Jeff Werner's 1 hp Gilson Type E engine and the Gilson Manufacturing Co.
Manufacturer: Gilson Mfg Co., Port Washington, WI
Year: NA (circa 1910)
Serial no.: 2814
Horsepower: 1 hp
Bore & stroke: 3-3/4 in x 4 in
Flywheel dia.: 30in
Flywheel width: 15-1/4in x 2in
Ignition: Buzz coil and spark plug
Jeff Werner probably isn’t alone in his thoughts about engine collecting: “I like working on them probably more than collecting them,” the 42-year-old Long Prairie, Minnesota, man says. But that doesn’t prevent him from collecting, as his group of 70-some gas engines and scale models attests.
Jeff got started in gas engines through his dad, Ron, who was an avid old car collector. “We’d go to threshing shows, and I’d always want to buy an engine,” Jeff says. Eventually, he went to an auction and bought his first engine, a 1925 1-1/2 hp Hercules. “It was one of those big auctions with all the big buyers, and for some reason that Hercules stood out for me. It was one that I could afford, I guess. That first engine started him on the path he’s on today. “One leads to another, and leads to 70 or so,” he says with a laugh.
The first engines he really started collecting were air-cooled Associated models. “I have quite a few of them. There are nowhere near as many as the hopper-cooled.” One of Jeff’s rarer engines is a 1 hp air-cooled Gilson Type E that he bought at an auction in southern Minnesota. Jeff’s not sure what year it is, as the serial number – 2814 – doesn’t help determine when it was built.
Though complete when he bought it, Jeff did some serious work on the engine, including replacing the gas tank, which was rusted through and not usable. “I used a piece of stove pipe to make that tank, and it works pretty good,” he says. He also made the wood battery box and the base on which the Gilson rests. “I suspect it might have had ‘Goes Like Sixty’ stenciled on the original battery box, because that was their slogan.”
He also made the unusual pipe exhaust for the hit-and-miss engine, using pictures from old ads as a guide. “The original exhaust was made of cast iron, but I made mine out of pieces of steel welded together,” Jeff says. Other than that work, the engine was pretty complete. “I had to make a few bolts, new pins, bushings and new valves for it, but it was a pretty good engine when I bought it. Nothing too major, just tightening everything up again.”
Although he doesn’t know anything about its past life, Jeff’s best guess is that it was used to pump water or perhaps to turn a butter churn. “I like it because there aren’t a lot of them around. It’s kind of odd, and I like air-cooled engines, and this is one of my favorites.”
Five years ago, Jeff was at the Albany, Minnesota, Pioneer Days when an older man walked by his display of gas engines. He stopped and said, “You know, I’ve got one of those engines out behind my barn. I should give it to somebody.” Jeff thinks he stopped because there weren’t many engine people at the show, “Or maybe it was because of my age, being one of younger people there,” Jeff says. “I talked to him for quite a while, and said, ‘I’m your guy.’”
Later, Jeff drove to the man’s farm to look at the engine, which turned out to be a circa-1925 2-1/4 hp Galloway, complete with its starting crank and on its factory cart. He even had the factory manual. “He told me he was with his father when his dad bought the engine. Rural electrification was coming, but then World War II started and the electric lines stopped about a mile from their place. They used the engine three or four years, but as soon as they got electricity they tossed it behind the barn and covered it with a wheelbarrow. There it stayed until 2010. The guy who gave me the engine was in his 70s. He was just trying to get rid of stuff, and instead of scrapping the engine, he thought he would get it to someone who could appreciate it.”
A carpenter by trade, Jeff’s learned engine skills on his own. “I bought a metal lathe and a Bridgeport mill and welder. It’s nothing too fancy, but it works for what I use it for. I learn a little bit here and there, and talk to people at shows, and learn how to do things. And now with the internet, you can learn how to do anything. You just have to want to figure it out, and put the time into it.”
“It’s a kind of disease, as everybody says. Once you get one, then there’s this constant hunt for pieces and other things. It turns into a never-ending thing,” Jeff says. And while he enjoys the challenge of fixing engines, he’s also interested in their historical value. “Most people don’t know what they are, and a lot of people don’t care anymore. I like to show how people lived. Most people don’t know where corn comes from and what the old guys did to get it. So the engines can show a pretty good history, and the work people used to do to survive. Everything is so easy now compared to what it was.”
Like many gasoline engine companies, Gilson Manufacturing Co., Port Washington, Wisconsin, had been in business long before the gas engine had been invented, manufacturing agricultural tools and equipment. In 1850, Theodore Gilson started a foundry in Port Washington manufacturing plows, threshers and other implements.
Theodore Gilson’s son, John, entered the business in 1893, and “his creative design talents were quickly put to work,” says Oscar H. Will in Garden Tractors: Deere, Cub Cadet, Wheel Horse, and All the Rest, 1930s to Current. “In 1893 John invented a novel metal bracket that allowed office chairs to swivel and their backs to tilt.” From that they formed the Gilson Office Chair Co.
Gilson models were manufactured in Styles A through G, and Styles P through Z. Some other models took on some of the letters of their name, as JOSJ for “Johnny on the Spot,” and “JS” for the same named engine. They also made “Heavy Duty,” “Marine,” “Pony,” “Jack Canuck,” “Wizard” and “Lumber Jack” engines, among others.
Though references often say the first Gilson engines were developed in 1905, the Gilson catalog for that year contains testimonials showing that Gilson engines were in use at least by 1904. The catalog shows Style A and B vertical engines, with the 2-1/2 hp B selling for $125 and the 4 hp B for $165. “The Style B engine … is particularly adapted for indoor work, such as in creameries, laundries, printing offices, etc., where a minimum of noise is appreciated,” the catalog says. Style C engines were horizontal, and in 1905 sold for $275 for a 6 hp stationary and $330 for an 8 hp. For a portable, add $55 and $70, respectively.
The June 14, 1906, issue of The Iron Age noted that Gilson Mfg. Co., was “manufacturing, in addition to larger capacities, a line of gasoline engines in 1, 1 1/2 and 2 1/2 horse-power sizes. The smallest size is air cooled, has a 15 1/2-inch fly wheel and 2-inch pulley and develops 1 horse-power at 500 revolutions per minute. In the construction of this engine the manufacturer has aimed to secure compactness, simplicity and accessibility of all parts, making it particularly well adapted for use in portable outfits. All danger of gasoline leakage is eliminated and a uniformity of gas mixture obtained by a well regulated suction feed arrangement. By an ingenious arrangement the intake valve is held automatically closed during the time the exhaust valve is open, thus making it possible to use any length of exhaust pipe without affecting the power of the engine. This is a desirable feature where engines are placed in houses or any place where a minimum of noise is desired. The engines are so balanced that when running without a load they can be operated without fastening skids to the floor. The ignition is by jump spark supplied by a dry battery and spark coil.”
Gilson adopted its well-known “Goes Like Sixty” slogan early on. A phrase with roots in the mid-1800s, “Goes Like Sixty” originally had nothing to do with speed, per se, suggesting great force or vigor. Ads for the 1906 1-1/2 hp air-cooled model included the slogan “Goes like Sixty, Sells like Sixty, Sells for Sixty,” with some ads also noting “Has Sixty Changes of Speed.”
That latter point was highlighted in the July 31, 1916, issue of Farm Implements and its review of Gilson Catalog No. 25. “One of the original features of the catalog is the table of speed changes for 60-speed engines. From this table the operator can find the correct arrangement of pulleys for any work. This is a scheme entirely new and capable of infinite variation. By the use of this table and its adaptation to different conditions, the engine operator can regulate the speed of his machine exactly, or so nearly as to bring it within all practical requirements. By the use of this table and possible modifications, the speed of the engine can be so adjusted as to give the operator a practically unlimited number of speed variation,” the article said.
Gilson also had a plant in Guelph, Ontario, Canada, that made, for the most part, identical engines. Starting in 1917, some Guelph Gilsons were a different color, painted green with gold and black trim instead of red or blue. Engines made in Canada were tagged as Gilson, Gilson-Guelph, PT or Le Mulet. Guelph Gilsons had five digit serial numbers, Port Washington engines four. Port Washington Gilsons were made through 1916, while Guelph production continued through the late 1920s.
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