Many folks who have oilfield engines either own or have owned a
Reid. The Reid engine was apparently a very popular engine in
it’s day, as there are quite a few around as oilfield engines
of that era go. The Joseph Reid Gas Engine Company was located in
Oil City, Pa.
I have a Reid engine myself -it was the first oilfield engine I
purchased, and my first exposure to an oilfield engine was a Reid
at an engine show. The thing that most intrigued me about the Reid
was the cylinder on the side. My first reaction was, ‘this is a
twin-cylinder engine,’ but after I asked the owner he explained
that it was a pump that forced the air and fuel mixture into the
drive, or working, cylinder (see Photo #4 of Reid engine).
Now I really was interested in this thing, which to me sounded
very unusual. Well, as things go and time progressed, 1 got my very
own Reid, and the purpose of this month’s column is to share
with you some of the things 1 have learned about the unusual little
‘pump’ cylinder on a Reid.
In the course of my limited research and digging around, and
assuming I understand properly, a Reid engine operates on what is
known as the ‘Clerk’ cycle. The Clerk cycle is named for
Sir Dugald Clerk, born in 1854 in Glasgow, Scotland, and knighted
in 1917, apparently for his work in developing the two-cycle
engine. A Reid is a two-cycle engine of a different sort.
Developed by Sir Clerk in an early form in 1878 (see Photo #1),
the Clerk engine featured two cylinders, one being a pump cylinder,
the other a motor cylinder. The pump crank followed the motor
crank, and it pumped a mixture of gas and air into an intermediate
reservoir through a check-valve. From this reservoir the mixture
was supplied to the motor cylinder by means of a slide-valve. The
mixture was compressed in the reservoir to a pressure of 70 psi.
This arrangement allowed an impulse (power stroke) every
revolution. In the sectional plan of the Clerk gas engine (see
Photo #2), ‘A’ is shown to be the drive cylinder,
‘B’ to be the charge or pump cylinder, ‘C’ to be
the drive or working piston, and ‘D’ to be the pump or
charge piston – nearly exactly the arrangement of a Reid
I do not know how Joseph Reid came about using this design,
neither do I know of any other makes of engines that operate as
this. Maybe someone else can shed further light on this. The
longitudinal section of the engine shows the ‘reservoir’
(P), which was pumped up to 70 psi for fuel and air to supply the
drive cylinder on each cycle. This is something that was excluded
on Clerk’s future designs. I’d assume there was a safety
concern here also, as back ignition into the reservoir through the
check-valve could result in a nasty explosion. Anyone who has had
trouble with the check-valve leaking on their Reid can understand
this as back ignition can occur in the pump cylinder. This problem
more than likely was never totally resolved, as most Reids have a
pop-off valve in the end of the charge cylinder to prevent damage
to the engine in cases of back ignition into the pump cylinder.
In 1886 Clerk built another engine of the same type as the 1878
engine, but differing from it in having no reservoir between the
pump and the motor (see Photo #2). Clerk writes in his book,
The Gas, Petrol and Oil Engine, ‘This engine gave very
economical results, and its running was satisfactory when the
valves were accurately maintained. The difficulty of back ignition
into the pump was overcome by diminishing the passage between motor
and pump to the smallest possible volume. When back ignition did
occur, the engine was not materially affected, as the pump at once
took in a new charge of gas and air and, after compressing it,
delivered it into the motor cylinder as the piston moved on its
Photo # 4: A Reid engine. The pump cylinder and drive linkage
from the flywheel are clearly visible on the left side.
I’m sure there is someone out there who could offer much
more on this subject than I, and if you have anything to offer on
top of what I write here (or corrections), 1 would look forward to
adding it in a future issue. I would be interested if further light
can be shed on this interesting history.
As always, if anyone would like a free membership in the
Oilfield Engine Society, the OFES, please call, write (SASE) or
email. Also, visit the OFES website at www.oil-fieldengine.com.
Contact Russell L. Farmer, The Oilfield Engine Society, at:
1231 Banta’s Creek Rd., Eaton, OH 45320-9701, or email at: