Hit – and – Miss

By Staff
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It’s July as I write this, and the show season is in full
swing around the country. In conversations with engine collectors
in various states, it’s clear that yet another bumper crop of
old engines is being harvested, with rare and unusual engines
popping up everywhere. More than a few vintage tractors have come
to the surface as well, with reports of a rare Allis-Chalmers 6-12,
one of perhaps 35 survivors, coming back into the fold.

But as fascinating as the rare and unusual machinery may be,
it’s really the bread-and-butter equipment from companies like
IHC, John Deere, Fairbanks-Morse and Hercules, to name but a few,
that has fueled the old iron hobby. Engines from these companies
were produced by the hundreds of thousands – IHC built close to
430,000 Type M engines – and those huge numbers tranlated into
great numbers of survivors. John Deere Model Es, Fairbanks-Morse
Type Zs, these are the engines that, more than any others, have
made the hobby grow.

Thankfully, and amazingly, examples from these manufacturers
continue to come to light, found even today quietly sitting in
barns, behind sheds or sometimes in the woods, patiently waiting
their turn at renovation and rebirth.

That said, some of the most remarkable engines were produced by
some of the earliest purveyors of the trade, and if you don’t
believe that, take a trip to Coolspring, Pa., and visit the
Coolspring Power Museum. There, in sheds and buildings established
around the grounds, you’ll find engines displaying a degree of
technical and mechanical ingenuity and innovation that boggles the

The list is long, including items like overhead camshaft
Springfields, gearless Olds engines and sideshaft Elyrias, to name
but a few. Early manufacturers working with new technologies were
literally carving out a new mechanical universe, and in the process
forever shifting the balance of power from steam to gasoline.

Unlike steam, however, they were dealing with a volatile fuel of
routinely unstable and unpredictable quality. Many innovations
were, in large measure, driven by this reality, because even if the
fuel wasn’t perfect, the machine, if properly designed and
executed, could be. As is often the case, extreme complexity
ultimately gave way to simple, rugged designs, especially in
smaller engines designed for less rigorous duties. Improvement in
fuel quality was a major factor in simplification, as stable and
predictable fuel allowed consistant and predictable operation
across a broad range of operation. And it was, ultimately,
simplification that allowed manufacturers like IHC to mass produce
hundreds of thousands of engines at prices millions could

The complex and the innovative engines excite and draw many of
us, but the simple engines got many of us started, and without them
the old iron hobby would be a very different breed of animal.

Gas Engine Magazine
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Preserving the History of Internal Combustion Engines