Rockin' Superior at Mt. Pleasant

After a Life Working In Montana, a Giant of the Oil Fields Retires In Iowa

| February/March 2003

  • Air tank

  • Another View of the Superior

  • The Superior
    The Superior takes a break at last year's Old Threshers Reunion at Mt. Pleasant, Iowa.
  • Wilbur Swartzendruber and his wife
    Wilbur Swartzendruber and his wife, Lois, with the Superior before its restoration.

  • Air tank
  • Another View of the Superior
  • The Superior
  • Wilbur Swartzendruber and his wife

Starting air tank on the Superior proudly lists the people who made the restoration possible.

Wilbur Swartzendruber of Wellman, Iowa, wants the story of his family's 1920 Superior gas engine on the record. 'It's a 40-60 Superior,' Wilbur says, 'with two 5-1/2-foot, cast-iron flywheels with spokes. It starts on air and runs on LP gas. At 300 revolutions, it produces 40 HP; at 350 revolutions, it produces 50 HP; and at 400 revolutions, it produces 60 HP.'

The engine, now permanently stored at the Old Threshers showgrounds in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, was manufactured in 1920 in Springfield, Ohio, by the Superior Gas Engine Co., and spent its working life in Montana, simultaneously pumping two oil wells. Wilbur says he thinks it was located near Cut Bank. He purchased the engine in 2001 from the late Ralph Wilson of Atkins, Iowa, who brought it to Iowa from Montana but never got it restored.

When Wilbur first saw the Superior at Atkins, it was in sad shape. It had no trucks and had been sitting directly on the ground for so long the flywheels were buried some eight inches deep. He and Ralph dug it out, and as they put it on a flatbed truck they saw the flywheels turn, signaling the engine wasn't stuck.

Wilbur, who is 77, hauled the Superior to Wellman, and as he drove into town on his way home with the engine Earl Werts spotted it and followed him home. 'Do you want to work on it,' Wilbur recalls asking Earl as they looked over the derelict engine. Earl, who is now 81, replied, 'I sure do.' More help came from local friends Jim Seward and George Miller Jr., who along with Earl pitched in to help Wilbur restore the Superior. Earl did the mechanical work; Seward, who is Wellman's fire chief, did the painting and lettering; and George made the sturdy 4- by 6-foot oak tongue for the engine's new trucks.

'We took it all apart and sandblasted a portion of it,' Wilbur says. 'We took mice nests out of the cylinder and oil sludge out of the back.' According to Wilbur, the original manual that came with the machine stated that the most important part of the engine was the oiler - and that was the piece in the worst condition. Earl had to make seven new parts to put the oiler back together again and make it functional.


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