Collecting Midwest Engines

By Staff
article image
by Bill Vossler
Gary Hansen’s 1906 8hp Appleton is a rare sight.

1906 8hp Appleton

Manufacturer: Appleton Mfg. Co., Batavia, IL
Year: 1906
Serial No.: 4611
Horsepower: 8hp @ 325rpm
Bore & stroke: 6-1/2in x 14in
Flywheels: 42in x 2-3/4in
Ignition: Low-tension Webster oscillating magneto with igniter
Governing: Hit-and-miss, flywheel governor
Cooling: Hopper

A small green engine on wood frame with wheels

2-1/2hp Dempster  Model 2H

Manufacturer: Dempster Mill Mfg. Co., Beatrice, NE
Year: Unknown
Serial No.: 7725
Horsepower: 2-1/2hp
Bore & stroke: 4in x 6in
Flywheels: 24in x 2-1/2in
Ignition: Low-tension magneto w/igniter
Governing: Hit-and-miss, flywheel governor
Cooling: Hopper

Gary Hansen’s gas engine collection started with his grandmother’s old washing machine. “It was a Maytag 92 with a side exhaust, the kind of machine with an open gear wringer at the top, that she bought back in the late 1930s. I restored that, and kind of worked my way up from there to buying gas engines here and there at auctions and swap meets,” Gary says. “My dad used to take us to shows around the area, like Le Sueur (Minnesota, Pioneer Power Show) and Butterfield (Minnesota, Threshing Bee) and I always thought that was neat. I ended up with a few tractors, too.”

Owner with a white t-shirt standing behind his large red and green engine

Also turning Gary toward old iron was a Cockshutt burr mill his grandfather bought, but never belted up. “He bought it new at Gambles for $15, with the intent of grinding feed for the chickens. But it stayed in the barn, and as a kid, we had no idea what it was used for until my father explained it. So I kept it around, and when I got into the hobby I started displaying it,” Gary says.

Gary’s first gas engine was a 1-1/2hp IHC M that he bought at an estate auction. “It was the first one I happened to see in the paper, so I went to the sale and ended up getting it. I ran it for a few years and then started looking for something different. That was when I was in my 20s,” the now 51-year-old says. “Since then, I’ve sold it and bought different engines, trying to get more rare stuff.”

8hp Appleton

One of those rare engines is his 1906 8hp Appleton. “I saw it in a magazine, and kicked around the idea of buying it for a while.” Outside of a friend’s 10hp and a 6hp, Gary hadn’t seen any other big Appleton engines. “I was told this 8hp is pretty rare,” Gary says. “I’d never seen another one, so I decided to buy the 8hp, which belonged to a collector in Ohio. He was in his 80s and it had become too big for him to run.”

Two issues cropped up with the 8hp Appleton. First, it needed to be painted in the correct colors, not the green it was wearing when he bought it. “I was told it was supposed to be all red. I started scraping with a wire wheel and found red under where some paint was flaking off. Maybe it had faded, and he wanted it to look better?” Gary wonders. Gary notes that from what he’s learned, different sizes of Appleton engines were different colors. “Some smaller ones were gray, some red, like the 6hp, and the 10hp Appleton I have is gray.”

A front view of the Appleton shows the igniter behind the magneto.

The second issue was the igniter. “The engine didn’t run really well when I got it, so I removed the igniter and found that someone had substituted two flathead screws for the points. I wondered why I was having trouble starting it. I have just sent the igniter out to have it rebuilt,” Gary adds. When he gets the igniter back, Gary plans to remove the Briggs & Stratton pony engine that he’s been using to help him start the 8hp. “I should be able to bump-start it by just turning it back against compression. I do that with my larger 10hp Appleton.” Another issue was a badly rusted muffler, so Gary made a replacement out of stainless steel. “The other one was rough and bent up, and this new muffler really has a good sound,” Gary adds.

red and green large stationary engine with owners head peeking out the back.

Gary notes that other engine fans have told him they’ve never seen an Appleton as large as his 8hp. “They want to know how many were made of that size, but I don’t know, because I haven’t seen any other 8hp Appletons.” Generally, larger engines like this were used for grinding feed, pumping water, or running small machinery like a buzz sawmill or a line shaft.

Appleton Mfg. Co.

The Appleton Mfg. Co. began as a farm equipment manufacturer in Appleton, Wisconsin. According to Batavia Revisited, by Thomas Mair, “The company was originally formed in Appleton, Wisconsin, Feb. 5, 1872, and made farm equipment and related products such as wood and steel windmills, corn shelters, and so on, and employed 160 people at its peak in Appleton.

“On November 14, 1900, at 8 p.m., a can of naphtha or a stove exploded in the paint room of the plant, though it is unclear whether that plant was in Appleton or another small town. The entire roof and part of a west wall blew out, and a fire started. Despite overhead water tanks, the two workers in the shop couldn’t stop the fire. Everything was lost except company books and portable office machines.

“A few days later, the Batavia (Illinois) Business Men’s Association held a special meeting to make plans to entice the plant to relocate to Batavia. They offered $10,000 for the move, which was completed, and a new plant built, employing 300 men to manufacture farm equipment, and gasoline engines. The buildings were made of limestone quarried in the Batavia area. Appleton gasoline engines were manufactured at least as early as 1906, adding the Chanticleer line patented by George Briggs, by 1913.”

Owner with a white t-shirt standing behind his large red and green engine

The 1913 Appleton Mfg. Co. catalog notes that “Appleton Engines are built to meet every need from the small 1hp for operating the pump, washing machine, churn, hand shellers, etc., to the 18hp for operating large silo fillers, corn huskers, etc. They are all of the Open Jacket or Hopper Cooled Type, which does away entirely with all water tanks, pipes, circulating pumps, etc. The 4 HP and larger sizes are made with detachable hoppers, but can be furnished with closed cylinders if desired with circulating cooling systems.”

In the catalog, Appleton extolled the quality of its engines, noting that piston rings have a lap joint, “as these have proven to be the best to hold the compression. The Connecting Rods on the 8hp and larger sizes are made from steam hammered forgings, the crank pin end is of the Marine Type made of phosphor bronze and adjustable, the piston end is fitted with an adjustable phosphor bronze bushing. Connecting Rods on the 1 to 6hp are drop forged, the crank pin ends are lined with copper-hardened babbitt, the piston end is fitted with a phosphor bronze split bushing, which is easily adjusted to take up for any wear. The crankshafts on the 8 to 18hp are steam hammered from open-hearth steel billets free from welds; on the 1 to 6hp they are drop forged.”

The catalog further claimed that every Appleton engine was tested for 15 hours before being shipped, and that every flywheel was “perfectly balanced … Size for size, Appleton Engines have more bore and stroke, are heavier, simpler in construction and easier to operate than most engines.”

About 1915, Appleton bought out the rights to the gasoline engines manufactured by Jacob Haish Gasoline Engine Mfg. Co., of DeKalb, Illinois, by which point they had already been selling the Haish Chanticleer engines for a few years. It’s unknown when Appleton stopped making engines, but it appears to have been in the early 1920s, when attention apparently shifted to the manufacture of farm tractors.


Gary enjoys the engine collecting hobby. “You get to meet a lot of different people from different places, and get different reactions from them when they see engines running. I try to have my engines painted up nice, and I run them as they are or I have them connected to something.”

He would like to add a sideshaft engine to his collection, but given their desirability and higher value, he hasn’t been able to afford one yet. “I’d be satisfied with one of any horsepower,” Gary says. One engine in particular that Gary has always wanted is an Olds. “That would be on my bucket list. I like the looks of them and the way they run, but they’re expensive. I’ve been selling some of my common stuff so I can get rarer stuff. I have about 25 engines left in my collection now,” he says.

One of the most frustrating aspects of the hobby for Gary – one shared by every collector – is when an engine won’t run at a show. “Before a show, I’ll start them at home, where they almost always run well. But once at a show, they’ll suddenly be finicky. They seem to get stubborn. I don’t know if it’s the travel, or they’re just finicky. It’s frustrating, but I guess it’s all part of the hobby,” he says. Gary says that he tries to run non-oxygenated gasoline, and aviation fuel when he can, because it burns cleaner. “It’s expensive, but the engines run better.” One unusual aspect of the Appleton, besides its rarity, is the fuel pump, which uses a plunger pump instead of check ball.

A close-up of the Appleton’s Webster oscillating magneto and pushrod.

As near as Gary knows, he’s the third owner of the engine. “The guy I bought it from wanted to show it, but was getting too old to run it and was getting out of the hobby. He purchased it from the man who originally bought it new.” The man Gary bought the Appleton from would start the Appleton by putting one foot against a spoke to turn it over. “But it backfired once and threw him in the air, so he came up with this Briggs pony-start engine,” Gary says.


Another of Gary’s favorite engines is his 2-1/2hp Dempster. “You don’t see too many of these around,” Gary says. “I try to bring it to different shows and run it with the other ones.” Gary bought it from a collector getting out of the hobby. “He had a bunch of engines in a shed, and said he wanted what he paid for it. I thought it would be really expensive, but when I found out he wanted $300, I said, ‘I’ll take it.'” The model information is cast in the hopper – there is no engine tag – and it features ported exhaust, something Gary’s often asked about when he shows the Dempster. “A lot of people aren’t familiar with ported exhaust,” he says. Its date of manufacture is unknown. Dempster manufactured engines from 1902 through the late 1920s.

“Everything was there when I got it, but I tore it all apart and sandblasted it and honed the cylinder. I put in new rings, ground the valves, and repainted it the original green. I had to redo everything on that engine, but now that it’s back together it’s a real good runner,” Gary says.

A small green engine on wood frame with wheels on a patio.

The Dempster doesn’t have a build plate or tag. Instead, manufacturer information about the engine…

One unusual aspect of the engine is that it still has the original cover for the governor weights. “That is almost always missing on the Dempster, but this one has the original cover. Back in the day, I think they just took them off and threw them away, because you couldn’t get to the governor weights to adjust them without removing the cover.” The Dempster is a hit-and-miss engine with a low-tension magneto, and is hopper-cooled.

Contact Bill Vossler at Box 372, 400 Caroline Ln., Rockville, MN 56369;

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