The Mighty 175 Otto Engine

By Staff
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The 1925 175 hp Otto as it looks now at Coolspring.
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The Brookville Water Works in 1911.
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The original contract for the Otto, dated Nov. 2, 1925. The cost was $7,590, approximately $103,000 today.
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A page from a circa-1925 Otto catalog touting 40-300 hp engines.
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The 175 hp Otto and the Worthington pump at the Brooks Water Works.
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Taken in 1968, this is one of the last photos of the Otto before it was dismantled and removed from the Brooks Water Works.
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The Otto’s buildplate, showing serial number 14247.
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The engine and pump foundation in 2005. It took 64 yards of concrete.
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The 13-ton Otto main frame on Paul Harvey’s International tilt-bed truck.
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Waiting to leave Ohio: The crankshaft weighs 2.5 tons and the piston and connecting rod 1.5 tons.
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The Otto finally joined with its new foundation in September 2005, just in time for the fall show.
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John Wilcox (left) and Reuben Ferringer in October 2005.
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Left to right: Clair Exley, Mark Himes and Ken Uplinger loading the 4.5-ton flywheels.
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First fire, with Clair Exley on the throttle and Mike Murphy and Doug Fye watching.
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Reuben starting the 175 hp Otto at the 2007 fall show.
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The Worthington's buildplate.
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The Jan. 1, 1926, invoice for the Worthington. The cost was $6,064, approximately $82,000 today.
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Installing the top half of the huge herringbone gear.
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Rob Northey starting the 175 hp Otto in 2014 during filming of the engine by WJAC-TV of Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

1925 Otto 175 hp
Manufacturer: Otto Engine Works, Philadelphia, PA
Serial no.: 14247
Horsepower: 175 hp @ 180 rpm
Bore & stroke: 21in x 30in
Engine weight: 49,000lb
Flywheel diameter: 17-3/4in x 1-3/4in
Ignition: Magneto and igniter
Governing: Throttle

Of all the wonderful engines displayed at the Coolspring Power Museum, my favorite will always be the 175 hp Otto and the Worthington water pump, which were originally located at the Brookville, Pennsylvania, waterworks. Brookville, only 10 miles from Coolspring, seemed such an unlikely place to find one of the largest single-cylinder gas engines in the world. Amazingly, Otto only built five of these monsters: one going to an ink factory in Brooklyn, New York; three going to China; and one going to Brookville! I can still recall the summer evening in 1968 when John Wilcox and I drove to Brookville to peep into the waterworks, not knowing what we would find. He seemed to go berserk after looking in through a window, and soon was running around to all the windows and doors for a better look. A bit later, he explained to me the significance of the jewel we found.

John quickly investigated with a call to the Water Board and found that the engine and pump, on standby since 1945, were to be replaced with an electrically powered pump. Successful in obtaining the retired unit, he spent most all of 1969 dismantling the 25-ton engine and the 20-ton pump single handedly. He hauled all the parts to his location in Ohio on his 1952 L140 2-ton International truck. Only the engine main frame needed special trucking. A monumental feat! He meticulously maintained all the parts, but did not have the opportunity to assemble them. About 35 years later and health declining, he sold the Otto engine and Worthington pump to me. This is the story of its return home.


Looking back into history a bit, in 1911 Brookville built a beautiful new waterworks as shown in Photo 1. It was located on North Fork Creek, which provided unlimited pure water from a watershed of many thousand acres of pristine forest. The new waterworks replaced an older steam plant that could no longer provide the town’s needs. Note the room on the right of the building; it housed an 80 hp Otto. Fifteen years later, it would be the home of the 175. 

In 1925, the waterboard recognized the need for a larger pumping unit. Borough engineer Fred Sayer applied for engine bids of a 175 hp unit. He considered a Worthington and an Otto. Photo 2 is the engine contract dated Nov. 2, 1925, for the 175 hp Otto, at a cost of $7,590. It is the 1912 model, which replaced the highly successful 1893 Columbian model. A catalog picture is shown in Photo 3. Although still available, it was essentially obsolete in 1925! The huge single-cylinder, 21-inch bore and 30-inch stroke, two large flywheels, 9 feet 1-inch in diameter, and simple two-piece main bearings betrayed its earlier design. 

An undated picture from the waterworks file, shown as Photo 4, is the Otto and its pump during its working years. It was meticulously maintained and operated by plant engineer Reuben “Rube” Ferringer. Its location was in the side room of the waterworks, as mentioned above. Note the flat belt over the flywheel extending into the basement. This powered a centrifugal pump that brought the water from the dam into the sedimentation basins. There the water was filtered, with the Worthington triplex pump finally pushing the water uphill some 300 feet to the town’s reservoir. Gravity delivered the water to all the users. The engine ran 24 hours a day from Monday morning through Saturday afternoon; the reservoir supplied Sunday’s needs. 

Photo 5, taken by John Wilcox in 1968, is one of the last before the engine was dismantled. Although on standby for 23 years, Reuben kept the Otto and pump in pristine condition, and it could be started on a moment’s notice. The Otto name plate is detailed in Photo 6, and shows that the Otto Engine Works was then a division of the Superior Gas Engine Company of Springfield, Ohio.  

Coming home

Jumping ahead to 2005, I had purchased the Otto and pump from John Wilcox, and he furnished me with all the records he had obtained from the Brookville Water Works. Fortunately, these included the original foundation blue prints! After choosing a location in the Power Technology Building, I employed a local contractor to build the entire engine and pump foundation. This required 64 yards of concrete as seen in Photo 7. By the end of July, 2005, I had a finished foundation waiting for its inhabitants.   

Enthused by the progress, the museum crew and I planned a trip to John’s home in Ohio for the coming Labor Day weekend. We took two trucks, my faithful old International tilt-bed and my Dodge and trailer. A lot of hard work turned into satisfaction as we loaded the trucks and examined all the beautiful Otto parts. Arriving home safely, Photo 8 shows the 13-ton Otto main frame on the tilt-bed truck. Photo 9 shows my trailer awaiting departure in Ohio. The crankshaft weighed 2-1/2 tons, and the piston and connecting rod weighed 1-1/2 tons. Small parts were packed everywhere. We did not stop progress then, as the crew was determined to have the main frame on its foundation at our fall show for all to see. Photo 10, taken in the last week of September 2005, proves this happened. We had achieved a big project for the year. 

A candid picture from the Fall Show, Oct. 13, 2005, Photo 11, shows John Wilcox and Reuben Ferringer sitting by the Power House door. It was a balmy day, good for telling stories of the past. John was very happy to see the progress made with the re-erection of “his” big engine. I’m sure that Reuben was reliving all his years and adventures he had with the engine. He was very instrumental in making it possible for John to obtain it from the waterworks, and after all those years, he certainly hoped he would see it run again. 

The entire summer of 2006 was spent with cleaning, fitting and assembling! The huge engine cylinder bore had to be cleaned of its preservative grease and lightly oiled to accept the piston. Similarly, the piston and connecting rod had to be meticulously cleaned before reassembly. Likewise, the huge crankshaft needed cleaned and fitted into its bearings. Many small parts were cleaned and assembled, and the valves were ground and assembled. Finally, the entire main frame had to be precisely leveled and grouted onto the foundation block. A long and tedious job, but now all the parts and pieces we had in Coolspring were assembled; we were ready for the flywheels. Unfortunately, they would have to wait until the next year as winter was approaching. 

First fire

After the 2007 June show was over, the crew chose the July 4th weekend for retrieving the flywheels. We took the same two trucks as before to John’s location in southeastern Ohio where the wheels and pump were stored. Photo 12, taken July 2, shows (left to right), Clair Exley, Mark Himes and Ken Uplinger loading the second 4-1/2-ton flywheel. I had a full load of pump parts on my trailer. Once home, we used the museum’s military truck wrecker to lift the flywheels and swing them into position. Each was slid onto the crankshaft and the keys were driven home. Done!

Although much detail work still needed done, we decided on July 22, 2007, that it was ready for a trial run. Starting air was pumped up, fuel gas was checked, and the oilers were all on after a thorough lubrication. Photo 13 shows Clair Exley on the throttle with Mike Murphy and Doug Fye watching. Wow, after a couple of tremendous backfires, it was running. Two years since our work began, and 39 years since it last ran, the Otto came to life!

All the details were finished including an underground outside exhaust and gravel floor before the 2007 fall show. The engine now ran smoothly and dependably. We held the Otto dedication on Oct. 21, 2007. With a huge crowd in attendance and the opening remarks said, Reuben stepped up to the engine and went through his usual starting routine, as if he had done it a day before. Photo 14 catches the moment with Reuben’s hand on the starting lever. The engine came to life, the crowd cheered, and Reuben smiled. Having run his “love” one more time, he passed away that winter. 

The next two years were consumed by moving all the pump parts to Coolspring and preparing them for assembly. Unfortunately, the pump had been stored outside, unlike the engine, which had been inside a building all those years and well maintained. The pump’s critical parts had been greased, but otherwise it was covered with rust. Rob Northey joined the crew and undertook the massive job of wire-brushing all the parts and preparing them for erection. I have no idea how many wire wheels he used transferring all the rust from the parts to himself! He was determined, and gradually it took shape. Photo 15 shows Rob and Chris Austin installing the top half of the huge herringbone gear with our military wrecker truck on May 2, 2010. All the hard work paid off, and happily the Otto operated its pump again.  

The Brookville Water Works awarded the contract for the pump to Worthington on Jan. 2, 1926, exactly two months after the Otto contract. A copy can be seen in Photo 16.  This triplex, or 3- cylinder, water pump was the largest Worthington built and boasted a 14-inch bore and 12-inch stroke. It delivered 1.5 million gallons of water per day to the reservoir! Its large brass name plate is seen in Photo 17. In operation, the large herringbone reduction gears are nearly silent as the Otto powers the pump plungers up and down. A beautiful sight to watch operate. 

Rob Northey is now the chief engineer for the Otto and Worthington, and proudly demonstrates it for all our events. Photo 18 shows Rob starting the Otto in June, 2014, as it was being filmed by WJAC-TV in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, for a television production.

Contact the Coolspring Power Museum at PO Box 19, Coolspring, PA 15730 • (814) 849-6883 •

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