Leader’s Water Pump Engine

By Staff
article image
Decatur Owego Leader and Norm Westervelt.

5855 Lisle Road, Owego, New York 13827

Tioga County, New York, celebrated its 200th anniversary in 1991
with all the pomp and hoop-la befitting the occasion. I was serving
as the County Historian and was dedicated to the success of all the
programs and events; parades, dances, Old Home Days, history book,
historical hikes and walks, video tapes, etc. Yet, something was
missing that would appeal to some of the old-timers. We needed to
show off special whatever of county history that had not been
officially recognized before.

I decided to rummage through old artifacts stored in the
carriage house behind the Tioga County Historical Society Museum.
What is this? The rusted hunk of iron looked like an old engine.
After removing a lot of stuff that had been piled on top of it, I
could see what looked like a nameplate. I couldn’t resist
dragging it out to the light.

The nameplate was readable and it had our county seat, Owego,
New York, shown as co-manufacturer. The plate read Leader Iron
Works, Decatur, Illinois and Owego, New York, serial V124710,1 HP,
550 RPM. I looked up the donation card and found that it came from
the Ackles farm at North Spencer, Tioga County.

After a little more digging in the miscellaneous artifact pile I
found an old vegetable root cutter that was branded by Colmman and
Horton of Nichols, New York.

I thought that the engine and cutter would make a nice duo for a
piece of our county history if they could possibly be restored to
running condition. A steam and gasoline show was scheduled as a
part of the County’s Old Home Day at Hickories Park. This event
would provide an excellent opportunity to show the public another
part of our history.

John Shumway of Nichols was a one longer gasoline engine buff. I
asked him if he knew enough about this type of engine to get it
running. He shook his head no, but said that he knew someone who
might just have the smarts to do it.

The next day, John brought Norm Westervelt to the carriage house
and introduced him as his friend, neighbor, and restorer of Silver
King tractors. Norm just stood there, looking down at the pile of
rust with flywheels and started grinning from ear to ear. He
thought it would be quite a challenge to really get it to operate
but was anxious to try, even if it meant losing John’s
friendship. We loaded both the engine and chopper on John’s
pickup.

Three months later John called me to meet Norm and him at the
carriage house. Wow! What a surprise. They had the engine and root
chopper off the truck onto the ground and belted together. The old
rusted clunker of an engine looked brand new; shiny dark green
still bolted to newly painted black 4×4’s. As I stood looking
dumbfounded, Norm reaches down, turns the gas on and spins a
flywheel. That old/new Leader engine popped right off, running and
purring like a kitten. Fantastic! We had our Tioga County
originated, authentic, working, show entry for our county’s Old
Home Day celebration, thanks to John and Norm.

Norm said that the inside wasn’t rusted nearly as bad as the
outside and that the piston was easily freed to move. Naturally,
everything had to be taken apart piece by piece. The cylinder wall
was honed by hand and Ford 8N 3 3/16 inch
rings cut down to 3 inches fit perfectly. Ford 8N valves were
heated to soften the end for drilling a hole to fit a cotter pin.
The valve seats were fairly good after some grinding.

A little ingenuity was necessary to set up a workable spark
source. The original igniter was missing, so a plate was made to
hold a spark plug. Another plate was made to hold regular
automobile points that would make and break via the cam just
opposite of its original intent. It took Norm two tryst to make
this plate, ending up with oversize mounting holes to fit and to
allow for proper timing adjustments. The gas supply tank was
missing. A fruit cake tin was fashioned to replace the old pancake
style tank.

Of course all the parts required a lot of sanding and polishing.
Norm used a dark green paint that appeared to match the original
paint. After he had painted it green, the armchair experts thought
the original color may have been black.

When all the parts were back together, Norm found that he could
not turn the engine over fast enough to have it start. Here again
common sense prevailed to loosen up a tight engine. He hooked it up
by belt to his 1 HP Hercules engine, made sure everything was well
oiled, and let his engine run the Leader for a few minutes. After
that, it has started up by hand and has done so ever since. In
fact, this engine ran nonstop for six hours belted to the root
chopper at the county show.

The history of this 1 HP Leader engine is quite interesting.
During 1910, the Leader Iron Works, Decatur, Illinois, manufactured
and sold pneumatic water supply systems and decided to expand sales
by establishing a distribution center in northeast United States.
They selected Owego, Tioga County, New York, primarily for the
railroad connections. A modern warehouse was erected in 1912 and it
included an outstanding showroom.

Leader was recognized for its reliable service, at and after
installation, to their customers. Two men were on call at Owego for
making repairs in the shop or in the field. Most of their service
problems were with the water pump and gasoline engine. Leader took
advantage of the situation, made the men full time employees, and
sent extra parts for the engine to Owego. When these men were not
working on repairs they actually assembled complete new engines
that were added to their inventory. This kept the men busy, helped
with engine production, but above all put these two men in
experienced position for possible production line expansion of the
1 HP engine at Owego.

As far as we know, all the Leader’s 1 HP engines used the
Stover style ‘V’ casting as signified by the letter
‘V’ at the beginning of the serial number on the nameplate.
If the plate had Owego, New York on it, that was where it was
assembled. There may have been up to five hundred manufactured in
Owego, New York.

Leader had good intentions of establishing a manufacturing plant
for this engine in Owego by 1917. Instead, the United States
economy was not good, causing the Leader Iron Works to close their
distribution center in Owego and return it to Decatur,
Illinois.

Gas Engine Magazine
Gas Engine Magazine
Preserving the History of Internal Combustion Engines