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The Tale of a 15 hp Ohio Engine

A circa-1915 15 hp Ohio resurfaces after 100 years in Maine.

| April/May 2018

  • A circa-1915 15 hp Ohio resurfaces after 100 years in Maine
    Photo by Mike O'Malley
  • The 15 hp Ohio was hidden in plain sight, sitting quietly in a pumping house next to this old inn on an island off the coast of Maine.
    Photo by Mike O'Malley
  • The 15 hp Ohio as found. Note the spark plug, fitted at some point in place of the original igniter.
    Photo by Mike O'Malley
  • The first piece to be pulled from the pump house was the Kewanee pump.
    Photo by Mike O'Malley
  • The Kewanee pump safely on the ground after being pulled from the pump house. It was installed along with the Ohio some 100 years ago.
    Photo by Mike O'Malley
  • Tod Smith getting slings ready to lift the Ohio from the pump house.
    Photo by Mike O'Malley
  • Tod guides the Ohio as it’s lifted from its home of 100-plus years and out into daylight through a hole cut in the roof of the pump house.
    Photo by Mike O'Malley
  • Alec Stevens guides the Ohio as it’s lifted clear of the pump house and gently placed on the lawn.
    Photo by Mike O'Malley
  • With the Ohio and the Kewanee pump safely loaded, Tod straps them down for the trip back to the mainland.
    Photo by Mike O'Malley
  • The Ohio’s original igniter was found sitting on a shelf.
    Photo by Mike O'Malley
  • The Kewanee pump with the walking beam reconnected and the pressure domes in place.
    Photo by Mike O'Malley
  • The Ohio’s build plate doesn’t date the engine, but it’s likely from around 1915.
    Photo by Mike O'Malley

This all started about 30 years ago when my friend and fellow engine fan Alec Stevens first got married. His wife’s family was from an island off the coast of Falmouth, Maine, and when Alec would visit the island, he would ask around if there were any old engines. That brought him to an old pump house next to a large old inn on the island. The property had been pided up, and the pump house went with a little cottage that a lifelong islander owned. Over the next 30-plus years, Alec would visit the family – and of course the engine – and always inquire if it were available to be bought. “No” was always the answer. When the owner passed away, Alec let it be; the owner’s son told Alec that his father’s dying words were “don’t sell the engine!”

Try again

Well, the years went by, and Alec decided to inquire again about the engine. At first it was the same old “no,” but we all know never to take no for an answer, so every now and then he would ask again. Then one day the owner said, “Well, Alec, what would you pay for such an engine?” That started a two-year negotiation process, which is when I came into the picture.

As things went along, Alec asked for my thoughts and advice on the engine. Then one day I got the call: “Mike,” Alec said, “I have made a deal and can buy the Ohio, but for some personal reasons I just can’t do it. Would you like to buy it?” “YES!” I said without hesitation. Mind you, I had not seen the engine in person, I had only seen pictures and heard the stories. The current owner of the property resides in Connecticut, and as I would be passing through Connecticut the following weekend, I made an appointment to meet up with the man, pay for the engine and figure out how to get it.

The engine was now paid for and officially mine, but I still had not seen it and I was champing at the bit to go see it and make a plan as to how to remove it and get it across the bay to the mainland. Wouldn’t you know, it was now hunting season in Maine, and Alec was off to camp for a week of hunting. All I could do was sit, thinking and thinking about the Ohio sitting in Maine!

Time to look

Finally, Alec returned from hunting and contacted me so we could go see the engine. Alec had told me that the only way we’d be able to get the engine out was if we cut a hole in the roof of the pump house and hired a crane to lift the engine out, and we’d also have to hire a barge to take it across the bay. The barge goes out Tuesdays and Thursdays only, and only at high tide. “Come on, Alec, there has to be a better way,” I thought. After all, I had plenty of time to think about it and come up with my own plan, right?

OK, let’s go, I told Alec. He said OK, and to meet him at a mall and we’d ride to the bus from there. A bus? I meet Alec, we drive to another parking lot, hop on an old white-painted school bus, and ride 15 minutes or so to the ferry that takes people over to the island. This is not a small island, by the way. It’s approximately 5 miles long and 1 mile wide, with 500 year-round residents. We take the ferry over and then make about a 10-minute walk to the pump house. As we get closer, I recognize the pump house from the pictures Alec sent and my heart starts going a thousand beats a minute. We walk up, Alec opens the door, and there it is, the 15 hp Ohio, still plumbed to water, with an outside underground fuel tank and the exhaust piped out the building just as it was when it was installed some 100-plus years ago. What a sight!


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