Rare engines, including a National Engineering Co. New Model and Brillion, find home with patient Minnesota collector
Joe Schneider fell in love with antique gasoline engines after he saw them at a show near Bradford, Minn., in 1990. “The next year my dad, John, brother Andy and I bought a couple of John Deere E 1-1/2 HP engines from a guy we knew. So I was only 20 when I got started,” Joe says. “It was just neat seeing the engines, and when we fell into two rare engines and got them working and running, that got me so interested that I’ve been bit by the bug ever since.”
Since then, they’ve branched off into a variety of common engines, like the Montgomery-Ward catalog Sattleys, Fairbanks-Morses and a couple of foreign engines, as well as a pair of rarer engines: a Brillion and an unusual National Engineering Co. New Model engine.
The Schneiders’ circa 1905 2 HP National Engineering New Model engine, serial no. 2154, manufactured by National Engineering Co., of Saginaw, Mich., was a regular at the Bradford show but had never been in running condition.
“It was at that showground, and for a long time we tried to buy it, asking the family if they wanted to sell, but they always turned us down,” Joe says. “We’d ask whenever we saw it over the next 20 years until the show shut down, and the owners had an auction.”
In 2005 the engine became the property of the Schneiders. The engine had originally come out of a blacksmith shop in Oxlip, Minn., and was in pretty rough shape when the Schneiders got it. “The machine was pretty much complete, except for a cracked water jacket and cracks in the head,” Joe says. “The engine had been converted to a spark plug at one time, but someone had taken pity and had found the igniter and put it back in.”
There are three or four more New Model engines around Minnesota. This New Model has several attributes that make it an unusual engine, starting with a pendulum governor, which is unique for a small engine but is more common on bigger oil field engines.
The pendulum governors require a great deal of stability for the engine to work properly, and Joe says ideally the machines would be anchored in cement to run best. “It’s tough to run this machine good at a show if the engine rocks or tips at all, because then it will miss and start to run funny, or run away sometimes,” he says. “It would never run on a cart with wheels because it would shake too bad and wouldn’t work right. The pendulum swings back and forth, and when the engine slows down enough, the pendulum slows as well and allows the exhaust valve to close.”
Another unusual feature of this engine is the glass-sight jar for the carburetor. “Most people just watch the pendulum work, and don‘t realize the glass part of it,” Joe says. “It’s the same as an oiler glass, but it’s on the carburetor with fuel going in there, making it almost like a sight glass for fuel, which runs down into the carburetor.”
Joe says it’s a very unusual setup, and he’s never seen another one before. “Most of these engines are set up for pumping, and the other side has a gear on it for running a pump. The fuel pump pumps fuel up to the sight glass, where a needle adjusts the constant stream of gas dripping in front of the intake valve,” he says. “And when it fires, the engine pulls gas out of that stream, and the rest of the gas is re-circulated down to the tank, and up to the sight glass once more, round and round. The base of the New Model is also unusual, fitting with nicely-carved carrying handles so the approximately 500-pound engine could be carried from place to place.”
In reality, according to C. H. Wendel in American Gasoline Engines Since 1872, “these engines, like most others of the time, were planted in position upon arrival and usually remained there indefinitely. Generally it was easier to bring work to the engine than vice-versa.”
The water jacket that needed repair was almost like a piece of pipe, and separate from the cylinder itself, Joe says. “It was cracked in half, so we had to band it back together using lock-and-stitch screws in the drill and tap process to go down the crack and attach itself back together with the screws.”
Joe also had to pour a babbitt for the fuel pump and make an igniter trip that was missing. “Luckily, I found somebody with another engine that I could copy that off,” he says. “The entire process took probably about nine months, working on it off and on.”
Joe says people say it runs well for a small engine with pendulum governing, and some say it runs nice just the way it is. Painting the engine was a minor problem, as there was original paint remaining on the engine, but since Joe is color blind, he says, “I don’t know how close it is. Dad picked the color.”
After getting the machine ready and running, at its second show the crankshaft broke. “That was it for that year, and it was probably a good two months of work trying to get it fixed up and ready to go.”
Joe is 44 and works as a machinist, and he made a pin for the connecting rod and bored it out to make it work. “The crankshaft came in three different pieces, so I just had to make one pin and re-used the two end pieces,” he says. “Something like this doesn’t happen too often with engines. When it came apart you could tell that barely an eighth of an inch of metal had been holding on for a while, so it had been cracked for a while. That was a little discouraging.”
He said he had noticed that the flywheel was wobbling, but since he didn’t really know the engine yet, he didn’t know what it meant. But he says it works well now, probably truer than it did from the factory.
The engine came without a tag, but friend Jerry Swedberg saw it and said the engine needed a tag, so he took the one off his engine and cast a replica in brass for the Schneider machine.
The second of the rare engines in the Schneider’s collection is a circa 1915 1-1/2 HP Brillion engine, manufactured by the Brillion Iron Works of Brillion, Wis.
“It’s a half-buzz coil machine without a cylinder head. Brillion Iron Works is still in business today. They made a lot of different things. We have a Christmas tree stand from Brillion Iron Works.”
The Brillion came to the Schneiders when a man from Rosemount, Minn., who was a big skeet shooter, was going up to his cabin. He wanted to sell the Brillion so he could buy a $5,000 rifle for skeet shooting.
“He had dragged it all over,” Joe says, “and thought it had perhaps been specially made for a saw rig or something in a paper mill in northern Wisconsin. He had a picture of it to show us.”
The Schneiders came across the Brillion at the White Pine Logging & Threshing Show in McGrath, Minn. They talked to other people at the show, trying to figure out what a fair price would be, as nobody had heard of the brand before. “We didn’t have a Wendel book with us at the time, and we thought it might be an engine that another company bought and put their name on it. So we came up with a fair enough price to buy the Brillion.”
John Schneider brought the engine to a show at the Ariens Museum in Brillion, Wis., and while he was there found the oldest surviving worker from the plant, who did not remember the company ever making an engine.
Wendel says that Brillion engines appeared for a short time beginning in 1912. “The cylinder, hopper and base were cast in one piece, (giving) great rigidity and also reduced production costs.”
The Brillion is a hit-and-miss hopper-cooled engine with a buzz coil spark plug ignition, and flyball or flyweight governor type. With it being a headless engine, the valves, similar to the layout of a headless Fairbanks-Morse, are on the opposite side of the combustion chamber. Joe believes it is probably headless so there were fewer parts to make and bolt on.
The major disadvantage is that if you want to work on the piston, everything has to be worked out through the back, and to get it back together everything has to be lined up just perfect again, Joe says. He’s heard that his Brillion is one of only about five in existence.
One of the other engines that holds personal value for Joe is a small Fairbanks-Morse ZD. “It sat in my grandma Mary Schneider’s chicken coop forever,” Joe says. “As a kid I remember seeing it, but I wasn’t interested in engines when I was really young, so after we got into engines, we knew where it was, and we finally got it.”
Joe says he likes to collect engines just for fun, because it’s a different hobby than most people have. “The other part is the fun of going to the shows and camping with my family, where they have fun, too.”
That includes his wife, Michelle, and their three children, though 3-year-old Hazel and 6-year-old Emma are more interested lately than 19-year-old Michael. It also includes Joe’s brother Andy and Andy’s long-time girlfriend, Michele Buckley, and the Schneider parents, John and Susie. “We talk engines or family or a mixture of everything,” Joe says. “It is also fun to see and talk to friends that attend the shows.”
His favorite engine, he says, is the National Engineering New Model engine, because of how it runs. The cooling tank, he has heard, used to be part of an ice cream truck repertoire.
The Schneiders bring about five engines to different shows, depending on the show, in a 1928 puddle-jumper Model A Ford truck that has been converted into a tractor by grandpa Henry Schneider.
Joe says he’d like to find a sideshaft engine, and then maybe a diesel, something that‘s different, and something that they don’t already have.
Joe says his greatest joy in working with gasoline engines is making them run from nothing, or fixing whatever problems they might have. “I like to take something that doesn‘t run and make it work and run it at a show for people,” he says. “Being a machinist by trade has definitely been helpful in making these rare engines run.”
Contact Bill Vossler at Box 372, 400 Caroline Ln., Rockville, MN 56369 • firstname.lastname@example.org