A Hercules Economy S Mystery

By Staff
article image
courtesy of Gas Engine Magazine Staff
Bill Kruize’s circa-1926 Hercules Economy S carries a factory 14hp rating. No records exist showing Hercules ever made a 14hp S.

1926 14hp Hercules Economy S

Manufacturer: Hercules Gas Engine Co., Evansville, IN
Year: Circa 1926
Serial No.: 351570
Horsepower: 14hp @ 350rpm
Bore & stroke: 7-1/2in x 12in
Ignition: Spark plug w/Wico magneto
Governing: Hit-and-miss w/flyball governor
Cooling: Hopper

Seventy-two-year-old Bill Kruize of Donnelly, Minnesota, doesn’t really search for odd experiences, but he does seem to find them.

Once, he bought eight gasoline engines for the price of a couple of tanks of gas for your car. Another time, he and his brother-in-law, Larry Smith, dragged an old engine home 5 miles from where they bought it — using just the trucks. And he found a gasoline engine that appears to never have been cataloged.

Getting Started

Bill’s interest in gas engines began with an old stuck engine he worked on when he was growing up on the family farm. “I got that going, and then I bought eight engines from a neighbor for $5 each. That was back in the late 1960s.” That included a Cushman, an air-cooled New Way, and a 1-1/2hp John Deere. “The owner was an old mechanic, and he knew I was a collector and that I would keep them at the Donnelly Threshing Bee, so he gave me a good deal. I still have those engines today. I have never sold any of my engines,” Bill adds.

Gold color build plat with serial number and model number.

The real gem in his collection is a circa-1926 14hp Hercules Economy S. “My brother-in-law found the engine at an auction, and decided to buy it. But someone else was bidding on it and he didn’t have enough money. It was one of those deals that had to be done that day, so I lent him what he needed to buy it.” He quickly discovered that it was different, as they couldn’t find any records showing that a 14hp Economy had ever been manufactured.

Bill eventually got the 14hp Economy, as well as a 1928 6hp Economy engine, when his brother-in-law moved to Oregon. The engine was mostly complete, and Larry restored it, Bill says. “He redid the mag and put it on homemade trucks made out of parts of a threshing machine. We’ve been told that a 14hp Economy was never manufactured, yet this one has a tag that clearly shows it’s a 14hp.”

Side view of the red and black engine.

Bill says the engine starts well against compression, but it takes a pair of strong guys to do it. “I charge it, turn it, charge it, turn it a couple of times, and trip it on a spark and it fires. It has super compression.” Once it’s running, it idles perfectly, Bill says, although he notes that the checkball for the fuel pump occasionally sticks. Oddly, it doesn’t run well under a load. “We tried putting it on the shingle mill, and it won’t work. You can’t adjust the fuel right for loads. I wonder if something’s wrong with the mixer.”

Bill was told the engine had been used to run a cotton gin in the South, but he doesn’t know how it got to Minnesota. “Maybe from a machine jockey. But I don’t really know for sure.” Despite being an oddity, the engine hasn’t generated much interest, perhaps because the Donnelly show is a small one. “It’s not like the big shows, where they get a lot of guys who know about engines and maybe want to buy some.”

Unlisted engine

Perhaps it is no surprise Bill’s 14hp Economy S engine is unlisted, considering the contortions of ownership the company went through, beginning with Holm’s Machine Manufacturing Co. about 1909, with a patent by Peter H. Holm for an engine governor. “This effort was rewarded with the issuance of Patent No. 973505,” writes C.H. Wendel in American Gasoline Engines Since 1872. “It embodied the gear-driven governor principle found on Economy and Hercules engines for many years subsequent to the Sears & Roebuck purchase,” Wendel notes. “The hollow governor shaft carried a movable pin which was linked to the control mechanism – this pin was itself actuated by governor weights attached directly to the gear-driven governor shaft. Holm’s governor patent remains a significant development in stationary engine design.”

A front view of the Hercules shows standard atmospheric intake and mechanical exhaust valves.

In 1912, Holm’s was purchased by Sears, Roebuck & Co. A few months later, Sears sold the company to Hercules Buggy Co. of Indianapolis, Indiana, and had them build their Economy-brand engines. According to sources, Hercules produced engines for a number of retailers under the Ajax, Arco, Atlas, Champion, Erren, Hercules, Jaeger, Keystone, Reeco, Rohaco, Thermoil and Williams brand names. As near as can be determined, none of them came in a 14hp size, which makes the Economy 14hp even more of an outlier. The 14hp S is spark plug-fired and is equipped with a Wico magneto, which was rebuilt some years ago. It has a flyball governor and is hit-and-miss with spark plug ignition. It’s water-cooled, with a 7-1/2-inch x 12-inch bore and stroke, and has serial No. 351570, which the serial number list on Old Engine references to 1926. “It’s kind of standard compared to other Economy engines, only bigger,” Bill says.

The Hercules’ Wico magneto. Note the priming cup just in front of the mag.
Another view of the Wico mag, this time showing the spark plug

It’s possible that Bill’s 14hp S is a prototype. An internet search uncovers no information on an Economy 14hp gasoline engine, except in a generic sense, with Economy parts offered for “2-14hp engines.” Book references contain a bit more information, but that is clouded by the unclear relationship among the companies involved. Hercules Buggy Co. of Evansville, Indiana, built a 14hp engine beginning in 1912, though two years later that size was no longer mentioned in their inventory, according to C.H. Wendel in American Gasoline Engines Since 1872. “About 1927,” Wendel writes, “Hercules became a division of the Servel Corp., but by 1929 the company once again assumed independent ownership under the title of Hercules Products, Inc.” On Page 3 of the Servel Inc. Series No. 128 Instruction Book and Repair List for 1936, it says: “The following is a General Description of the Throttling Governed Kerosene Engine, Sizes 3-1/2-6-8-10-14hp.” Other than that, there is no information on an Economy 14hp engine.

1928 Economy 6hp engine

Bill’s other Economy engine, a 6hp, contains fewer mysteries, though bringing it home provided a challenge. “Nobody had a trailer, and the engine came from a local farm about 5 miles away, so Larry hooked it up to the rear fender of the car, and we dragged it home like that. He had a knack for doing stuff like that, and we pulled it home on its trucks, which are original.”

Speed governor, timing gear and linkage for the engine’s hit-and-miss governing.

Manufactured for Sears & Roebuck and Co., it’s spark plug-ignited with a Wico magneto. It has a throttling governor, is hopper-cooled, and shows a serial number of 8638.

Fortunately, the engine didn’t need much work. “It had been painted, but other than that it was pretty much the way it had come from the factory. The previous owner had the book and everything on it.” They were just the third owner of the 6hp.

A closer view of the 14hp Hercules engine’s cylinder head, with the mixer clearly visible.

The engine provided some big excitement at the Donnelly show a few years ago. “The screws came loose on the throttle plate, and the engine jumped off the ground. We were right there and shut it down immediately, so nothing got wrecked. I suppose it would have crashed if we had not been there, and done permanent damage on the engine, breaking the flywheel, snapping the crank or something like that. It would have kept going faster and faster.”

Owner Bill Kruize, in a blue shirt and pants with straps, with his 14hp Hercules…

Bill was told this engine was used to run a grain elevator. “I don’t think they used it much, because it doesn’t have much wear on it,” he says, adding, “I bet we’ve run it more at the threshing bee than when it was on the farm for 40 years. Originally, it had a seat for driving horses, but we don’t have that.” Bill doesn’t think the 6hp is all that unique. As far as the enclosed flywheel, he figures that was how they were made that year. Bill says he enjoys attending the Donnelly (Minnesota) Threshing Bee each year, taking a couple of other engines and minding the pair of Economy engines. “It kind of a habit to go to the show every year. I’ve been there every year since it started,” he says.

Rear view of the 14hp Hercules Economy S engine. Bill’s been told the engine once…

For Bill, getting engines to run again is a joy. “I’ve taken quite a few engines that were stuck and gotten them loose and operational again. That’s a lot of fun.” He says that was what he was doing when he should have been buying more engines, but it was at a time when he didn’t have any money. “Farmers never had any money for a while there, so I missed out on getting some good engines. When I finally did have a little bit of money so I could buy some, that’s when the prices went crazy.”

As far as why he collects engines, “That’s a good question,” he says, laughing. “It was just an interest that I had. Being able to identify engines just by looking at them.” Bill says he likes to keep the pair of Economy engines running at the Donnelly show for his brother-in-law.

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