Grandpa Foos’s Engine

By Staff
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W5ll0 E. Elmwood Rd., Menominee, Michigan 49858

My husband’s first encounters with gas engines and farm
machinery came during the time he spent with his grandfather as a
young boy. Grandpa Foos, whose real name was John Joseph Foos, was
called Jim. He worked as a catskinner building roads for the
county. He started Rick out on heavy equipment as young as one year
old. We have photographs of Grandpa holding Rick on his knee while
operating a large ‘Cat.’ Rick spent nearly every weekend at
his grandparents house in West Chicago, Illinois. He and Grandpa
would work in the garden, go hunting, visit farmers, and
occasionally go to threshing meets.

On Sundays, when Grandma and the other visiting grandchildren
were getting ready for church, Grandpa and Rick would stay busy and
out of the way, trying not to be noticed. Often Grandma would say
to Rick, ‘I think you should come to church with us.’
Rick’s eyes would widen in innocence, (Who me ?), but before he
could protest, Grandpa would say, ‘No, he’s going to stay
here with me.’ Grandpa was rewarded with a smile from Rick, as
Grandma sighed, and took the other children to church.

It was only then, after Grandma had left for church, that
Grandpa would roll his gas engine out of the garage, crank it over,
and let it run. It was loud, and had a strong smelling oil that
spattered everywhere as it ran, but they didn’t seem to notice.
Grandma always did when she got home, though.

Rick must have meant a lot to his grandfather, because when he
asked if he could have the metal wheeled wagon that held the
engine. Grandpa took the heavy engine off the truck, and gave the
truck to Rick, making him promise to always keep it, not to give it
away. Grandpa never ran his engine after that. It sat on the floor
of his garage. Grandpa Foos died in 1962, when Rick was 13. The
engine was promised to Rick’s uncle.

Rick always remembered his grandpa’s engine, and had told me
about it from time to time, but I had no idea what he was talking
about until last summer. Rick and I were on a bike ride up the
road, when we stopped at a garage sale. The man there, Ted
Buyarski, (see GEM Jan. 1992), proudly showed us his collection of
‘hit and miss’ engines. He even started a couple of them up
for us. When Ted asked our names, he said, ‘Oh, Foos, like the
gas engine! I saw that on your mailbox, and wondered if you were
related to the manufacturer of the Foos gas engines.’ Rick and
I looked at each other in disbelief.

Ted went in and got his copy of American Gasoline Engines by C.
H. Wendel, which he called his bible. He showed us the five or six
pages devoted to the Foos Gas Engine Company, of Springfield, Ohio.
Rick pointed out an engine that looked like the one his Grandpa
had. It was a Foos, Jr.

Ted wouldn’t loan his bible out to anyone, but he agreed to
photocopy the pages for us. This got us to thinking that perhaps
Rick’s grandpa knew something about the Foos engines that he
didn’t tell us. We researched both Rick’s family, and the
Foos family from Ohio. Even though Rick’s grandfather had the
same name as the owner of the Foos Gas Engine Company, John Foos,
if there was a connection between the two families, it must have
been before they immigrated to America. We learned many interesting
things during the research, though.

I thought the Foos engine was probably just an amateurish
attempt at an obsolete and obscure product. I was wrong! As Rick
and I read over the pages, we saw that an advertisement had stated
by 1907, the Foos Gas Engine Company was, ‘The largest plant in
America devoted exclusively to the building of gas engines.’ We
learned that the Foos engines were considered to be the Cadillac of
the line. C. H. Wendel said, ‘Without a doubt, the Foos engines
represented some of the highest quality design of any engine
built.’ The engines sold for top dollar when they were new, and
have gone up in value since, still bringing top dollar over almost
any other manufacturer.

Naturally, by this time, we wanted a Foos engine of our own. Ted
let us borrow some of his old issues of GEM, and even though they
were several years old, we received a response from almost everyone
we wrote to.

Rick bought a 2 ? HP Foos Type J in September. It was missing
the control arm, an oiler and had a small crack in the block. It
was an early model, probably pre-1990. Rick designed and made the
missing arm the first day he had the engine home. It was quite an
important piece-it controlled the governor, the spark and valve. As
in all his fine quality work, he did a professional job. He was
able to match the fine quality work of the Foos Gas Engine
Company.

Our 15-year old son Jeremiah got the honor of being the first to
try to start the engine. It started the first time Jeremiah cranked
it around.

Rick took the whole engine apart to clean, sandblast and paint
it. He was amazed at the high quality of workmanship that was put
into the casting. When he finished painting the Foos engine, he
started on the truck. Under the Foos engine is Grandpa’s truck.
Rick had kept it for over 30 years. Grandpa’s truck finally has
a Foos engine sitting on it again.

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