Collector restores the engine that got him started
Story by John Merry
Photos by Vicky Merry
The story of this Alamo engine goes back to the early 1970s, a period of time when an engine collector could drive around the countryside and spot flywheels from the road.
Growing up in the late 1960s and early '70s, I spent many weekends traveling with my uncle, Gilbert Merry, in search of these early treasures, and how exciting it was to find the rare ones!
Most of the time, it was the usual John Deere, Fairbanks-Morse or International engine. But one weekend in 1970, we drove to a small town about 25 miles away to look at a portable steam engine that was advertised for sale in a local paper. My uncle did not purchase it, but before we left, the owner said there was a large gas engine at the edge of town along a fencerow. When we found it, we recognized it was old and unusual with the cooling trays, vertical flyball governor and belt-driven water pump. The cast bronze nameplate hidden behind the flywheels on the base said, "The Alamo," and the old engine bug bit me really hard.
A visit to the farmer who owned the Alamo confirmed it was not for sale. But that didn't deter my uncle - he knew persistence pays off. So every few months we would visit the farmer, and I would beeline out to the old Alamo to inspect and wonder about all its neat features. I would listen closely as the farmer told the history of the engine. His father had bought two new 9 HP portable Alamos in 1909, the year he was born, to pump water from the Umatilla River near Mission, Ore., for irrigation. Later in the early 1930s one engine was scrapped out and this one was used to saw firewood near Athena, Ore., where we found it.
After years of trying to purchase the engine, my uncle acquired the engine for free when the farmer retired. It sat for a few years in its natural state at my uncle's place until one day he asked if I wanted the Alamo, and I didn't waste any time hauling it home. Several years went by before I decided to tackle its restoration. Everything was frozen from rust, but after some careful work I had it apart without breaking anything. The engine was very complete with all its oilers, and the galvanized trays and water tank were in nice shape even after all those years of sitting outdoors. The farmer had replaced the ignitor with a spark plug, but after digging through the dirt and debris from the wood tool box that came with the engine, I discovered the original ignitor and parts. Although somewhat of a complicated linkage for the ignitor, it actually works fairly well by pulling the ignitor trip. Consisting of two square rods, the ignitor releases at the proper time by an inclined ramp on one of the rods.
Restoration was done using a wire wheel to remove the rust. I painted it with some World War II army surplus tough-as-nails OD green with some yellow paint added to match the color under the nameplate. I was able to use the original piston rings; after a little running they seated in, and compression is very good.
The Alamo is a neat engine to watch running, with quite a bit of motion in addition to the cascade of water going back and forth across the trays. I take it to local events in the area, and people who have never seen a hit-and-miss engine before are mesmerized by the quiet chuffing sound and somewhat hypnotic motions it makes. The old farmer who saved his father's engine all those years along the fence-row passed away years ago; however I believe he would be very pleased to know that it is well cared for, being displayed and running for the enjoyment of collectors and non-collectors alike.
Contact John Merry at 8810 Frog Hollow Road, Lauden, WA 99360
Watch a video of this engine on the Gas Engine Magazine engine video index on YouTube. Just look for the icon at left at www.gasenginemagazine.com