Collector crafts replica of Henry Ford’s first gas engine

| February 2008

In 1893, a 30-year-old machinist from Detroit, Mich., was learning about a new technology, the internal combustion engine. In a backroom shop at the Detroit Electric Illuminating Co., he and a few of his co-workers made a crude working engine. On Christmas Eve, 1893, he took the experimental engine home to show his wife. Clamped to the kitchen sink using the electric light socket for ignition power, his wife Clara controlling the fuel dripping into the intake mixer, Henry Ford started not only the little engine, but his own path to becoming an automotive and industrial icon known the world over."

- Leon Ridenour

Back in August of 2003, I visited the Rusty Wheels Engine Show at Hope, Ark. Among the many displays was a rather odd looking machine that would be easy to mistake for something other than a gasoline engine. It had a sign that said "Henry Ford's First Gasoline Engine." Thinking it was a just a demonstration model that surely didn't actually run, I simply did not pay much attention to it. But the image of that engine was burned into my memory.

Over the next few years I thought about that engine from time to time. Somewhere along the line, I learned that what I saw was actually a full-size working replica of Ford's first internal combustion engine. I searched the Internet and was unable to find any information on it. Then one day I was reading the classified ads in the back of Gas Engine Magazine and there was an advertisement for plans to build one. Once more I dismissed the idea, since at that time I was heavily involved in another restoration project.

Then one night a friend of mine called. In our conversation, Ford's engine came up. He said, "You know Bo Hinch built one?" No, I did not know that. Bo only lives a few miles from me so the next Saturday I was on my way to his shop to see his engine and that's all it took. I was bitten. I knew I had to build one. By this time, I had finished the restoration I had been working on and I needed another project.

The man with the plans

Leaving Bo's shop, I went back to my house and started searching through my GEMs until I found the ad for the plans to build the engine. I called the number in the ad and Leon Ridenour answered the phone. I told him I wanted to buy his plans to build Ford's first engine. We struck up a conversation that immediately earned my respect for him. His primary concern was not that I wanted to buy the plans, but to be sure I knew what I was getting into, and that I had the right tools and skills to complete the project. Had I not, I'm convinced he would have discouraged me from buying the plans. Money wasn't the issue here.

4/4/2016 6:37:29 PM

Leon Ridenour now has a website about the engine with information on how to order the plans: