Harry Harris and the Harris Engine

By Staff
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Harry Harris' Harris engine.
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The flywheel side or front view of the Harris engine.

When Warren Harris was looking for another interesting engine project and found a Harris engine, well, he had to go for it. And why not – a man named Harris restoring a Harris engine – it had to happen!

Warren is known as Harry to all his mates, and he runs his own engineering business at Ballarat, a regional town in the state of Victoria in southern Australia. Harry found the engine at Dalby in Queensland, about 800 miles north from him. It had been part of a container load of engines a guy had bought in the U.S., but the guy had done nothing with it.

Harry got it back to Ballarat and gave it a full strip down and nut and bolt restoration. It had done a lot of work and was worn enough that it would not run.

The original KW magneto was missing, but some serious searching uncovered the correct one, again in the U.S.

Sometimes you can get very lucky. At a rally, a man asked about the Harris engine, thinking it was a Massey-Harris. “No,” Harry said, “just Harris, from California.” Two weeks later they talked by phone, and the man said “Well, I have a complete manual on that engine. It can be yours if you want.” So Harry most likely has not only the only Harris engine in Australia, but the only manual in the country for it, as well.

Since restoration, Harry has had the Harris engine on display at his shed at Lake Goldsmith, has shown it at the national rally at Mudgee (in the state of New South Wales) and at the recent national rally in the state of Tasmania. He has also displayed it at other smaller rallies in his home state of Victoria.

Up to the turn of the century, combine harvesters were driven by the ground wheels. A team of up to 30 horses might be needed to pull and power a large harvester through a heavy crop or on sloping hillsides. At this time, California was a major wheat growing state in the U.S. The Harris Mfg. Co., Stockton, California, made engines for harvesting machines. The engine ran the machine, but horses or a tractor still towed the harvester through the crops.

Although founder George H. Harris (1871-1934) was working in a company owned by Benjamin Holt, he set up the Harris Mfg. Co. and started producing harvesters in 1904. By 1918, he had developed his own engine, although it has been said that his engines were very similar to the Holt outfits and that Holt was the manufacturer. There is no evidence today to prove it one way or the other.

Benjamin Holt was best known for his development of crawler tractors (used to haul the Harris Harvester), and went on to be one of the founders of the world famous Caterpillar Tractor Co.

Harris engines came in two sizes, 40-45 hp and 50-55 hp. Harry’s engine is the 50-55 hp model, a 4-cylinder, 1,128-cubic-inch gasoline engine with a bore and stroke of 6-1/2 x 8-1/2 inches. Harris engines were very advanced for their day, with pressure lubrication, valve-in-head and many other features to give them good reliability.

Harry’s engine is beautifully restored and has a magnificent roar when powered up. It’s a real crowd puller. Warren “Harry” Harris has a unique piece of U.S. agricultural and mechanical history. It is a wonderful engine to see, even better to hear and, as far as is known, is the only one in Australia.

Lake Goldsmith

Ballarat is a small city of roughly 100,000 people 80 miles or so northwest of the Victorian state capital Melbourne, and some 30 miles west of Ballarat is Lake Goldsmith. On 38 acres of ground there the Lake Goldsmith Steam Preservation Society has set up a place where collectors and their families can build their own sheds, store and work on their vintage iron and stay over for extended times. The Society runs two rallies each year, early May and early November, and shed owners are expected to be on-site and show their exhibits at these times.

The Society also has built huge display sheds with operating engines, both steam and internal combustion, financed and restored by members. There’s also an earthmoving area, complete with an operating dragline shovel, plus a parade ground where a grand parade is put on each day during rally weekends.

It is here that Warren “Harry” Harris and many of his mates have their display sheds, and where the Harris engine can be found when it’s not touring around the country.

And for an engine lover there is nothing more enjoyable on a rally weekend than to walk the grounds in the quiet of a spring or fall evening, with the light spilling out of many display sheds and the gentle thump, purr or hiss of sweetly running engines as music to one’s ears.

Editor’s note: Written with the aid of historical information from an article by Judge W. Biddick Jr. in the San Joaquin Historian, The Quarterly Journal of the San Joaquin County Historical Society, Vol IX, New Series, No.1 Spring 1995.

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