Get Back Jack!

A Nelson Bros. KracKerJack restoration


| June 2007



06-07-009-KracKerJack-3A.jpg

Clive Heritage’s KracKerJack engine, sold by Smyth-Despard Co., Utica, N.Y.

Over the past two years, I've traveled to many vintage engine events in hope of finding an interesting, early horizontal, open-crank engine to restore. Twice a year, we have a local swap meet held at a disused World War II airfield near a small village called Enstone, in Oxfordshire, England.

Back in November 2005, myself and three other friends, Pete Downer, Nigel Garlick and Eddie Earls, drove about 14 miles from my hometown of Banbury, in Oxfordshire, and arrived at the Enstone venue nice and early to get any bargains. It was 7 a.m. and 39 degrees, but despite the bitter cold quite a few stallholders had started to turn up. Among the first sellers to arrive was a guy who had travelled from Norfolk, which is on the east coast of England (this is where United States Air Force Mildenhall and USAF Lakenheath are based). He was selling an engine that was described as a 1925, 3 HP Smyth-Despard KracKerJack.

This engine seemed to be just what I was looking for, so I checked it over and the owner started it for me. The only history he knew about the engine was that it came from an area of England called the Midlands (central England) about 10 years prior. We talked about the engine for a while, haggled over the price, and before long I shook his hand and the deal was done. I only had a rough idea of this engine's value but I realized I had a bargain, so I asked him if I could collect it later when I'd checked out the other stalls, and he agreed.

After about an hour, one or two people came to me and congratulated me on my purchase, saying it was the "best engine bargain of the sale" and "well done you lucky person," or words to that effect. I was quite taken aback by the response, so was it possible I had found something a bit special? Maybe the manufacturers didn't make that many of these engines or maybe they were only exported to England in limited numbers. I thought a bit of research was called for.

We loaded Nigel's Land Rover and trailer with our various engine purchases and headed back to Banbury. Once back at home, we unloaded my engine and had a good look around to see if we could find any maker's plate or name on the engine, but there was nothing. I looked through my copy of American Gasoline Engines Since 1872 by C.H. Wendel, and found my engine on page 473. It stated that it probably came from the Nelson Bros. stable and was sold through the Smyth-Despard Co. in Utica, N.Y., around 1925.

I've restored several vintage stationary engines in the past, so I decided I was going to return this one to its former glory. I thought the Internet might help me find some answers, so I took some engine photos and sent a cry for help to Gas Engine Magazine and the British equivalent Stationary Engine, plus a few others I thought might be able to help. I soon discovered that various people, who are well respected among the vintage stationary engine scene, had never even heard of this engine. The nearest comparison I could find on the Internet was a number of McLeod engines, one of which was a 3-1/2 HP, which bore quite a striking resemblance to my engine. (www.clanmacleodusa.org/ StanRankinHobbies.htm)