Up to Chance: Surprising Gas Engine Discoveries

Collector and friend flip coins to decide who gets their gas engine finds.

| June/July 2014

If it wasn’t for everything else that Lee Anderson does for the gas engine community, he could easily be remembered as the guy who flipped coins with his buddy to determine who would own engines they both wanted.

Lee, of Frazee, Minn., started collecting gas engines when he was 13 years old, spurring an interest in mechanical things. In 1957, a neighbor gave him a 1926 Briggs & Stratton Model FH that had been hooked up to a DeLaval milk machine pump. “It didn’t run, so I asked my dad what was wrong with it,” Lee says. “He said the engine got hot and the rings got stuck. I said, ‘What are the rings?’ He said they were there on the piston. I said, ‘What’s a piston?’ He said, ‘When you take it apart, you’ll figure it out.’”

So Lee took it apart and got the engine running. He’s been interested in engines ever since.

United the first

As time passed into the 1970s, Lee didn’t have a lot of money to spend on engines. At his rental farm he found an old engine in the woods and paid the farm owner $10 for it. That engine turned out to be one of Lee’s best buys: a 1915 2-1/2 HP United water-cooled hit-and-miss engine, complete except for the ignition. “I fixed that one up and kept it in memory of the old fellow, who was like a grandpa to my kids,” he says.

Lee bought junk engines no one else wanted, the ones with many missing parts that looked like they’d never run again. “That way I developed my engine-fixing skills,” he explains. “Part of my livelihood is building engine parts for others, which keeps me busy all winter, which means I don’t get all of my own stuff done.”

Leaving it to luck

Even the name of Lee’s second engine hints at the friendship between Lee and a longtime engine buddy: United. The men decided that they didn’t want to bid against each other, so if they both saw an engine they liked one would buy it, then they’d flip a coin to see who would own it.