Gas Engine Magazine

RIEBEL’S RARITIES

By Staff

Talk about unique gas engines, Bob Riebel of Le Sueur,
Minn., has several. Among them, a 2-cylinder Edwards that could run
on one or both cylinders depending on the operator, a one-of-a-kind
Minneapolis-Moline U and a rarely seen Maytag lawn
mower.

Bob lives the engine-lover’s life. The week of the annual Le
Sueur County Pioneer Power Show in August 2007, it took Bob, two
sons and two grandsons four days to get everything ready and
transported. “We only live 4-1/2 miles from the grounds,” the
79-year-old says. “This year I had 10 trucks, 14 tractors and more
than 80 gas engines at the show,” including those rare ones.

He says they have to be cleaned and checked every year anyway to
make sure they are in running order, and this way they are ready to
display for people to see. “You’ve got to make sure the gas engines
are all lined up and the belts put on the ones that are going to be
running a corn chopper or whatever. The trucks and tractors need
gas added then they are driven over. A carburetor might get crudded
over by sitting, but mostly, it’s amazing how that stuff will sit
for a whole year, and start up right away when you crank it, and
away it goes.”

The old days revisited

Bob grew up on the home place, a mile from where he lives now
near Le Sueur. One of his childhood jobs was to start the 1-1/2 HP
McCormick-Deering gas engine used on the farm to pump water and
separate milk. “I was probably 10 years old when I had to crank it.
It wasn’t too bad. A lot of time you had to push the intake valve
in, get the thing turned over, and then take your hand off the
valve spring, and generally it would go,” Bob says. A belt from the
engine to a gear on the cream separator operated that machine.

Fairmont

Horsepower: 5
Year: 1925
Serial number: 47197
Normal RPM: 2,000
Bore: 2-1/2- or 3-inch
Stroke: 5- or 6-inch
Flywheel diameter: 30 inches
Usage: Aerated water through ice on lake to provide oxygen for
fish
Unique feature: Lever could switch the running from forward to
backward

The collection begins

Bob’s collecting days started when his uncle gave him a 1-1/2 HP
International LA engine. “Another neighbor had a 1-1/2 HP John
Deere that I bought for five bucks, and one thing led to another,”
he laughs.

In 1945, when Bob was 17, he attended the University of
Minnesota Farm School at the St. Paul campus until he was 19, and
like other students, learned about gas engines from instructors who
used a 1947 Minneapolis-Moline U tractor cutout engine. “An
electric motor ran that engine real slow. The pistons and rings
were exposed and the carburetor was partly exposed, so you could
see the moving parts, and the instructor could explain what these
parts were and what they did, while it was running,” Bob says. The
instructor explained that an engine needed three basic things:
gasoline or fuel, fire and compression.

Edwards

Manufactured: Springfield, Ohio
Horsepower: 1-1/2 or 6
Year: circa 1920
Serial number: 5846
Flywheel diameter: 30 inches
Unique features: Two-cylinders that can be run in tandem or
seperately to conserve fuel; engine cranks to the left via belt
pulley

Lauson-Lawton

Model: Wisconsin
Horsepower: 3
Year: circa 1913
Serial number: 1010
Bore: 3-inch
Stroke: 5-inch
Flywheel width: 2-1/2 inches
Flywheel diameter: 36 inches
Unique features: Sideshaft; needs battery and coil to start
because it dosen’t have a magneto

Years later, when the buildings were no longer used as a farm
school, Bob visited to reminisce about his classes on gas engines
and carpentry. “In the engineering building I asked if they had any
engines left over, and they still had that Minneapolis-Moline U
tractor cutout engine.” Specially built for the farm school, it was
a one-of-a-kind, and shortly after his visit, Bob added it to his
collection.

The Fairmont gets you coming and going

Another of Bob’s interesting and unique engines is a circa 1925
5 HP Fairmont gas engine, serial no. 47197, that runs both forward
and backward. “These engines were usually used on railroad tracks
for those little doodlebug cars that went from one town to the next
checking the tracks.

Flip a rod and the engine will go the other way, and take the
little cart back to where it started. It was made in Fairmont,
Minn., which is only about 60 miles from here,” Bob says.

He heard that the Izaak Walton League in the area had the
engine, and asked about it. “I was told they weren’t going to fix
it up and get it running, so they ended up giving it to me,” added
Bob.

It has an interesting history, too. It was bought to provide
oxygen so fish wouldn’t die during the winter when Clear Lake was
heavily covered with ice and snow. It was dragged over the ice on
runner skids, two holes were chopped in the ice and a propeller
pushed water from the lake across the ice, aerating it, and then
down the second hole back into the lake. “It was quite a patent,”
Bob says, “but it didn’t work. After a while it wore a hole through
the ice, and they’d have to drag it out of the water, get it
started again, chop two more holes, and all that work didn’t go
over very good. “He says it ran at about 2,000 RPM, with flywheels
about 2 feet in diameter, and a stroke of 5 or 6 inches. “The bore
was about 2-1/2 or 3 inches.” Weights in the flywheel controlled
the governing system, he adds.

The 2-cylinder Edwards

The Edwards engine, made for a few years in the 1920s, serial
no. 5846, was one of the most unusual gas engine designs of
all-time. It had two cylinders which could be operated in tandem,
or one or the other cylinder could be cut to save fuel. With one
cylinder it has 1-1/2 HP, with both, 6 HP.

“Originally it ran a milk machine. An old bachelor friend, Frank
Boehne, found this engine about a mile from where I live. The
owners had it hooked up somehow to run the vacuum pump to milk cows
with it.”

Bob says it’s kind of a goofy engine, not just because it can
run one piston or the other or both, but also because it had to be
started with a belt instead of a crank. “You had to turn it over
the opposite way of almost all other engines. Most engines crank to
your right, but this one goes to your left. You wind a belt on a
pulley and pull it to get it running. It doesn’t have a regular
crank handle,” Bob says. Each piston has its own gas line to the
carburetor, and each line can be turned off, like turning off the
line on any other engine. “Screw it in and one will keep on running
and the other will shut off,” Bob says. The Edwards saved gasoline
when running on only one piston, and added horsepower with two.
Flywheels are about 2-1/2 feet in diameter, Bob says, and the
governing style is like that on most engines. “When it slows down
the flywheel gets the governor to run faster again, the same
principle as on 90 percent of all engines.”

One of the other engines that isn’t necessarily rare that Bob
likes is a 10 HP Fairbanks-Morse made in Canada. It was used on an
oil rig, so it ran 24 hours a day. “There’s a glass site between
the flywheels in back where you can see how much oil is in it while
it’s running. It has Timken bearings in it, so they never wear out,
and a fan would cool off the water in that big radiator so it never
overheated that way. It was made in the 1920s sometime. At the show
you can crank the engine at 7 a.m. and at 7 p.m. and it will still
be running, and never overheat,” says Bob.

Bob got the Fairbanks-Morse from a friend in Sauk Centre, Minn.,
who couldn’t get it running. “Come to find out it was out of
timing. The magneto was screwed up, so in a half hour I had it
running. He had cut the price from $300 to $100 because of that.”
It was an LP engine at the time, but Bob converted it back to its
original gasoline. The flywheels are about 3-1/2 feet in diameter
and about 4 inches wide, he says. “It’s got a big flywheel on it,”
says Bob.

The rare Wisconsin

Another of Bob’s very rare engines is a 1913 3 HP Lauson-Lawton
Wisconsin engine, serial no. 1010. “A few years ago I bought two
engines out of a junkyard, and this was one of them. It needed to
have a rocker arm and gas tank made, pieces of the carburetor had
to be made, and it needed a crank. I borrowed another guy’s 3 HP to
make pieces so I could fix my engine up. That was an all-winter
project.” It’s about a 3-by-5-inch bore and stroke. Bob says, “Most
of them are about that size.” The flywheels are about 3 feet in
diameter and about 2-1/2 inches thick.

“What makes this one rare is that it’s a sideshaft, and there’s
not too many of them out there. It needs a battery and coil to
start it because it doesn’t have a magneto. That makes an awful
difference too, you know,” Bob says.

It uses a flyball governor, and when the engine slows down, the
flywheel balls open the governor so it will operate a little
faster. “It’s the same principle and type as on a steam engine,”
Bob says.

Though Bob’s 1/2 HP Maytag engine itself isn’t rare, how it’s
used is: on a lawn mower. “I found it at an auction. A 12-year-old
kid and I were bidding on it, and I ended up outbidding the poor
kid. It’s the same engine you used on a washing machine or stuff
like that. I’ve never seen anything else like it.” The lawn mower
blade actually sticks out into the open. “You could trim your
toenails with that one,” Bob laughs. He never starts it because
it’s too dangerous, he adds. He figures it was manufactured during
the 1920s.

Once he got a rare Maytag engine without even knowing about it –
a 1913 single-cylinder 1-1/2 HP, with about a 2-1/2-by-4-inch bore
and stroke. “It needed a battery and coil to start it. That’s just
the way it was made,” Bob notes.

Bob got it from friends in Sauk Centre, Minn., who knew of a
neighbor who had some old engines. Once he got it home, somebody
saw it and said, “Where did you find that thing? It’s dang rare.
It’s called a stove-foot engine, because it stands on four curved
feet.”

Bob has figured out some interesting ways to keep engines
running over the years, over and above replacing rings, pistons,
making head or other gaskets, or whatever else had to be done to
his engines. “One time my son and I were fixing a McCormick-Deering
with rod bearings that were so bad I told my son to get them fixed.
He said they fell apart. So we cut some line off an old horse
harness, and put it in there. That was 30 years ago, and that belt
is still working in that engine today. The belting took the place
of the babbitting. Once it gets oiled, it’s better than any
babbitting you can buy,” Bob says. When he was working on a 1917
Model T truck engine, the back seals were leaking, so Bob and Frank
Boehne cut a seal from an old pair of boot liners, and it
worked.

Bob also owns a rare 1936 Allis-Chalmers 30-60 Thresherman’s
Special tractor. As far as he knows, it’s the only one of the
original 90 that were made on steel and still running. “I’ve taken
that big tractor to the Midwest Allis-Chalmers Collector’s Club
Orange Spectacular Show at Hutchinson, Minn., and have never run
into anybody who has a tractor like it.”

Bob’s had it at other Allis-Chalmers shows with the same
results. “Nobody to this day has ever said they’ve got one like
mine,” Bob adds.

Bob had the tractor at a show in Marshalltown, Iowa, with 400
Allis-Chalmers, and his was the only one like it. “People ask a lot
of questions about that tractor,” he says. Bob and the tractor were
featured on the front of the Des Moines Register. “That was quite
an honor,” he says.

For the kids

Bob gets the most joy from seeing parents with kids come to look
at the engines, he says. “When a dad comes along with a couple of
sons 10-14 years old, and they call me over to explain and talk
about the engines history. I hope these young kids get a lot of
good out of my explaining what the engines were used for. That’s
why we’ve got all the grinders, burr mills, water pumps and silage
choppers belted up to the engines, so people can see how they
originally were used. If we weren’t passing the history along here
at Pioneer Power, it would be a real loss. I think kids can learn
more at Pioneer Power than they can in a schoolhouse,” he adds.

Bob Riebel lives in Le Sueur, Minn.

Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and author of several books
on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact him at Box 372, 400
Caroline Lane, Rockville, MN 56569; bvossler@juno.com

  • Published on Dec 1, 2007
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