Oil Field Engine News

By Staff
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The Ajax Iron Works as it appeared around the turn of the century.
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In 1877 businessman Lewis L Bliss joined his brother-in-law,
Clifford H. Bagley, and two other businessmen, Clarence G. Harmon
and George H. Gibbs, in organizing a company to manufacture
steam-powered drilling engines in Corry, Pa. The growing oil
industry in Pennsylvania, following the first oil well drilled in
Titusville in 1859 would provide a ready market for their product.
Named Harmon, Gibbs & Company, the group constructed a
three-story building, and began production of 12 HP steam

As oil wells grew deeper, the young company built larger
engines, building a 150 HP engine after just a few years in
business. In 1892 the company was incorporated as the Ajax Iron
Works. The name Ajax, with reference to the Greek hero from
Homer’s Iliad, had been adapted for several years to one of the
company’s drilling engines. Corporation rights were granted to
Ajax as ‘machinists, founders and engine builders.’

Ajax business grew rapidly after the turn of the 20th century.
An Ajax gas engine had already added to its line, the first having
been produced in 1895. By 1911 more than 1,200 Ajax engines had
been sold. In 1920 National Supply Company became exclusive oil
field distributor of Ajax engines. At the same time, Ajax
discontinued its gas engine, returning to an exclusive steam engine
line. Some within the company opposed the move, believing the Ajax
gas engine design compared favorably with that of competitors.
However, it was felt the plant did not have sufficient capacity to
continue manufacturing both gas and steam engines. Said one
advocate of steam power, ‘A steam engine will run forever. It
just gets a little noisier and a little looser, but as long as you
put the steam to her, she’ll run.’ Indeed, the first Ajax
engine built in 1877 was going strong until 1968 when it was
retired to a museum, still fully operable.

views of Goble Rogers’ 115 HP Ajax Model DP-115. Goble’s
Ajax made its first outing at this year’s Hillbilly Flywheelers
Show in Irvine, Ky., April 25-27, 2003.

Surviving the Depression doldrums, when oil business had
dwindled to a trickle, Ajax continued to develop new and better
steam engines. When World War II engulfed the nation, low
priorities for oil field drilling nearly created a shutdown at Ajax
(the low priority was a consequence of oil producers assuring the
government they had sufficient drilling to sustain the war effort).
To keep the plant in operation the company searched for a product
it could produce that would be vital to the war effort. This
product was found in the form of a contract with the Maritime
Commission to produce marine steam engines for use on costal
vessels. Ranging from 400 to 3,000 HP, each engine required two
railroad cars for disassembled shipment. For its contribution to
the war effort Ajax received the U.S. Maritime ‘M’ pennant
and Victory fleet flag on Sept. 23, 1944.

views of Goble Rogers’ 115 HP Ajax Model DP-115. Goble’s
Ajax made its first outing at this year’s Hillbilly Flywheelers
Show in Irvine, Ky., April 25-27, 2003.

Like most manufacturers, Ajax faced a need to stabilize its
business after war contracts expired. The situation was compounded
because it was evident steam engines would soon be outdated in all
but a few markets. Returning to production of natural gas engines
was a logical solution, but the company had been out of that
business for a quarter of a century. To meet competition, it would
need to purchase a gas engine that had been developed over the
years. Superior Engine Division of the National Supply Company,
located in Springfield, Ohio, had just such a design for sale. In
1945, Ajax bought the Superior line of slow-speed horizontal gas
engines and launched a half-million dollar changeover of its plant

The first Ajax gas engine utilizing the acquired Superior design
rolled off the assembly line in the fall of 1946. Thus, the balance
scale was tipped unquestionably toward gas products. With the
growth of its gas engines, the company entered the relatively new,
secondary oil-recovery market, bringing in oil from abandoned or
unproductive wells by such methods as water flooding and gas

The company still suffered a severe business slump from 1949 to
1950, while proving its ability to manufacture gas engines. The
assistant general manager at the time, Lloyd Lanphere, explained,
‘In spite of our enviable reputation as builders of the
world’s best steam drilling engine, gas engine users at first
were skeptical of our ability to redesign and build a gas engine of
comparable quality. Many prospects in the beginning bought engines
on a strict ‘let’s try one and see’ basis, then waited
for cost and performance tabulations. Soon most of those customers
were satisfied that we could build a good gas product, and they
demonstrated their faith by buying in larger quantities.’ In
1963 the Cooper-Bessemer Corporation purchased Ajax.

Goble Rogers of Irvine, Ky., sent photos of his recently
restored 115 HP Ajax Model DP-115 at its first show at the
Hillbilly Flywheelers Show in Irvine, Ky., April 25-27, 2003. It is
a post-Superior purchase engine, probably built sometime between
1947 and the mid-1950s. Bore and stroke is 13-1/2 inches by 16
inches, the exhaust is 8 inches and the engine weighs approximately
9 tons. The radiator holds 30 gallons of water and the crankcase
holds 22 gallons of oil.

Special thanks to Goble Rogers for his help with this article
and to Cooper industries for permission to reprint excerpts from
their company history, Cooper Industries.

As always if you would like a free membership in the Oil Field
Engine Society please call, write or e-mail me at the address

Contact the Oil Field Engine Society at: 1231 Banta’s
Creek Road, Eaton, OH 45320-9701, (937) 456-9387. Visit the OFES on
the Web at www.oilfieldengine.com or e-mail:

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