Stationary Engine List

By Staff
article image

Anyone who owns a vast tract of land, miles from their
nearest neighbor with unlimited barn space for storage, should read
no further!

For the rest of us, who house our collections at home, in
communities where we have to show respect for what our neighbors
can see and hear of our hobby, the following discussion may prove
of interest. The plea for advice came from a member of the List who
lives in Texas, but the advice he received came from Australia,
Europe and America it doesn’t matter where you live,
officialdom can create the same problems! Not only does the List
cover great geographical variety, but also a good cross-section of
‘day jobs,’ including some who have offered their advice
who work on the other side of the legal fence!

Today I received a notice from my city regarding my collection
of stuff. They say I have 12 days to get rid of it or hide it. It
is all behind fencing in my back yard. There is some true
‘junk’ but most of is genuine antiques. I have two operable
steam engines connected to one small boiler and three gas engines.
I have a lot of small iron pulleys and vintage valves hanging on my
fence. The junk I can move, but the true toys I would like to

Got any suggestions on how to proceed to combat this?

Nicely ask the zoning official to show you the ruling concerning
your collection. Chances are it may not apply to you directly and
there is some latitude in interpretation. If you can’t reach a
compromise I would suggest seeing an attorney buddy, if you have

How fancy is your neighborhood? Some are ULTRA fussy – you
can’t park your car in your driveway and you can’t hang
clothes out to dry. The first step is to check the law. If it’s
a gray area, the next step is to look at your yard from the
perspective of a neighbor who might not love old iron. What does it
look like to him? Was he the source of the complaint or was it a
busybody elected official doing ‘yard inspections?’ My
guess is someone complained about your yard.

Maybe put the ‘junk’ and assorted parts in storage and
out of sight and leave the engines. See how it looks then. Invite
the ‘official’ to come have a look. Maybe even show him the
running engines.

Most notices of this type are sent pursuant to a property
maintenance ordinance enacted by the city or county. I would
contact the office that sent you the notice and ask what specific
part of the ordinance you have violated.

Chances are the enforcement office has never visited you. They
will often receive a complaint and then send out a form letter
instructing the property owner to clean up his property within a
specified time without actually viewing the alleged violation. If
they hear no more, they assume the problem has been resolved. Do
you have a neighbor who ‘has it in’ for you? Could be the
source of your trouble.

I’ve been through this before. A builder who doesn’t get
along with my father is putting in a development next to us. My
father is a general contractor and still has his old cable
excavator out back in the woods. You couldn’t see it from the
road ’til they cut down nearly every tree back there.

This guy complained to the town that we had commercial machinery
being stored on our property – said it could be seen from his
building site and would put off potential buyers. Lucky for us the
people at town hall know about this guy and my dad, and they said
so long as we kept it covered with a tarp that would be fine.

I would get rid of your ‘real’ junk and cover up the
good stuff; shouldn’t have any more problems. My father’s
old machines, like my engines, are antiques and there are certain
laws out there that exclude them. For example, a neighbor
didn’t like me running my engines and called the cops. I
explained that they were antiques. The cop looked into the laws on
operating antique equipment, and it turns out I can run my engines
any day of the week during business hours! Good luck!

I’ve been through this before. Make sure it is not visible
‘I would get rid of your ‘real’ junk and cover up the
good stuff.’ from the street. Don’t operate machinery
outside the hours of your zoning. Alternatively, you can build a
really ugly shed (but within local laws) and keep everything in

While I could start the inevitable rant about the unfairness of
neighbors, municipalities, etc., and indeed feel like doing so,
that won’t go anywhere toward a resolution. There must be more
history here – surely this is not the first encounter you and the
authorities have had. A 12-day notice is not usually the first
volley. Does the history of the dispute give any hints as to what
would be acceptable?

Are you getting competent legal advice? I’m not talking
about an expensive fight here, just someone who knows the ropes in
that town to direct how you can best handle this yourself.

Can you negotiate a settlement? Is there a known entity to
negotiate with?

As far as really fighting it, I’d bet you’re screwed.
You’ll have to negotiate a solution. That’s where an
attorney could help you think through the options. I have an
attorney for my company whom I call probably every month. Never any
substantive work that I give him, but he helps me decide which
battles to fight and which to let go.

Good luck with your dilemma! Don’t let your town run over
you – make sure the laws are chiseled in stone before you abide by

At this point, we got a little background information from
the person whose collection was causing a problem.

In the dozen years I have been at this location the only things
I have been given notice for is once for low-hanging tree branches
over streets and side walks and once for tall grass when my mower
gave up the ghost.

The quantity of old iron has been reduced in size and number in
the last five years or so for this possible reason. I will find out
what exactly is the problem. Perhaps its a new civil functionary
trying to prove him/herself?

May I suggest approaching this thing in a friendly manner?
I’m in the real estate business and am a contractor who has
been through many notices, hearings and plain bureaucratic

One thing I keep hearing is that ‘those people only want
more fees.’ I don’t think so. Some just want to do their
job, some want to push people around. The second class is the
toughest. In either case, being apologetic and kindly asking for an
explanation of the violation (s) may be a good approach. These
clerks usually have the authority to ignore certain minor
infractions, and are more inclined to do so if dealing with a
cooperative citizen. I have been right, but bowed to their
authority and almost always got good results.

The continuing saga: I went round one today with the city. I
guess it was a draw. It seems some city functionary was cruising
the neighborhood and saw a chain hoist in my lift tree – the one I
use to load and unload for shows. That person thought I was running
a business, like replacing auto engines and the like, and filed a
complaint. I have been quite careful not to be a bother to my
neighbors, so this problem did not come from them, as it could

The investigator described my collection of iron as ‘auto
parts.’ Probably the only thing that could be described as such
would be spark plugs on my gas engines. I politely informed him he
had no idea what he was looking at. Being denied the pursuit of my
hobby has given rise to getting some place in the sticks.
Fortunately those of us in the hobby are generally of good and
generous character. I have offers from friends of storage until
something can be worked out.

He ASSUMED you were running a business. He ASSUMED those were
auto parts. He didn’t bother to find out ‘the rest of the
story,’ as Paul Harvey would say.

Unfortunately, anything outside of perceived ‘normal’
activities is not understood, and intelligence-deprived individuals
take it upon themselves to cause problems where none should

I find the problems you have with town authorities in the U.S.
very strange, as in most things you seem to be far less regulated
than we are in the UK. We do have occasional disagreements with
neighbors, but not usually with town authorities. I suppose the old
saying ‘An Englishman’s home is his Castle’ does have
some truth!

Living peaceably with neighbors and keeping on the right
side of local laws is important in the old engine hobby, as it can
be both noisy and untidy. Some of the advice given here is very
sound and worth bearing in mind, if only to avoid getting into this
sort of situation.

Contact engine enthusiast Helen French, Leicester, England,
via e-mail at: You can join the Stationary
Engine List on the Internet at:

‘I would get rid of your ‘real’ junk and cover up
the good stuff’.

‘The investigator described my collection of iron as
‘auto parts.”

Gas Engine Magazine
Gas Engine Magazine
Preserving the History of Internal Combustion Engines