As brothers, Joe and Andy Schneider have family connections for their gas engine hobby. They both fell in love with gasoline engines at the same time after their father, John, took them to a show near Bradford, Minnesota, about 1990.
“The next year my dad and Andy and I bought a couple of John Deere Model E 1-1/2 hp engines from a guy we knew,” Joe says. “It was neat seeing the engines, and when we got them running, I got bit by the bug.”
Their friends in the suburbs didn’t get the engine idea, “My grandmother had an old farmstead where we did lots of different things we were interested in. I’m not sure our friends from those days still get why we collect gas engines,” Joe says.
The Schneiders collected different brands of engines. Many of the engines they found were common, but along with their father they developed a knack for finding rare ones, like a 1906 2 hp Otto, a 1-1/2 hp Brillion, and a very rare circa-1913 Westman gas engine.
“We’ve been lucky to be in the right place at the right time for some of these engines,” Joe says. “That doesn’t happen very often. A lot of times at a show people pass around pictures of common engines they want to sell. But every once in a while you get a rare one.”
The Schneiders’ 1906 2 hp Otto engine is certainly a rare one. Interestingly, it was apparently bought to be displayed, then put in a shed and never run again. When Andy found out about the engine, he asked the owner, who had been selling some of his other engines, if he wanted to sell the Otto. “He named a price, we thought about it for a couple of days and Dad bought it.”
Andy has a strong interest in the Otto, as the Otto design was the first successful internal combustion engine. “Otto patented the 4-stroke engine in 1876. Our 1906 2 hp Otto is a later version, but it’s interesting because it’s still part of that company. And it’s very rare; there are maybe 10 left,” Andy says.
Andy adds that there is a 3-1/2 hp Otto engine in the Coolspring Power Museum with almost the same design, although it’s a little larger. “It’s the only one we could find pictures of. The Otto registry does show that some are existing, but we haven’t found any or seen any or talked to anyone who has one.”
Since the engine had been sitting for some years, the brothers had no way of knowing what kind of work – if any – might have been done to it, so they set to work cleaning it and sorting out the cooling system. Andy thinks the cooling system on the engine is not from the factory. He thinks the engine was probably housed in a shop, with the cooling tank outside. “That kept moisture and heat down inside the building. Many Ottos were used to pump city water or for large household pumping.”
They cleaned the engine and the fuel system, but that was about all. “Somebody may have fixed up different things on it along the way, because it was in good condition when we got it,” Andy says. They know that at one point the engine was in California before making its way to the Midwest.
An unusual aspect of the Otto is the pendulum governor. “It’s mechanically different. Not many smaller engines have those. Usually they’re found on more industrial engines, like for oil pumping or a larger scale like that. Those are stationary, usually bolted permanently to a foundation, versus a portable engine like this Otto.”
Andy thinks the previous owner purchased the engine specifically to display it at the Otto Exposition held at the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion in Rollag, Minnesota, in 2005. “After that, I think he lost interest in it, and put it in the shed.” The Schneiders’ plan to display the engine at the Otto Exposition that’s planned to be held at Rollag in 2020. “People come from all over the country just to see those engines. The engine community knows they’re something special.”
“We found out about it at the Nowthen, Minnesota, Threshing Show.” Andy says. At the time, they didn’t know the Westman was one of a kind, or how much it was worth, but they thought it was interesting. Joe got the owner’s telephone number, and they went to see it. They made an offer, but several months passed before the owner decided to sell.
The Schneiders discovered that a friend of the seller had worked at the Coon Rapids, Minnesota, hydroelectric dam, where the engine had been used. When the Westman was retired in the late 1950s, the friend bought the engine. “The seller took it to his place to get it running, but he never did. It had sat outside under a tarp since 1958,” Joe says. From its long outside exposure, three of the cart wheels were stuck, as was the piston. “It was kind of peculiar because he didn’t have any other engines at all, had never had another one, and never brought any to any shows,” Joe adds. That, however, led to the good luck of buying the Westman.
The engine required a great deal of work. “It’s headless, so it was very difficult to get the piston out. We used a grease gun at 1,100 pounds pressure on the gauge, but it wouldn’t move the piston. Then I rigged up a threaded rod on the bottom of the cylinder, connected it to the connecting rod, and pushed from one direction and pulled from the other at the same time, and finally it broke loose,” Joe says.
They were surprised to find the bore in fine shape, although the rings were “king-sized stuck,” Joe says. It was the valves, however, that showed why the engine wasn’t running. “It looked like someone had done a bad valve job on it, and one valve wouldn’t close all the way, which is probably why they quit using it.”
That meant new valves, of course, as well as a new gas tank and other parts. “I had to remake the ignition timer, but once we got everything unstuck, everything else was in fairly decent shape, good enough to use and run after a lot of cleaning.” Both Andy and Joe work as machinists, a trade that is very useful with their hobby. “I like to work on things and make them run,” Joe says. “I like to make parts, whatever we have to do, I like anything mechanical.”
When Joe took the engine apart to paint it, he found a number of different pieces had “Five” stamped on them. “That was interesting. Maybe it was all hand fitted, with each engine a little bit different, so they wanted to keep the same engineer’s parts on one machine. At least that was my take,” Joe says.
Joe was surprised to see the Kingston 5-ball carburetor on the engine. “I’ve seen them on big prairie tractors, but not on stationary gas engines. Considering the engine, I’m guessing it was specifically built for the Coon Rapids Dam, what with having forward and reverse, and a PTO.” Andy agrees. “It was probably built for specific work on that dam, with the transmission and all that. I’m guessing there isn’t another engine exactly like it.” Joe says he’s only seen one other Westman that looked similar, on the internet, and that one had two flywheels.
Emil Westman began making patents to Enterprise Machine Co., in 1901, the first year Westman engines appeared, according to C. H. Wendel in American Gasoline Engines Since 1872. “At this time, production was confined to a series of heavy duty Marine engines. The 1907 model … was available in one, two, and four-cylinder sizes ranging from 3 to 70 hp. The wet crankcase and four-cycle system was a mark of genuine quality compared to a good many cheap engines then on the market.” Wendel says that Westman stationary engines first appeared around 1912.
Very little is known about Enterprise Machine Co. An article titled “The Westman Engine” in The National Builder magazine of March 1905, touting the Westman said that “not all manufacturers can create engines that are good at all times. In the Westman will be found a gasoline engine which has stood the test of hard usage, under many conditions, for years and has a reputation for running right under all conditions. In the Westman the gasoline is always in plain sight, consequently there can be no tiresome turning of the crankshaft when the gasoline cup is empty. The gasoline is pumped from the tank into the glass cup and supplied to the engine through a needlepoint valve. This makes it possible to regulate the feed to a nicety, doing away with the vaporizer, consequently the engine is less susceptible to atmospheric conditions. There are no check valves to leak or springs to get out of order, and it is impossible to flood the engine with gasoline, as each charge is admitted to the combustion chamber by the action of the piston. The device for admitting the starting charge is original with the Westman and is only found on these engines.
“Their electric igniter is said to be one of the most perfect and up-to-date igniters on the market today. It is reliable in every way and will last a lifetime, and produces the same size spark when the engine is running slow or fast. It is so constructed that a person can change the lead and increase the power of the engine while in operation. They have a plant not only well-equipped for supplying marine, stationary and portable gasoline engines, but they have quite a number of gasoline launches now on hand, besides several auto-boats, which not only have very racy lines, but also are built with a view to comfort. They can furnish an up-to-date launch or auto-boat promptly.”
The Schneiders get varied reactions on the Westman from people at shows. “It’s so different, but they look at the pictures, and the history of the dam and what the engine did, and think it’s really neat,” Joe says. Andy likes the Westman’s rarity, and the forward-reverse transmission. Enterprise Machine Co. also made marine engines, which commonly had forward and reverse. “It’s just so different, with forward and reverse, throttle governing, the Kingston carburetor. The whole engine is just very unique.”
“We have our eyes out for rare engines,” Joe says. “We’ve been lucky to be at the right place at the right time, so we’ve been able to get a few, and we have a place to store them, thanks to Anderson’s Rock Creek Relics.”
Because the father and two sons went to shows together, bought engines together and worked on engines together, they developed bonds with each other and their families. Andy and Joe would like to dedicate this article to their father, John, who passed away suddenly in February 2017. “Our dad would have been very proud to have his engines in this magazine, and to share their story and history,” the brothers say.
Contact engine enthusiast Bill Vossler at Box 372, 400 Caroline Ln., Rockville, MN 56369; firstname.lastname@example.org