Rock Island Engine Spawns Friendship

By Staff
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New life for a 1923 5 HP Rock Island serial no. A80817.
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The 5 HP Rock Island in North Carolina before being rescued by Charles.

Back in March 2001, I had a story in Gas Engine Magazine
about a 2-1/2 HP Rock Island engine and how I got it. That is when I met Gary
Calvin. He wrote me and included a return envelope, but I lost track of it. Gary collects Rock Island
and Alamo engines. I finally found the
envelope, but again misplaced it, and when I found it again I wrote back before
it got misplaced again! The best thing to do if you are sent a return envelope
– answer right away and it won’t get misplaced. I have learned that.

In my return letter I asked for his phone number so I could
call him. He beat me to that and called me first, and we became close friends.
Later, I met him and his brother, Lyle Calvin, in person, and we became the
best of friends.

has helped me to get four engines going. The first was an Empire that needed to
be freed up. Gary
got it loose and running. Then my youngest son pulled a sneaky one on me and
had Gary get my
2-1/2 HP Rock Island engine going. He had it painted, ordered the muffler, had
a new gas tank made, and got whatever else it needed. My oldest son made a cart
for it. I had already sent the magneto to North Carolina to be rebuilt. Gary also helped me get a 4 HP Alamo
running. I was not sure if I had the missing parts for it, as some engines I
purchased in boxes. Anyway, I was able to find the parts, including the head
bolt nuts, so with Gary’s help the Alamo now runs.

The fourth engine that Gary and Lyle helped me get running
was my 5 HP Rock Island.

In 2001 a fellow in North Carolina
wrote me and said he had a Rock Island
engine and asked about the proper color. I wrote him and said I was not sure
the correct shade.

As time went by things started to change. My wife ended up
with multiple sclerosis (MS), so she could not drive anymore or do other things
around the house. Then her Alzheimer’s disease started setting in. In 2007 we
moved to where we are now. As of now she is wheelchair-bound. I do have her at
home with me, so my projects don’t get done too fast.

In 2009 I was going through papers and old letters, and I
ran across the North Carolina
fellow’s letter from 2001. His phone number was there so I called to see if he
ever got his Rock Island
painted and running. He said he hadn’t done anything to it and was thinking
about selling his engines. That is when I found out he had three engines – the
5 HP Rock Island, a 1-1/2 HP Fairbanks-Morse with a Fairbanks-Morse generator
for lights and a small, single flywheel Fairbanks-Morse. I asked him if he had
a price for the engines as I might be interested in them, but he didn’t have a
price at that time. He was kind enough to send me pictures of them. When I got
the pictures I used a magnifying glass to look them over for any cracks, but he
said it appeared there were no cracks.

About a year later I told him I’d be coming through North Carolina on my way
to visit a nephew, and I would look him up. We talked a few times about the
engines, but he still had no price. My first plan was to go in March or April
2012, but changed my mind about dealing with the mountains in March. My
daughter-in-law’s mother lives in Alabama,
so I decided to take her for a visit in May 2012 for Mother’s Day, as my son
had just had his gall bladder out and couldn’t make the trip. We’d stop in North Carolina on the
way home to pick up the magneto for the 2-1/2 HP Rock Island, and also to look
at these other engines.

We left May 6 and got to her mother’s that evening. We left
on the 10 and stopped in Georgia
at my nephew’s house on the 11. We got to the fellow’s house in North Carolina on the
13. I looked the engines over, and I was interested. I told him I did not bring
a trailer or any money, as I was not sure if I would be taking the engines home
because no price had been established yet.

He told me I would be going home with the engines. He had
the 5 HP off the cart and ready to go. The first thing I did was take a tape
measure and measure between the flywheels in different places to be sure the
crank was not bent, as the engine had been lifted by the flywheels in a no-no
way. As it turned out, the crank and all was OK. I then asked what his bottom
dollar was for me to leave with them. He had told me in his letter the price he
paid for them and said he would probably not get that much back. He finally set
a price that I thought was fair, and the deal was made. He said he would like
for me to have the Fairbanks-Morses also; he set a price and I said OK. So I
went and got a trailer from a nearby U-Haul dealer. I told him I didn’t bring
any money, but that I could call my credit union and they would transfer the

Now the surprise part – he looked at me and said, “You don’t
have to write a check. Take the engines home and send me the money.” I looked
at him and said, “You mean you will trust me without paying, even though I’m
about 900 miles from home?” He told me to take the engines and that I didn’t
need to write a check right then as I might need the money to get home. (How
true – I almost didn’t make it over the top of the Blue Ridge Mountains on
Interstate 77 just into Virginia.
When I got home I had to have two sensors and a plugged fuel filter replaced.)
Now how is that for a trusting person?!

The engine required a little work. I sent the magneto off to
be rebuilt. Lyle painted the engine, and Gary
rebuilt the cart.

Read the 2001 Rock Island Engine story by Charles Hargreaves that sparked his friendship with Gary Calvin.

Contact Charles
Hargreaves at 2131 N. Victory
Corner Rd., Ludington, MI 49431
• (231) 843-9374

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