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!

Now it’s time to figure this out. The pump house is not that tall, but it is also set about 4 feet below ground level, and the one and only door is short and narrow. Even if we take the flywheels and the crankshaft off, the engine is not going through that door. Alec is right, it has to come out the roof. OK, I can work on that! We devise a plan of what we need for tools and equipment, and off we go to make it happen.

Now for the planning stage. No biggie, right? We call the barge outfit, and they tell us we can get one the following Tuesday at 10 a.m. They tell we’ll have one hour on the island, and then the barge returns! What?! How can we pull the engine out in an hour? OK, we think, we can go back Sunday, cut the roof, disconnect the engine, lift it out and set it on the ground outside, take it on the barge Tuesday, load the trailer and go home. Nope: The crane people do not and will not work on Sunday. And Alec and I both have plans for Saturday. 

The crane guy agrees to meet us there on Saturday, however, so we change our plans. But wait, we have all of these tools we have to take. How will we do that? Seems there’s a parking lot for the locals at the dock where the ferry leaves from. Since we’re doing business on the island, we can use that parking lot rather than take the white tourist bus. We just have to pay an additional fee. I ask a friend of mine, Tod Smith, to come along to assist. I take a large 2-wheel wheelbarrow, fill it with pipes, a generator, power tools, pry bars, lift straps, wrenches, tarps, extension cords, wood blocks and more. We wheel it down the ramp and onto the ferry, and off we go!

Time to work

Alec made arrangements for a friend on the island to meet us at the dock and drive us up to the pump house in his pickup truck. Alec and his carpenter friend rode in the cab and Tod and I rode on the tailgate, holding onto the wheelbarrow for dear life as the drive is all uphill.

Incredibly, the day went off without a hitch. Alec and the carpenter got to work on the roof, and Tod and I worked on the engine and the original pump jack. The owners of the property had moved the Kewanee pump jack out of the way, to make room for an electric deep well pump to be installed in its place. We got everything ready, and while we were waiting for the crane we started moving all of the small parts out on the lawn, things like the muffler, the water pipes, all the nuts and bolts we removed, the original deep well foot valve pump, etc. Alec was looking around the pump house to make sure that we got everything, and there on a shelf was the Ohio engine’s original igniter. The engine had been converted to spark plug ignition at some point along the way.

The crane arrived, the operator set up, and off we went. First we took out the big pump jack setup, then the pressure domes that the owner had removed from the pump. That cleared room to roll the engine over and under the hole in the roof. After strapping it up, the engine was pulled out of the pump house by the crane without a hitch. We covered the hole in the roof with a tarp, covered the engine and pump, and swept the floor in the pump house. Since the crane does not work on Sundays and they didn’t have work for it on Monday, they left it right there to be ready to load on Tuesday. It was NOT easy leaving the engine behind and going home without it after removing it from the pump house.

Tuesday finally arrived. I had to borrow a friend’s trailer because mine is too long to fit with my truck on the barge. We got there about an hour early and the barge was a bit late to pick us up, but no problem. Back on the barge, we go over to the island, and find the crane operator there and ready for us. We toss off the roof materials for the carpenter to repair the hole. The crane does three more picks and puts the pressure domes in the truck, with the engine set over the axle on the trailer and the pump up front. Tod straps everything down, I throw all the small items in the truck and pick up a few of the bigger tools that we left behind while Alec goes through the building one last time to be sure we haven’t forgotten anything. The carpenter stays behind to repair the roof, and back we go to the dock to meet the barge. While waiting for the barge to pick us up a lobster boat was unloading some traps for the season and we were able to buy some fresh off-the-boat lobsters for dinners that night. Bonus!

So there’s the story of how I found and removed the 15 hp Ohio. I haven’t done much with it since getting it home. I did reassemble to domes onto the pump jack and re-connected the rod for the deep well pump to the walking beam. I also weighed the pump, and it was 1,748 pounds. Before putting the igniter back onto the engine I put a little gas in the primer, hooked up a buzz coil and fired it off. It only made two hits on what went it the primer, but what a sight to see it pop off after who knows how long. The crane operator was 65 years old and knew about the engine his whole life – and never saw it run!





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