Up to Chance: Surprising Gas Engine Discoveries

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

| June/July 2014

  • It took 25 years for Lee Anderson to get all the parts to get this 1912 1-1/2 HP Bluffton engine fixed and running.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • The tag on Lee’s 1915 1-3/4 HP United engine.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • Lee originally purchased this 1915 United 1-3/4 HP engine for $29.50, but lost it in a coin toss. Years later, Lee paid $300 to get the engine back.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • Lee with his 1912 air-cooled Bluffton engine.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • The Bluffton engine is a simple one with an open crankcase, which Lee likes.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • This side view of Lee’s Bluffton shows parts that Lee made himself: the cam gear, governor weights, igniter and igniter trip, among others.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • The Bluffton’s flywheel with governor assembly, the weights held together by springs. Centripetal force pushes them apart, and a silver pushrod locks them when the machine gets up to speed.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • A side views of Lee’s 1914 1-1/2 HP Rawleigh-Schryer engine.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • The igniter on Lee’s Rawleigh-Schryer engine was missing for 30 years before Lee sourced parts and got the engine going.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • Lee handbuilds scale-models. Shown here, left to right: an open-crankcase 1/3-scale Associated water-cooled engine, an 8-cycle 3/8-scale Aermotor, a 1/4-scale Gade.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • This 1926 Briggs & Stratton FH was Lee’s first engine. He recently got it running again.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • The front of the National Engineering engine showing the glass bowl carburetor, rocker arm and fuel lines, one pumps gasoline up to it and one drains back to the tank. The nut on the top can be adjusted to change the speed of gasoline dripping into the carburetor. The round hole allows the operator to see how fast the gasoline is dripping.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • Lee had to rebuild multiple brass parts on his 1903 2 HP National Engineering engine, including the igniter below, the trip finger and glass carburetor on the top left (looking like a drip lever), and the pendulum governor hanging down in the middle.
    Photo by Bill Vossler

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.



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