Free Wheeling Powell-Lever Engine

By Staff
article image
One of the later Lever engines, intended for automotive use, showing clearly the lever action in place.

This article, written by Menno Duerksen, originally appeared in
Cars & Parts Magazine, March 1975 issue, and is reprinted with
permission. It was sent to us by George N. Whiston, Jr., 508 North
Range Street, Oblong, Illinois 62449, who would appreciate hearing
from anyone who has information on the Powell-Lever design.

It must have been about the time when I was aged eight or ten, a
youngster on the farm, when Father produced a long steel bar with a
flat end, plus a heavy block of wood, and suggested that I help him
grease the axle of our big horse drawn farm wagon.

Father shoved the block of wood up near the wagon axle and then
shoved the big steel bar with the flat end under the axle, with the
bar balanced over the wooden block and sticking out seven or eight
feet behind the block.

Then he instructed me to heave all my weight downward on the
bar. I found that a young squirt weighing less than 80 pounds,
could easily lift a corner of that heavy wagon off the ground and
hold it while Pops removed the wheel, ‘buttered’ the dry
axle with a paddle dipped in Black Beauty axle grease and returned
the wheel to the axle.

I was slightly more than astonished at the power that big bar
gave to a farm youngster barely old enough to milk a cow.

After that one of my favorite pastimes was to lug that heavy
steel bar out to a deep dry canyon near our farm where I and
several of my friends used it to pry huge boulders loose from the
rim of the canyon and watch them go plunging and roaring into the
bottom with a huge crash and a cloud of dust. These were rocks we
could never have budged by sheer kid muscle power alone.

So I was prepared to have faith, a year or two later, when one
of my teachers in school suggested that if a man had a lever long
enough, a place to perch a sturdy fulcrum, he could lift the entire
world weighing trillions of pounds.

I was learning the principle of the lever.

It must have been about the period 1915-1920, a time not too far
removed from my axle greasing experience, when a man named Alvah
Leigh Powell, a southern minister by profession but perhaps a
mechanic and amateur engineer by choice, brought forth the idea
that this old lever principle could be used to improve the
performance of the internal combustion engine which was then taking
our country by storm.

As all motor car enthusiasts know, of the internal combustion
engine which has now been with us so long, a gasoline-air mixture
is exploded in the firing chamber of an engine to give a mighty
push downward to the top of a piston. That piston push, in turn, is
transmitted through a connecting rod to the offset arm, or throw,
of a crankshaft and makes that crankshaft turn. Power to drive a
motor car, or do other useful work, has been produced.

The idea germinating in the brain of Rev. Powell was, simply,
that if the piston pushed on a lever, and the lever in turn pushed
on the crankshaft, the power of the piston could thus be doubled or
tripled.

A modern day automotive engineer might quickly point out that it
really is not all that simple. But the idea was there and, as it
was to prove, it was an idea with considerable merit.

It can probably in truth be said that from such dreams and
ambitions of American inventors has come the gigantic automotive
industry which today is the backbone of the nation’s
economy.

The tragedy of it has been how few of those dreams or ideas,
even those with considerable merit, have brought fame or glory to
their inventors, much less economic success. But there they were;
ideas by the hundreds, or even thousands, for new engines, new
transmissions, new clutches, brakes, carburetors. Sources of power
that would, hopefully, ‘revolutionize’ the industry. But
seldom did.

So this is the story of Rev. Powell and his ‘lever
engine,’ which almost literally swallowed the lives and
fortunes of several substantial citizens, lured them on with
‘almost’ promises of success before the idea finally faded
from the scene in the early 1950s. But during that period of labor
and research, lasting more than thirty years, a considerable number
of those lever principle engines were actually built. They powered
automobiles which rolled for hundreds of thousands of miles,
powered at least one flyable airplane and, in industrial form
pumped thousands of barrels of oil.

The pity, in telling this story, is that so little can be told
of Rev. Powell himself for so little of the record of the man and
how he conceived the ‘lever idea’ can be found. His name
does appear on the patent applications filed during the period 1920
to 1928. But little more.

So, by necessity, most of our story must evolve around other
people, men who became enamored and lured by the mystical power of
the lever into devoting their lives to the pursuit of an idea and a
success which, at times, seemed to be almost within their grasp but
always slipped away. This would include such men as C. F. and R. P.
Rainey of eastern Montana, substantial land owners and cattlemen,
and later Rexton (Rex) Rainey, the son of C. F., now retired and
living in Jeddo, Michigan, after a career as an engineer. Rex, and
his brother, Dr. Froelich Rainey, of Gladwynne, Pennsylvania, are
among the few people still surviving who can even remember anything
at all about Rev. Powell.

‘I have only a hazy, childhood recollection of him,’
said Rex recently. ‘I recall him as a rather portly figure, but
impressive and very much the southern gentleman type.’

The story is that Rev. Powell, around 1919, went to Washington
to look into the matter of patenting his lever engine idea and to
seek financial backing to-develop it. He was, so the Raineys
remembered later, armed with drawings but no working model of his
engine.

It was in Washington that he, by chance, ran into the Rainey
brothers, also in Washington on business, and managed to interest
them in the idea of backing development of the lever engine. The
Raineys, with considerable land and cattle holdings in Montana, had
substantial, if not great, wealth.

‘It was an idealistic sort of thing that got into
people’s minds and once they were sold on it they almost became
fanatics on the subject,’ Rexton Rainey told your Free Wheeling
editor.

Rex was almost certainly thinking about his father when he made
that statement, for there is little doubt but that the elder Rainey
became completely sold on the new engineering idea, spending the
next several decades of his life, perhaps the major portion of the
family fortune, plus the money of other investing stockholders, in
trying to convince the automobile industry that here was a
valuable, revolutionary idea that could produce vastly more
powerful and efficient motor car engines.

Despite the fact that the elder Rainey brothers had no
engineering training, they moved to the Chicago area soon after
meeting Powell, financed and set up an experimental machine
workshop to transform the lever idea into iron and steel, with
power flowing from the end of the crankshaft.

So strongly did the elder C. F. Rainey believe in the idea that
he sent Rex off to college to study engineering so that he could
contribute his talents to the development of the new engine.

Rex recalls that when he returned from college around 1928 and
joined the projects, first as a draftsman and later as project
engineer, several four cylinder Powell Lever engines had already
been built and were operating. Due to the nature of the lever
principle, it can be seen that any engine using this feature would
be a machine with an extremely long stroke for the piston and a
relatively short stroke for the secondary connecting rod and
crankshaft.

Rainey remembers those first four cylinder engines as having
about 100 cubic inch displacement with a six inch piston stroke,
which meant only a three inch stroke for the crankshaft or a
crankshaft throw of only about an inch and a half. But due to that
extremely long stroke, the design resulted in a very ‘tall’
engine. In some later designs, when overhead valves were added, the
engine became very tall indeed.

The lever was inserted between the piston and connecting rod,
usually on a two-to-one ratio, Rainey recalls, and said: ‘The
positive argument stated that a one pound thrust on the piston
resulted in a two pound thrust on the crank. Although, of course,
the two-to-one idea never came true, there were some apparent
advantages; low piston angularity, very high torque at low

RPM’s and, for the time, good fuel economy.’

Rex Rainey and his fellow engineers soon discovered that the
four cylinder design was not one of the best for their lever
engine. Four cylinder engines of that day were rough in any form
and when the lever principle was added they became even rougher. So
the decision was made to try the design in a six.

The Rainey-Powell experimental shop at Oak Park, Illinois, a
suburb of Chicago, with Rex Rainey as part of the team, now made up
several six cylinder engines in two sizes, one of about 200 CID and
the other about 350. At least some of the sizes had the extremely
long stroke of eight inches.

For testing purposes, several of the large sixes were installed
in Studebaker Big Six chassis, the Studebaker being chosen because
it happened to be one car that had an unusually high rear axle gear
ratio to the long stroke, low speed nature of the original Big Six
engine. (This Studebaker engine, with 357 cubic inches of
displacement, was rated at 75 BHP at 2400 RPM. The bore was 3 7/8
and stroke 5 inches).

Rainey remembers the rear axle ratio of about 3.1 to 1. (The
highest ratio we can find listed as standard for the Stude-bakers
of this period was 3.71 to 1, but it is possible that higher ratios
were available as optional equipment). That Studebaker Big Six
engine had earned a reputation as a low speed ‘lugger,’
which was a highly desirable feature of any motor car engine of
that period. That ‘lugging’ feature was to be the
outstanding characteristic of the Lever engine.

Rainey also remembers that during the experimental period of the
six cylinder engines, a number of different combinations of ratios
were tried on the levers, bearings, and on the primary and
secondary connecting rods. Most of the drawings and illustrations
of the engines at this period show an approximate two-to-one ratio
on the lever action although later drawings, of the industrial
diesel engines developed later, showed the lever ratio to be
reduced.

One of the features of these earlier engines was the extremely
low RPM ratings at peak horsepower from 1,300 to 1,800but the most
unusual feature of all was the extremely flat torque curve. One
published torque graph on one of the later Lever engines showed
less than five percent difference in the torque rating between 500
and 2,000 RPM’s, with the torque output hovering between 240
and 260 pounds and virtually flat in the middle ranges on an engine
rated at 100 BHP. It was, for its time, an almost unbelievable
torque performance.

Although the Powell-Lever engine was originally intended as an
automobile power plant, that slow speed and constant torque rating
made it an ideal engine for steady, constant speed operation with
industrial applications. It was in the late 1920s that the Rainey
group established a small factory at Quapaw, Oklahoma, where some
twenty to thirty of the larger six cylinder engines were made and
placed in service pumping oil in the oil fields, a type of work for
which they were ideally suited.

‘These engines were in service for many years service was
reported good, as was economy,’ said Rainey.

Meantime, one of the next developments from the
Powell-Rainey-Lever group was to design a six cylinder lever type
engine for aircraft use and when completed it was taken to Wichita,
Kansas, and installed in a standard Travel air airplane.

The initial tests were successful. The plane flew well, Rainey
recalls, and he went along on test flights to check engineering
instruments. But the plane experiment came to an abrupt end one day
when the plane was in the air and one of the lever-connecting rod
complexes failed, nearly cutting the engine in two. Fortunately the
weather was clear and the plane was near the landing field, making
it possible to bring it in safely on a dead stick landing.

This was one of the few occasions when the lever actions failed,
but apparently it was enough to put an end to the aviation
experiments using the Powell-Lever engine. The aircraft failure may
well have been a freak for in automobile use, in trucks and on
industrial applications, the Powell-Lever engines ran on for years,
rolling up hundreds of thousands of miles without such
failures.

One of the next moves was to place several of the smaller six
cylinder engines in Elcar sedans and roadsters. This also was in
the late 1920s, just at the time when Elcar production at Elkhart,
Indiana, was fading out of the picture. But the company had a large
plant with excellent equipment and the Powell-Lever group made
arrangements to use a part of the plant for its new experimental
headquarters.

It was during this Elcar episode that the Powell-Lever engine
probably came nearest to reaching the market place when the Elcar
firm announced that customers in 1930 would have the option to buy
an ‘Elcar-Lever, Model 85,’ using a Lever engine with three
inch bore and eight inch stroke. Elcar actually exhibited the car
at the January, 1930, auto shows and may have delivered five or six
of the machines to customers. If so, none are known to survive.
Brochures showing this model were also issued by Elcar. But this
plan apparently was aborted by the shaky financial position of the
Elcar Company at that time and also because the economic depression
just beginning was placing an additional economic squeeze on the
almost defunct enterprise.

If the new Lever engine had actually been as revolutionary as
its inventors and backers had hoped, and sometimes thought it was,
it is likely that Elcar officials would have gone through with the
idea of promoting a line of Lever powered Elcars. As it was, the
Lever engines ran many miles successfully, and with a considerable
degree of reliability, but without the spectacular performance that
automotive manufacturers were beginning to expect and look for in
this period.

It must be remembered that it was in the mid-1920s, when Walter
Chrysler introduced the concept of the fast, high compression
engine to the automotive market and while, as we have already
pointed out, the Lever engines had some advantages, they just did
not fit into the picture of faster, more efficient, high
compression engines coming into the picture at this period of
history. Aside from the fact that the lever action made the engines
more costly and time consuming to build.

In addition, it must be pointed out that the Lever engine
reached its peak of development just about the time the great
economic depression struck the country in 1929-30. There is little
question but that this must have had some bearing on the failure of
the Rainey-Lever group to interest any reputable auto manufacturer
to gamble on an engine which lacked flashy performance and was more
costly to build.

In any case, for reasons even Rex Rainey is not sure about, the
Rainey-Lever group around 1932 moved its experimental operations
from the Elcar plant to Kissel Industries at Hartford, Wisconsin,
the surviving corporate entity of what had once been the thriving
Kissel Motor Car Company. It must also be remembered that it was in
the 1929-31 period when the Kissel motor car production also came
to an end. By 1932 the company had been re-organized and was
struggling with a variety of products such as outboard motors and
oil burners, but for all practical purposes, Kissel automobile
manufacturing had come to an end.

But the Kissel plant was still there, with much of the
production machinery still in place, plus remnants and parts of
cars, bodies, engines and components, including parts of another
promising development in motor cars, the front drive Ruxton. In its
dying days the Kissel firm had contracted to build some of the
Ruxtons which the New Era Motors, Inc., had been attempting to
place on the market as a futuristic front drive entry into the
motor car field.

It was here, at Kissel, that several of the Lever engines were
placed for testing purposes in several surviving Kissel chassis in
a project paid for by the Powell company. Obviously again it was
done with the hope that it might help revive interest for the
engine in the line of some sound, depression-proof company,
preferably a General Motors unit.

It was also here at Kissel, with parts or whole cars left from
the Ruxton project, that someone connected with the Lever engine
project conceived the idea of placing a Lever engine in the Ruxton
front drive chassis. This idea got as far as a brochure which was
printed and distributed, showing the Ruxton car with a few styling
changes and powered by the Lever engine in front wheel drive form,
but so far as is known no such car was ever actually built.

At this point it is probably time to back up a bit in our
history to point out that the highest peak of development on the
Powell-Lever engine was reached during the Elcar-Kissel period when
the Rainey group contracted with the Continental Motors
Corporation, America’s largest independent producer of motorcar
engines, to produce two or three Lever engines in eight cylinder
form. These eights turned out to be the most powerful and best
performing engines of the Powell-Lever design ever built and two of
them still survive today, although neither one of them is in
operating condition.

One of them, damaged in a fire but possibly in restorable
condition, belongs to one of our information sources who has done
considerable research in the histories of the Kissel, Ruxton and
Lever stories. It is one of his fond dreams to someday be able to
restore the engine and install it in an Elcar 120 chassis.

The reason for this is because it was in such an Elcar chassis
that one of the eight cylinder Lever engines was installed and
probably turned in its best performance for endurance,
dependability, and speed. This Elcar Model 120 was normally
equipped with an eight cylinder Lycoming engine.

The Lever engined Elcar, a convertible coupe, was turned over to
C. A. Shaffer, a long time employee of the Rainey-Lever group, in
1929 with instructions to take it out and drive it far, fast, and
hard. Shaffer did exactly that and estimates that he put at least
200,000 miles on the car before it was turned over to Philip Rinke,
another of the Rainey-Lever group, with instructions to wear it
out.

Rinke reported that the convertible body eventually wore out
before the engine did and was replaced by a roadster body and the
car rolled on and on. The engine never did wear out. The cylinder
head was removed when the engine had 325,000 miles on it, but this
was done because carbon had built up to the point where carbon was
blocking the intake ports. During all those miles, Shaffer and
Rinke reported, they replaced nothing on the engine except
distributor parts. For dependability and endurance, this is a
record hard to match anyway, particularly when one considers that
this was more than forty years ago.

Shaffer and Rinke, incidentally, are two of the few surviving
men still alive with extensive experience in driving and working on
the Lever engines. Your Free Wheeling editor drove to Newton,
Illinois, where Shaffer now lives in retirement and talked to him
about his long association with the Lever project.

Shaffer, born in central Ohio, served in World War I as a truck
driver and became associated with the Rainey-Lever group about 1924
through the fact that he had gone to school with Rex Rainey’s
brother, Froelich Rainey.

Shaffer, who worked mostly as a mechanic and assistant to Rex
Rainey, probably did more test driving with the Lever engined cars
than any other man.

Shaffer was without formal engineering training but has
acquired, through experience, a great deal of knowledge about
engines and engineering. Today, he realistically agrees that,
despite his long and loyal association with the Raineys and the
Lever engine project, that the Lever engine never was the
revolutionary machine its originator, the Rev. Powell, and the
elder Rainey believed it to be. But it did have unusual
characteristics, he pointed out.

‘You could throttle that engine down to as low as 40
RPM’s and it had power, even at that low speed. The engine was
best suited for steady speed driving. It did not have very good
acceleration, probably due to the very high gear ratios we had to
use, but once it got going it gave a very fast car,’ said
Shaffer in his interview.

He recalled one day when he took the eight cylinder car to a
stockholder’s meeting of the company and one of the
stockholders asked for a ride in the Lever engined car.

‘There was a young fellow standing there who saw us getting
ready to take off and he apparently thought he had a pretty hot car
and wanted to show us up. When we took off I just drove in a normal
fashion while this young fellow took off in a cloud of dust and
left us far behind. But after we got speed up on a long stretch of
road, we pulled up on him and passed him,’ said Shaffer.

Shaffer also remembers that one of the outstanding features of
the Lever engines, so far as working on them was concerned, was the
accessibility of the parts, including the levers and connecting
rods. The engine was designed with removable plates on the side of
the crankcase so that these mechanisms could be inspected, worked
on, adjusted or removed in a matter of minutes with no necessity of
crawling under the car and removing an oil pan.

One of the biggest problems in the early days, he said, was
connecting rod bearings a weakness that was later overcome. But
during the times when this was a problem it provided Shaffer with a
unique experience.

‘I was out on the road one day when one of the connecting
rod bearings burned out. I simply opened up the side plate, took
out that connecting rod and drove home at forty miles per hour on
five cylinders,’ he recalls.

Also, as a demonstration of the engine’s long distance
cruising qualities, at sustained speeds, Shaffer remembers that on
one trip from Wichita, Kansas, to Wheaton, Illinois, he averaged 57
miles per hour. This was around 1930 when such sustained speed over
the roads available then was no mean feat for the best cars
built.

As for top speed, with that eight cylinder roadster, he recalls
speeds of up to 96 miles per hour under ideal conditions. Again,
for 1930, this was performance only the best of motor cars made
then could match.

As for the sensation of driving a Lever powered car, Shaffer
remembers, ‘After you got under way it was sort of like
floating. Because of the low revolutions per minute of the engine,
you were not aware of your speed.’

At another point he said, ‘If you ever rode in an old
Stanley Steamer you would know the effect. You are not conscious of
the speed you are actually going.’

As for the published specifications of that eight cylinder
engine, they showed a three inch bore and six inch stroke on the
primary connecting rod, with 340 cubic inches of displacement and a
compression ratio of 5 to 1, with a horsepower rating of 110 BHP at
2,400 RPM’s. Since the drawings of this engine show the typical
two to one ratio on the lever action, this would again produce a
three inch stroke, with an inch and a half throw on the crankshaft.
It is interesting to note that with this eight the engineers were
able to step peak RPM’s up to 2,400, which was much faster than
the earlier models.

This was probably accomplished by better balancing, lighter
reciprocating parts, better breathing and carburetion. There is
some evidence that the Ethyl Corporation, developers of the leaded
gasoline additives for anti-knock purposes, was interested in the
development of the Lever engine. With that extremely long stroke it
would have been ideally suited to getting the most out of Ethyl
gasolines because the lead actually slows down the burning of the
gasoline-air mixture so the Ethyl fuel would provide a longer power
push on the long stroked pistons.

The new, higher RPM rating would have helped if it had come
earlier, but by the time the Lever engine had achieved 2,400
RPM’s other engines were long past the 3,000 mark and still
climbing.

In any case, because of the engine’s inherent drawbacks, the
depression, and the failure to find an automobile manufacturer
willing to install this engine in a machine for the market, the
Lever products did finally come to an end.

As Rex Rainey remembers it, ‘In general the research and
development died out through lack of acceptance by any established
concern and lack of the large finance required for this kind of
operation.’ Rainey and others connected with the project say,
yes, the idea of making their own car to exploit the engine was
considered but again, lack of financing and the depression made
this impractical.

Eventually hard headed and realistic engineering arguments were
able to convince even the elder Rainey that the engine, if
practical at all, was most suitable for industrial power use. But
even here no successful engine maker had shown enough interest to
make the project viable any longer.

It was around 1950 when the elder Rainey, after spending at
least two to three million dollars on the Lever engine project over
a 25 year period, most of it his own and that of his family, plus
some from other convinced investors, was forced by hard headed
realism to call a halt.

He called in Shaffer, one of the oldest and most faithful of the
employees, who had also spent some of his savings on the project,
and instructed Shaffer to move what was left of the machinery and
engines into storage at Newton, Illinois, where Shaffer now
lives.

‘I more or less inherited what was left of the Lever
project,’ Shaffer told us in his home.

Normally this should end the story of the Powell-Lever engine,
but another engineer who had been associated with the project in
its last years, C. C. Chronic, together with Shaffer, made one more
attempt to rescue the operation.

It was Chronic who made further modifications in the design,
converting the engine to diesel form, with a single overhead intake
valve and using a port at the bottom of the cylinder as an exhaust
valve. Patent applications and drawings on this latter engine show
the traditional two-to-one ratio on the lever reduced to something
less than that, with the pivot of the lever moved outward, away
from the end of the lever, thus reducing the advantage of the
lever.

In effect this would seem to be a move backwards from the
original concept of ‘one pound on the piston would equal two
pounds on the crankshaft.’ So, the obvious question is, why use
the lever at all? Especially when you consider that the lever
merely added to the expense of making the engine and created more
moving parts.

Even Rex Rainey, who hesitates to speak ill of the engine out of
deference to his late father’s long devotion to the cause, and
even his own years of labor on the project, will not say the engine
was a revolutionary concept.

The best he will say of it today is, ‘While the engine did
not have very good performance it ran well.’

Then, later, as an afterthought, he said, ‘As an engineer I
have never been sold on the internal combustion engine as the ideal
source of power anyway, and here we were taking the internal
combustion engine and making it even more complicated.’

In any case, Rex Rainey had withdrawn from the project long
before it ended.

So far as the connections with Elcar and Kissel were concerned,
says Rainey today, ‘By the time we were associated with those
firms they no longer had any financial power left and were in no
position to do much with the Lever engine even if they had been
persuaded that the engine was a good one.’

Even the final efforts of Shaffer and Chronic to improve the
engine through supercharging, Diesel application and more modern
design, after recognizing the engine was best suited to industrial
rather than automotive use, came to nothing.

Shaffer told us he finally sold the last remaining machinery,
then sold the last engines for scrap. One of these, a two cylinder
diesel power engine, one of the last made, still exists, as
property of Ralph Jenkins who operated a salvage yard at Newton,
but it stands outside, exposed to the elements of wind, water, and
snow. The only concession Jenkins will make to the historical value
of the machine is to say, ‘It’s not for sale.’

For a time it was believed that the Lever powered Elcar
convertible, or roadster, that was driven so many miles by Shaffer
and Rinke, had perished but through the efforts of Charles Kalista
and Ray Wolff, prominent in Wisconsin antique car affairs, the
machine was located and donated to the Harrah Collection at Reno,
Nevada, but its number has not yet come up for restoration. If it
is ever restored, it may give at least a few privileged drivers in
a new age of motors a chance to see what it is like to drive a
smooth, low-revving Lever powered car. Someone may even get a
chance to see whether this type engine is a ‘polluter?’
What a stroke of irony if engineers should now find that one of the
redeeming features of this old engine design was clean burning of
fuel.

The elder Rainey died in 1957, at the venerable age of 92, but
even after his death his widow, also now deceased, revealed quite
clearly how much she had also been affected by his long devotion to
the Powell-Lever cause. In truth, it would also have to be called
the ‘Rainey Cause.’

In 1964 she wrote that if she were younger and had the writing
talent she would have written a book about the long battle to make
the Lever dream come true.

‘I’d call it ‘The Promoter,’ for my husband was
a promoter with true integrity, as were those who worked with him.
We had the engine, but to put it on a commercial market was too
gigantic a task with such limited funds, and the competition with
large engine builders who had their own babies to sell was too
great. So, though we made a success of the engine, we failed to
commercialize it, therefore we are counted as a failure. Now I can
think more of the success than the failure, for I recall the many
exciting times of near success, even though followed by
discouragement.’

In looking back on the whole story now, realistically, one would
be forced to question whether the Lever group really ‘had the
engine,’ as Mrs. Rainey believed. It is more likely that Rexton
Rainey, with his engineering training, is nearer the mark when he
said the engine ‘ran well,’ but lacked the performance to
make it a contender in the highly competitive race.

The story of the Lever engine is a tragic one in the sense that
so many people had faith in it, so long, and spent so much of their
lives and fortunes upon it.

It is just possible that if the engine had reached the peak of
its development ten years earlier, at a time when the lugging, low
speed pulling type engine was popular and in demand, that some
manufacturer might have made a success of it. John North Willys did
it with the Knight sleeve valve engine which shared many of the
drawbacks of the Powell-Lever design.

Then, of course, the historian is forced to raise once more the
ghost of the great economic depression which struck just as the
Rainey group had reached the high point of their Lever engine
development. It is quite possible, even likely, that this economic
disaster played a part in keeping the Lever engine from being
placed in the market place where the customer could have judged it
on his own.

The Powell-Lever-Rainey engine we prefer to call it that will
have to go down in the books as one inventive effort which had
merit, enough to create a fervid faith on the part of good and
honest men, causing them to spend a fortune in time and energy. But
not enough merit to form a true success chapter in the
eighty-year-old history of the American motor car.

In preparation of this article, Cars & Parts wishes to thank
the following for their generous help with material, pictures, and
information: The Kissel Kar Club of America, C. A. Shaffer, Rexton
Rainey, Dr. Froelich Rainey, and Ralph Jenkins. We were also
assisted by references to previous material on the Lever engine
published by the Antique Automobile, publication of the Antique
Automobile Club of America, and also try several readers who have
long suggested the article.

Gas Engine Magazine
Gas Engine Magazine
Preserving the History of Internal Combustion Engines