Wayne Spencer’s Kootz and Stroehman is an oilfield engine that proved to be an interesting challenge for this collector.
This circa 1920 Kootz & Stroehman is a unique oilfield engine.
Year: Circa 1920
Horse Power: 7 HP
Weight: 2,400 pounds
Flywheel diameter: 30-inch
Flywheel width: 3-5/8-inch
Ignition: Wico EK magneto
Wayne Spencer probably didn’t realize his penchant for the odd would get him into unusual situations.
Such was the case when Wayne went to pick up a couple of engines in Minneapolis. “A friend heard of a guy who wanted to get rid of a couple of engines, a 3 HP Fairbanks Z and a 5 HP Jumbo,” Wayne recalls. “When I went down there with my brother, we found that the engines were in various parts in three different places, five miles apart. The owner knew where everything was. A few were in his apartment, but he didn’t have much room there, so some were where he worked. We had to use a freight elevator to go up and get the cylinder and flywheels for the Jumbo and bring them down. The rest were in a storage building. Everything was there except for the valve keepers. I still have both of those engines.”
Wayne got into the hobby through his dad, who started collecting tractors in the late 1970s. “When you start going to shows and auctions and swap meets with your father, pretty soon you bring home a couple of washing machine engines, a 3/4 HP Maytag Model 92 and a Briggs & Stratton FH, and you’re hooked, right?” he laughs. He was only 10 years old when he brought those two engines home after a show.
“At that time, I was already tinkering with lawn mowers and stuff,” the 50-year-old Zimmerman, Minnesota, machinist says. “I was screwing around with engines, trying to make go-karts at that point. From then on it never really stopped.”
His next step was walk-behind garden tractors. “I’ve got a couple of Standard Twins, a Viking Breadbox with a big hood over the engine, a Centaur, and a Beeman Flex-Tred, both of which I purchased in Lakeside, Montana, where my dad bought a Cleveland Crawler, and most of another one. I was into walk-behinds for a while before I got into the farm engines.”
After Wayne bought his first oilfield engine, a 35 HP Superior with a sideshaft, a style he has been told was built from 1906-1919, a friend said he should go to the Tri-State Gas Engine and Tractor Association show at Portland, Indiana, to see how oilfield engines are set up and run on propane, as they run really nice on that gas. “I had no idea how to set them up for running on propane, but after I went down and saw a number of engines there, I realized there was no sense in reinventing the wheel.”
The second time around, Wayne went with a friend, and saw a 7 HP Kootz & Stroehman engine, which he bought. “That 1-ton truck rode pretty nice on the way home, with that engine and several front-end weights for a Minneapolis-Moline tractor for dad,” he says.
Back home, Wayne found that the engine was loose, and while it had a magneto bracket, it didn’t have a magneto. “There was zero plumbing on it, and all the holes were plugged with pipe plugs, so I made a couple of trips to the hardware store, and just kind of winged it. I saw how some other people had done it, but my cooling system is pretty much just, well, I got this and that, and let‘s see if this works, and that‘s kind of what I did, I guess. Otherwise it was pretty much complete as an engine, as the mixer and everything else was there.”
He had to do some valve guide work, valve work, valve seat work and fit a new wrist pin, along with shimming bearings for proper clearance. “But there were no real big problems,” he says.
Wayne decided to convert it to propane, as well. “A lot of these engines were designed to run off wellhead gas coming off the oil they were pumping, so as long as you kept the engine running, you had a supply of gas. But it was very low pressure. They don’t measure it in pounds, but in column inches of water, which is only a fraction of a pound as far as the pressure goes.” They could be made to run off gasoline if neeeded, he says, “On the mixer in front of the engine are two bolts holding a plate that you take off and stick on a Model T carburetor to get it running on gasoline, I’m told. But basically, they were made to run off wellhead or natural gas.”
Getting the Kootz & Stroehman to run off propane took a little tinkering, he admits. “The tricky part is getting the pressure low enough so it works well. When you’re fueling an engine with gasoline it’s really easy to tell when you’re flooding it. But with propane or natural gas, you can pump all the oxygen out and it won’t fire, so you can flood them really easy.”
To get the pressure right, he found a gasometer at a swap meet. “It looks like a tin can with an arm sitting alongside the engine; it allows you to set the volume of low-pressure gas to draw off. These engines were designed to run on low-pressure gas, but when they take a gulp, they take a big gulp, so they need a fair amount of volume right there when they need it. The gasometer was a way to do that. The gasometer is also a safety device, as it shuts off gas so the pump house wouldn‘t fill with gas,” Wayne says.
With almost no information available on Kootz & Stroehman engines other than the name of the company and the city where they were manufactured, (Parkersburg, West Virginia), confirming the year of manufacture is almost impossible, but a good guess is probably the early 1920s.
The engine has an integral pump jack, a pendulum governor to control speed, exposed gearing and two crank arms for driving pumps. “The arms on the pump have three different settings,” Wayne says, “for a 10-, 15-, or 20-inch stroke, so you can set it to plunge the sucker rod depending on what size pumping mechanism you have.”
Once more common to the Pennsylvania oil country, there are very few of this type in the Midwest. “It’s not a sideshaft engine, but it has lots of monkey motion, with a lot of stuff going on,” Wayne says. “The connecting rod and gears turning are visible, as are the arms for the pump. These machines were usually in a building protected from the elements.”
This Kootz & Stroehman uses a Wico EK magneto and sparkplug ignition, though Wayne also has a hot tube setup for it. “I can switch it over to the hot tube, which is a crowd pleaser, because you get flames and all that fun stuff, which is kind of neat. I guess the advantage to that is that they were cheap and low maintenance,” he says. People also like the pendulum governor on the Kootz & Stroehman, Wayne says. “It is kind of unique, how it works off momentum, and watching to see whether it latches up or not, that catches some people’s eye. This Kootz & Stroehman also has a ported exhaust despite being a 4-cycle, that was one of the things that attracted me to the engine.”
For cooling, Wayne built a tank out of 5-inch square tubing that fits underneath the engine, “just for demonstration purposes, all it does is circulate the water. I found a little brass centrifugal pump. I was trying to figure out how to make this pump work and a friend said, ‘Why don’t you use a round leather belt and make it run it off the crankshaft at 90 degrees?’ I found an orange neoprene belt, which goes to the flywheel, makes a 90-degree turn and goes to the pump and back. Then I pumped water up to the bottom of the cylinder to a water funnel off the top of the cylinder, so you can see the water pumping. It helps when you have friends poking you and saying, ‘You’re a machinist; you can do this.’ Some people get a kick out of that goofy water pump that I made with the prodding of a friend.”
Like most collectors, Wayne has other engines in his stable, with a total of 10 oilfield engines including a 10 HP Bessemer, 15 and 20 HP Simplex engines, and a 20 HP Olin. “Three of those 10 are projects now. When I was younger I was smarter about buying things running, or close to running, but lately I haven’t been that smart,” he laughs. He also has seven farm engines, including a McCormick 6 HP M, an Ingeco, Field-Brundage Wolverine, 3 HP Wonder, as well as several walk-behind garden tractors, like a Centaur and Aro, which is a project that’s not running yet, along with several Maytags.
Wayne’s favorite part of collecting old engines is sitting and listening to them run. “I get a kick out of listening to a well-tuned engine run. I don’t care if it’s tractor, car or gas engine. I like to watch the monkey motion, things moving, like governors spinning, pushrods pushing, flywheels that turn and rocker arms moving.”Contact Bill Vossler at Box 372, 400 Caroline Ln., Rockville, MN 56369 • firstname.lastname@example.org