What is an Oil Field Engine?

Crude and heavy and designed for limited maintenance, oil field engines filled an important need in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

| June/July 2019

The Coolspring Power Museum’s Either combination engine, designed to operate on either gas or steam.

Just what IS an oil field engine? The simplest answer is, any engine used in the oil fields. Makes sense, of course, and when we talk about oil field engines, I think a certain picture comes to mind; something a bit crude and rugged, and of course covered with oil. In this article, I would like to take you on a photo journey of my thoughts on the subject.

Photo 1: The Coolspring Museum’s Ball engine was produced by the Butler Engine and Foundry Co., Butler, Penn

Before we start, I would like to narrow our focus to gas engines. So how do we usually classify them? “Oil field” is certainly one class. Then there are industrial engines, farm engines, electric generating engines, machine shop engines and many other types.

How does the oil field engine differ?

Defining the oil field engine

As I’ve suggested, the oil field engine is usually somewhat crude and heavy, and was usually manufactured for severe duty and limited maintenance. Made to quickly fill the need of the great oil boom of the late 1800s and early 1900s, they were mostly of a very simple design. Note the Ball engine seen in Photo 1. This engine was produced by the Butler Engine and Foundry Co. of Butler, Pennsylvania, and is of the 2-stroke design.


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