Gas Engine Magazine

Gas Engine Bloopers

By Staff

I have discovered that there were several heretofore-unknown gas
engine and equipment manufacturers who, for want of a proper name,
were unsuccessful in a highly competitive industry.

The following accounts of these individuals and companies have
been slightly embellished for hysterical accuracy.

In previous articles to GEM, I have mentioned two gas engines
that faded into oblivion–The Snort & Wheezer Engine and the
Shivers & Knox Engine. Often just the negative connotation that
the name might give was enough to cause the manufacturer to fold. A
case in point is a light plant developed by an optimistic
entrepreneur named Harley Neff. After perfecting his home lighting
plant he made one tiny error by adding his middle initial, and as a
result the Harley E. Neff Light Plant was never a commercial
success. Too late he recognized his error and renamed it after his
two daughters as the Dawn-Saralee Light Plant but by now prospects
for recovery were dim, and Harley decided to pull the plug on
further production.

A good idea but a poorly chosen name was also the downfall of a
Mr. Smedley Hoover. He lived in Lake Lactose, Wisconsin, deep in
the heart of dairy country. Impressed by the design of the Taylor
Vacuum Engine, he decided to develop a gas engine specifically for
milk production, and it was an excellent machine but for the fact
that he named it the Hoover Vacuum Engine. It was not on the market
very long when rumors started to circulate that cows were suddenly
and mysteriously disappearing in conjunction with his equipment. It
can be accurately stated that udder hysteria soon brought
production to a standstill. Mr. Hoover was completely baffled by
this turn of events, not knowing what to do. Then the solution hit
him like a bolt out of the blue. . . ‘Eureka! I’ll change
the name!’ And so he did. (You already guessed, didn’t
you?) You can still find an occasional Hoover, aka Eureka, vacuum
engine; in fact some are still in use–but not for milking, but
rather for cleanup around the barn.

It is said that imitation is the purest form of flattery, but in
the case of Roscoe Stickly, it was more an opportunity for
thievery. Roscoe wanted to make a quick killing in the gas engine
business. At that time, the Stickney engine was very popular
because of its excellent design and superior construction, so he
decided to design a cheaply-built copy and capitalize on the
Stickney name. He recognized that the two closely spelled names,
STICKNEY and his own, STICKLY, would undoubtedly fool the buyer, so
he decided to have his name cast into the flywheels and on the
engine block. Because he did not have the startup capital to build
a manufacturing plant, he placed an order for the first hundred or
so castings to be produced at a local foundry. They were soon
delivered to his small shop where he quickly and haphazardly
assembled them. He was just putting the final coat of paint on the
last engine when he noticed it. The foundry had forgotten the
‘T’ in his name and he now had 100 ‘SICKLY’ engines
to unload, and, believe me, potential buyers did notice.

Due to a design flaw, ‘The Freewheeling Engine’ lived up
to its name in a totally unexpected way!

The same holds true for a Mr. Nathan Goode, who lived not too
far from Free-port, Illinois. It did not go beyond his notice that
the Stover manufacturing plant was selling gas engines as quickly
as they could make them, each one bearing the logo
‘Stover’s Good Engine.’ Recognizing the similarity to
his last name, he decided to build a cheap knockoff. To his
misfortune, he decided to use his nickname. The ‘Nat Goode’
engine quickly lived up to its name. He decided to turn the
business over to his son, Noah. . . and. . . well, you can see
where we’re going here.

Some individuals understood that they had the wrong last name
for a product. Such was the case of Buford Ulysses Mudd. He lived
in the little village of Fig, Iowa, which was located near the
Maytag Factory. He had noticed how successful that little
gas-powered washer was, and decided that he wanted a piece of the
action. After a little research and development he had produced a
very satisfactory gas powered washer. Knowing full well that he
could not use his last name (Mudd) in connection with a washing
machine, he decided to use his initials instead. And so the B-U-M
washer went into full production. Soon the public reverted to
calling it the ‘Bum’ Washer. This greatly agitated Mr.
Mudd, but he decided there was no use wringing his hands over it
and decided to go with the flow, as it were. Sadly, the whole
project became one big soap opera as Buford watched sales go down
the drain. He tried catchy sales pitches such as: ‘Ladies, let
the Bum do the laundry for you’ and (my favorite) ‘Give
that Bum one or two firm kicks and you’ll make your washday
blues disappear!’ What was intended to make housework easier
seemed to be causing marital stress! It was no use, Mr. Mudd and
his venture were. . .Well. . . I wouldn’t say washed up,
because that would be too obvious, but financially, he was
certainly hung out to dry.

Did you know that there was one woman, Ima Klunker, who briefly
went into the gas engine business? No, you probably did not.

Poor choice of a name was not limited to gas engines. There were
a few cultivators and tractors manufactured that had good
performance but a bad choice of names. One man from Feeble Creek,
Michigan, had developed the world’s first and only six-wheel
drive garden cultivator. On the day that he was performing its
first field test there was a rather large crowd that had gathered
to watch. No minimum tillage here! With six-wheel drive, this
contraption could plow its way to China and back. One of the
onlookers was heard to exclaim, ‘Wow! That thing sure can slug
its way through that hard-pan!’ The inventor thought that this
was a good description and decided to name it. . .The Garden Slug.
Bad choice. Very bad choice. Prospective buyers thought that it
would be a very slow machine. A huge ad campaign was tried in an
attempt to improve their image. (‘Nothing runs like a
Slug.’) It didn’t help, and production soon slowed to a
snail’s pace.

There were some folks who were destined to failure because they
didn’t use common sense. Wally Schmedlap is a prime example. He
lived just down the block from the Schmidt ‘Chilled
Cylinder’ Engine Works. In what should have been a classic case
of one-upmanship, Wally decided to make an improved version and
capture the local market. He cast and machined about fifty engine
blocks. Now comes the strange part; he filled them with water and
then hauled them off to the local icehouse for storage. It seems
that Wally did not completely grasp the concept; he thought that if
a Chilled Cylinder was good, then a Frozen Cylinder had to be
better. There is only one example of a Shmedlap’s Frozen
Cylinder engine in existence. It’s in pieces.

Sometimes both the name and the idea were excellent choices
except for an unforeseen twist of fate. This was true for Curly
Furrows, of Sakapatayta, Idaho, the inventor of the Gee-Haw
Tractor. Early developers of the farm tractor had found that many
farmers were comfortable doing things the old way, so to ease the
transition from mule to machine, a few of the manufacturers used
reins to guide and steer their machines instead of levers or
steering wheels. Curly thought that an even better way would be for
the tractor to make the decisions when to speed up, slow down, and
turn the wheel left or right. He reasoned that since field work was
often long and tedious, this would help the farmer concentrate on
the job at hand. Let’s face it, that’s why all the modern
equipment has a monster stereo system in the cab. Well, to get back
to my story, Curly designed a tractor in which the farmer was put
into a harness. The tractor would give a tug on either rein to make
a change in direction and the farmer, receiving this signal would
turn the steering wheel as directed. To stop or slow the vehicle,
both reins would pull back and the farmer would react accordingly.
To start forward or speed up, it would simply ‘apply the
leather’ on the farmer’s shoulders and back as necessary.
Now here is where that unforeseen twist of fate comes into play.
The first year of production of the Gee-Haw tractor was also the
wettest spring on record. The machine’s shortcomings were soon
apparent. Farmers were being whipped to death by their tractors.
While attending a farm show a few years back, I observed a Gee-Haw
competing in a tractor pull. It was brutal.

Remember that despite their inherent weaknesses, these are very
collectable tractors and gas engines. Mind you, they are very hard
to find. Indeed, a few of them were so poorly conceived that they
never reached the prototype stage. These are especially sought
after by collectors. In conclusion, there are many more strange
engines and tractors, they just haven’t popped into my head

Okay, here comes the commercial. Look for these unique engines
and tractors (not that you’ll find them) at the Batsto Country
Living Fair, Batsto, New Jersey, on Sunday, October 21, 2001. Want
to know more? Write to: Bob Miller, Bob’s Hardware, 550 Rte.
530, Whiting, New Jersey 08759. Or call: (732)-350-5300. Or e-mail

  • Published on Sep 1, 2001
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