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
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
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
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!