A former elevator-leg runner stays with friends

| August 2007

When the offer came for Paul Johnson, Brookings, S.D., to buy a rare Foos Type S 15 HP gas engine, he wasn't quite ready. "Jim Johannsen's wife was at a point in her life where she wanted to move to an apartment, and was selling her house so she didn't have room to keep everything." Paul says. "Plus, nobody in the family was a real gas engine person, so they came to me and said they were ready to sell the Foos." More than that, they said they wanted Paul to buy the engine.

Friendship history

Paul, 49, grew up on a farm and saw the Foos engine as a teenager at the South Dakota State Fair in Huron, where he became friends with Jim. "Jim and his friend Dick Geyer from DeSmet, S.D., used to display engines at the fair every year, and when I was in 4-H, the display area was close enough to the engines that I would go over and visit these gentlemen." Paul says. "Even though I was just a kid, they were interested in me and talked to me, and in fact let me come behind and start the engines and stuff like that. That's where I really became interested in the gas engines. Near as I can remember, the first time would have been 1974 (Paul was 16). At the time, I didn't realize what rare engines I was around. Dick had the only 20 HP Stickney known and the only one running, and the large 15 HP Foos was rare, too. Though I've been interested in this business for over 20 years now, you just don't run across that many Foos engines. I don't know if you go to Ohio if they're more common or not. I sure haven't seen a lot of them."

Though Paul liked the Foos, his first gas engine was a 1911 10 HP Stickney. "I had helped Dick with his 20-horse at the state fair, and really thought Stickneys were neat engines," he says. He ran across one for sale in Gas Engine Magazine in 1989, and drove to Austin, Texas, to get it. "It was all in pieces, but 95 percent of the parts were there, and none of the major parts were broken," Paul says. However, many parts were in bad shape. "Anything on the engine that wasn't steel or hardened cast was pitted away," he says. "When I hauled it home, the spokes in the wheels were in such bad shape that I had to turn the wheels because I was afraid they would literally collapse. The axles were plated steel and just about rusted through." All of these kept Paul from getting the machine up and running until last year. "I found a set of truck wheels from a Stickney and that's when I really went to work and redid it," he says.

Since then, Paul has added other engines to his collection, including 3 and 10 HP Stickneys, 1-1/2 and 3 HP John Deeres, a 1-1/4 HP Handy Andy Galloway, 4 HP Root & VanDervoort, as well as a 4 HP Foos Jr., a couple of Waterloo Boys and a Chore Boy. "You can have just as much fun playing with a plain gas engine as with a fairly valuable one," he says.

Paul says he has always been interested in old stuff, and it means more when some of that old stuff belonged to friends, so after both Jim and Dick died, he told Jim's family if they were ever interested in selling the Foos, he would sure like a shot at it. "I'd always liked that engine because of its massiveness and that with its throttling governor it ran quietly without a muffler. It had always intrigued me, so I was excited about getting the engine and the opportunity to have it," he says.

When the opportunity came last summer, though Paul hadn't been thinking of buying any new engines, he was pleased and humbled that they would offer this rare engine to him. "Actually, I had been the last person to run the Foos after Jim died. The family brought the engine to the Huron Area Antique Power Show one year and asked if I would run it, so Jim's son-in-law and I ran it."


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