Rockin’ Superior at Mt. Pleasant

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

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.

The restored engine was started for the first time in 2001, and
then displayed at the 2001 Midwest Old Threshers Reunion in Mt.
Pleasant, Iowa. Wilbur had the engine running again at the 2002
Reunion. ‘We just idle it,’ Wilbur says, adding, ‘I
also have a 4 HP Sandwich engine and the Superior starts easier
than the four-horse.’ When the engine is running, he keeps a
locked padlock on the air tank, because ‘if somebody turned the
air on, the engine would blow up.’

The Superior draws quite a crowd when it’s running, the
entire unit rocking back and forth with every fire of the engine –
and Wilbur says he found out the hard way that it’s got to
rock. ‘Last year, I drove a steel pin into the ground (to keep
it from rocking), and it broke the casting on the truck.’

Another view of the Superior. A two-stroke design, the engine
runs on propane. Crowds love watching it run, rocking back and
forth as it fires.

Wilbur says his original plan was to restore and then sell the
Superior, but when his sons saw the restored engine they decided it
should stay in the family and proposed buying some shares. So now,
Wilbur, his wife, Lois, and their sons, Doug of Castro Valley,
Calif., and Jim of Wellman, own the engine jointly.

Contact engine enthusiast Wilbur Swartzendruber at: 1211 9th
Ave., Wellman, IA 52356, (319)646-2216.

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