For the last couple of years, my buddy Jim Baue
and I have been looking for a large gas engine to restore. We had
gone through many of the normal channels in our search, but
finally, on Nov. 12, 2003, we found our engine – and it was
advertised in the local trading newspaper.
An early 1920s 50 HP Bessemer, this engine was previously used
by an oil company to generate electricity to run their wells.
Fortunately, it had been stored inside until late 2000, so it was
in better than average condition when we saw it for the first time.
After looking it over we made a deal to buy it, and Larry and Chris
Schmittler of Grayville, Ill., agreed to furnish the truck to move
it as part of the deal.
On Nov. 22, 2003, we met up with Larry and Chris in Grayville to
get the Bessemer out of the field where it sat. Lloyd Schoenheit
brought out a Mack truck with a boom and had the engine and frame
loaded on the trailer within 30 minutes.
Larry and Chris had originally intended on restoring the engine,
and they had discovered that a local man, Wayne Knight, was the
last person to run the Bessemer. It took a couple of weeks to catch
up with Wayne, but when I did, he told me the engine was taken out
of service around 1971.
Although “Bessie” had worked faithfully, she was retired because
it was cheaper for her owners to buy electric power off the grid
than to produce it with the engine. Regretably, in August 2004 I
found out Wayne had passed away in the spring. We all had plans of
having him start the engine at a show.
The Real Work Begins
Once we had the Bessemer at Jim’s shop, we jumped right into
trying to find out what we were up against. We removed the crank
cover, along with the governor, air and fuel valves, the exhaust
pipe and the side covers. As we took the parts off, water poured
out of everything we touched.
We removed the side plates at the main bearings so we could
inspect for any needed repairs, and once we had the gear side plate
removed it was clear we were going to have to make new keys and
shims to line up the gears a little better.
The engine’s McCord mechanical oiler was full of water,
necessitating pretty much a full rebuild with lots of soaking,
cleaning, new packing, new gaskets and a good polishing of the
We pulled the main bearing caps and the rod cap, and using air
jacks we raised the crankshaft high enough to check the main
bearings for wear. Satisfied the bearings were in good shape, we
put them all back together.
The governor was rusted stuck, so we had to give it a complete
overhaul – sandblasting, new springs, bushings and paint. The fuel
valve only needed a good cleaning (the rings and springs were in
great shape). We rebuilt the fuel line with new black pipe, and we
sandblasted and repainted the butterfly assembly. We also refaced
the governor-controlled gas valve and installed new packing.
In a little over three weeks, we were on the road to putting the
engine back together. Before going any farther, we decided to belt
the engine up to a Massey-Harris Pony in an attempt to turn it
over, but to no avail. On closer inspection, we discovered quite a
lot of carbon was breaking loose, so we pulled the head off,
cleaned the bore and then turned the engine some more. Still not
satisfied with how the engine was turning over, we decided to pull
the piston out. We discovered the piston rings were stuck and there
was a lot of carbon under them. Using plenty of penetrating oil and
tapping the rings with a hammer, we finally freed up the rings. We
gave the piston a good cleaning and a once-over. The only thing we
broke in the whole process was one stud – which took us four hours
to get out.
On The Downhill Slope
When we got the engine, one decal could still be made out on one
side of the engine. We took a photo of it and gave it to our
friends at Sign Solutions, who made new decals based on the photo.
Finally, we prepped and painted the engine and made a custom
exhaust system. The exhaust is made from 8-inch diameter aluminum,
and it took a lot of cutting and welding to route the exhaust from
the bottom of the cylinder out to the side and up. To hook the
exhaust up to the cylinder, we had to custom-cut an 8-inch threaded
exhaust nipple on a lathe.
On Feb. 1, 2004, we started Bessie for the first time in almost
35 years. Its first show was our home show, the American
Thresherman Assn. Steam, Gas and Threshing Show held Aug. 19-22,
2004, in Pinckneyville, Ill. The Bessemer ran like a clock for us
This was a very large project, and without the support of all
our friends, it would still be sitting in the shop. Thanks to
everyone who helped.
Contact engine enthusiast Gary Bahre at: P.O. Box 40, Sparta, IL
“Bessie” will be on display at the 46th Annual Steam, Gas
&Threshing Show Aug. 18-21, 2005, in Pinckneyville, Ill. For
more information call: (618) 357-3241; or on the web at: