from the closest place I could get
to with my truck and trailer, and the flywheels were nearly five
feet tall!

We thought about coming back later, with more help, but it just
didn’t seem like a good idea. After hours of back-breaking
effort, and the help of prybars and a lot of chain, we managed to
free it from its base without having the shaky old building cave in
on us. We got it worked around to where I could get it hooked to my
4-wheel drive Ford, pulled it out to where the winch cable on the
trailer would reach it, and get it loaded onto the trailer. Getting
it out was a lot harder than I can describe, as many of you
collectors can imagine. All this time, I still didn’t know what
it was, because it was covered with bird and animal droppings.

We finally got it winched onto the trailer (wrecked the winch in
the process; this engine we later found out weighs about 4500
lbs.), and started back down the mountain. About halfway down, I
noticed the engine listing sharply to one side. This weighty bugger
had gone through the floor of the trailer with one flywheel! After
a lot of blocking and re-positioning, we took off again and got it
home with no further problems.

The next morning, with it still on the trailer, I really got a
chance to look at it, and found the tag that said ’15 HP Foos
Mfg. Co.’ Now I was really excited, and hauled it down to my
shop, where it took all my employees and some customers riding the
back of my hyster to unload it.

As time permitted, restoration began after the shop closed at
night. After the usual scraping and disassembly, I found out that
all the brass fittings except the tag had been removed, but most
disheartening, the wipe spark ignition assembly was gone. The
piston was stuck tight, and the cylinder pitted too badly to use as

This piston is eight inches in diameter, and after soaking it
about a month, heating it, and doing all the little
‘tricks’ we all learn, including about 500 strokes with an
80# bar, applied to a 1′ plate, the piston was out. Since this
is a full-service machine shop I own, I bored and sleeved the
cylinder, completely disassembled the engine, hot-tanked all pieces
and sandblasted them, and primed and painted and reassembled the
engine onto a cart that I made. My hyster wouldn’t lift more
than a piece at a time, but I finally got it on there.

Now came the hard part: the missing brass, and particularly the
wipe spark ignition. With a little luck and a photo of a Foos I saw
in GEM that had the address of its owner, I contacted Mr. Edgar
Miller in Westminster, Maryland. He very graciously loaned me a
complete wipe spark unit, which, although it was off a smaller
engine, gave me something to copy. I machined one for my engine
complete, and have now returned Mr. Miller’s to him. Many,
many, many thanks Edgar!

The rest of the restoration was pretty routine-buy, find, make,
assemble. I was finally finished on 1-4-92. Put gas in it, two guys
on the flywheels, and it started the first full revolution of the
flywheels. The engine was so beautifully machined and balanced by
the original factory, it barely moves the cart when it starts. It
took a long time, and more than a little money and patience, but
what a feeling when it finally ran!

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