Remembering the Alamo

By Staff
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John Merry’s 1909 9 HP Alamo engine.
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'A front view of the engine shows the ignitor, governor and mixer. Also note the neatly riveted repaired rocker arm. The farm family who owned the engine were quite talented blacksmiths and the repairs they made were well done. '
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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

Contact John Merry at 8810 Frog Hollow Road, Lauden, WA

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