I SPIED A SHED AND A MYSTERY ENGINE APPEARED

By Staff
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1206 S. Pine, Janesville, Wisconsin 53546

In the fall of 1976 while I was living in the upper Peninsula of
Michigan, I drove past a house with an iron wheeled wagon in the
backyard. I could see a buzz saw on the back of the wagon and what
appeared to be a small shed built on the other end. Would it have
an engine in it?

I knocked on the door. No answer, so I took a chance and went
out into the backyard to check it out. Sure enough, it was an
engine, but what kind? That it was a smallish upright with a large
belt driven governor was about all I could see in the dim light of
the engine shed.

I stopped back many times before finding the owner at home. He
said he wouldn’t sell the engine because he needed it to cut
wood for winter. Knowing persistence sometimes pays, I visited with
him several times, but always received the same answer:
‘Someday I’m going to use it to cut wood.’

In June of 1978 we moved from Escanaba and did not return to
visit until the fall of 1992 when my son-in-law and I returned for
a reunion at the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. After attending
services and visiting with our many friends, we headed for the U.
P. State Fairgrounds and the annual show of the U. P. Steam and Gas
Engine Association. After visiting the many additions to the show
built in my absence The Agricultural Museum, The Old Time Village
complete with blacksmith shop and general store, the building
housing the Steam Powered Shop and the large flea market, and more
we spent time visiting old friends and making new ones in the
association.

As we set out for home, I told Terry about the old engine and we
both wondered whether it was still there. We drove by. It was
there, but no one was home.

The next year my wife and I went back for a visit, and I bought
a 5 HP Galloway from an old friend, Jerry Snowden, to keep at
Escanaba for the annual Labor Day Weekend Show. Once again I went
back to the home of the mystery engine, and no one was there.

When we went back to pick up the Galloway, I found that the
engine and cart were really too big to fit on my trailer, so Randy
Snowden graciously offered to take it into town and unload it at
the U. P. State Fairgrounds. After getting it unloaded and removing
some parts to take home for repair, we stopped by to check on the
mystery engine. This time a young lady was there NO IT WAS NOT FOR
SALE!

In January of 1996 I decided to stop by on my way home after
attending the annual club dinner. This time a young man about 30
years of age met me at the door. He explained the engine had
belonged to his wife’s grandfather and he had been going to fix
it up but he guessed he never would. Would I care to make him an
offer. I did, but he wasn’t impressed.

In May of 1996 I went to the bank and got some cash to take with
me to the club meeting. I was determined to get that engine. I
stopped by early in the day, and the wife said that her husband
needed money to fix his tractor. What would I give? I made her an
offer to which she replied that her husband would be back in two
hours come back then. I came back and after some negotiations
became the owner of the engine. But what had I bought?

It was a small upright engine, 24′ tall with 21′
flywheels. Having been protected by the rotting engine shed, it
wasn’t stuck or even rusty. It was water cooled with an air
cooled head. I couldn’t find a nameplate anywhere.

In July, Terry and I went back with my trailer to pick up the
engine. I had hoped to salvage the saw rig, as it was an ingenious
adaptation using a large belt driven governor connected to the
engine with a piece of wire to control the throttle and large
countershaft running a conveyor system to remove the sawdust and
chips. Being mostly made of wood even with wooden pulleys the
ravages of time and neglect had served to make everything unusable.
Oh well, I had bought it for the engine, anyway.

When we got home to Wisconsin we soaked it down with solvent and
took it to the car wash, twice. What a lot of grease! Still no
nametag. Large pieces of strap iron have been bolted to the
flywheels for counterweights. There was no oiler on the engine
although there was a place for one. A search through American
Gasoline Engines showed nothing like it, not even close. If only
there were some markings or even part numbers.

A couple of weeks later I was cleaning the plates covering the
valve mechanism when I came across a name in the casting on the
inside, ‘The Detroit Automobile Company.’ I called my
son-in-law and asked him to try to find some information from an
antique car lover he knew. He called back the next day to say that
the Detroit Automobile Company was one of Henry Ford’s first
ventures. They built about a dozen cars and trucks in 1899-1900 and
then went out of business.

I had one valve made and the other one refaced. The engine runs
well showing little wear. It has buzz coil ignition and a Kingston
carburetor. There are no part numbers anywhere. I intend to restore
the engine to its original colors red, with green flywheels before
placing it in the Agricultural Museum of the U. P. Steam and Gas
Engine Association, on the U. P. State Fairgrounds in Escanaba,
Michigan.

Is this really one of the dozen engines built for the cars and
trucks produced by the Detroit Automobile Company, or did they make
a few extra engines to sell to try to keep the doors open?

This rare engine was scheduled to be shown at the 22nd Annual
Show of the U.P. Steam and Gas Engine Association Labor Day
Weekend, August 30-September 1, 1997.

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