2440 Thomas Street Ceres, California 95307
La Grange is a sleepy little town in the foot hills of California. Not much happens there today, and it takes less than a minute to drive through it.
But at one time, this was a booming mining community, filled with the whispers of gold and the shouts of lucky miners who struck it rich.
Hydraulic mining and dredging was carried on near here, but that's another story.
Our story begins around 1912 when an engine was ordered from Sears and Roebuck by a La Grange citizen. Now, jump to 1993!
I had seen this engine for years. It had a permanent place alongside the main street. It was sunk in the mud and partly buried, and it was rough. Real rough.
I approached the man and asked him if he'd sell it. 'Lord no!' he replied. That was good, otherwise he'd have sold it years ago. 'Well, what do you want for it?' 'I don't want to sell it.' Well, we went around for awhile and talked for a while. Come to find out he knew some people that I knew and we parted friends.
Let me describe this engine to you. Four HP 'Sparta' Economy, made in Sparta, Michigan, in 1912, by Holms Machine Company. These engines were built specifically by Holms for Sears, and in fact, Sears and Roebuck may have owned Holms Machine at that time.
This engine (serial #21912) was frozen solid. The cylinder was full of acorns and grass and rust. One valve and seat was completely corroded beyond reuse. Carb valve stem was worn completely out and rust enveloped everything. The engine was covered with moss. The igniter was gone, no fuel tank, push rod broken, governor shaft shot, etc. Every single piece on the engine had been reworked. But I'm getting ahead of my self!
One cold winter day I loaded a 3 HP Fairbanks-Morse up in the truck. Now this model Z ran well, was on trucks and all you had to do was 'fill her up,' and she'd go.
I headed toward La Grange and to make a long story short, traded for this old Economy. It was interesting to me to find out that no one had offered him another engine in trade. He was really thrilled to get one that ran!
Buck Shaw is his name. He told me the Economy was a 'saw motor.' He'd gotten it about 20 years ago from the ranch where it had worked all these years. He's about 78 years old now and stays busy with his horses. He doesn't have much time for one lung engines, but if he ever finds the time, he's got one to play with.
It took about a year to restore this old girl. I made a set of trucks to move her around and found an original igniter in the state where these engines were made.
It's interesting to me to see if I can discover why these old engines were finally retired. At the very end of its working life it had new mains poured for it. Someone reasoned it still had life in it. But it had an incorrect pushrod in it. Someone had tried to lengthen it by welding. The weld didn't take. The rod was broken and the crude wipe ignition never would have operated successfully. The last repairs on it were doomed to failure because parts for it couldn't be found.
Just recently I returned to visit Buck Shaw and see if I could dig up the history on this old engine. He told me it was given to him by a friend and had come from the Raiden Ranch in La-Grange. I made contact with this ranch, and the son-in-law said it had been used to pump water at the windmill. I would say it is over horse-powered for this job but it was probably used for a variety of other chores, too.
For those of you who have an interest in 'Sparta Economy,' I highly recommend Glenn Karch's book on them.
One last thing. I advertised in GEM and found an igniter and a trip mechanism for this girl. It was expensive and I almost decided against it. Finally I did buy it and I'm very glad I did, as the engine works perfectly and is more original because of it. It gave me a lot of satisfaction to bring the two pieces together after eighty-two years!
Can anyone identify this little mill engine? Nameplate reads: The Royal Blue Jr. #33. Please help! If you know more, write to Lester Bowman, 2440 Thomas Street, Ceres, CA 95307.
This engine is the nucleus of my small collection. Because of it, I met a remarkable man and made a friend. I've presented a little piece of local history and enriched my life with our past and heritage. That's what this hobby is all about.
I found another engine in the barn loft of a local farmer. But that's another story. Happy hunting!