Remembering the Alamo

Collector restores the engine that got him started

| August 2008

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.