A quick update, as promised last month, on what’s happening
on the UK engine scene. The ‘Thousand Engine’ rally, the
biggest engine rally held here, went ahead without difficulty. We
even had plenty of sunshine, which isn’t a common sight at our
rallies! The show held at our local steam pumping station to
celebrate the opening of Britain’s new Space and Science centre
was such a success that we’ve been asked to help organise
another one next year! Finally, as I mentioned, there has now been
a wonderful addition to our collection, because with the help of
many friends in the U.S., I bought my husband a 15 HP BD
Tillinghast half-breed oilfield engine for his 40th birthday. Back
in the May 2001 issue of GEM there was an article about a 20 HP
Bessemer which went to Japan, and the final paragraph mentioned
that the author, Bill Tremel, had been asked by friends to find a
similar engine to take to the UK. It nearly blew the surprise,
because by the time that article appeared, work was already well
underway to find and restore the perfect engine for this project!
As the engine in question is still in the States, I produced a book
detailing the history of this type of engine, and the story of how
this particular one was found and restored. This book travelled
with us to the recent shows, where it was studied with interest. We
now find ourselves in a position we never expected to be in–having
an extremely unusual engine which generates specific invitations
from show organisers. This makes the subject of this month’s
article particularly relevant to us–‘snobbery’ at engine
shows, either by organisers who only invite people with rare
engines to exhibit, or spectators openly critical of the common
engines on display. The discussion began with someone talking about
a show he had visited:
This past weekend I was at a pretty nice show, although not what
you’d call a big show. I generally consider myself to be an
engine snob and only pay attention to engines that I consider
interesting. So I was somewhat disappointed at this show, as there
were only two engines that were what I considered to be good
engines, a 25HP IHC Giant and a 10 HP Stover Vertical. The rest was
pretty much common stuff.
I’m more interested in seeing the engines that the majority
of collectors don’t have. I’m not interested in looking at
engines everyone has. I admit that some people like seeing the
common stuff, as it gives them a chance to see or hear an engine
like the one they had on the family farm. But this group is getting
smaller each year, as fewer and fewer people have any personal
memories of the old family farm engine. I admit I’m an engine
snob, elitist, whatever. Will anyone else admit to being one
I think that all of us in this hobby can find our
‘niche’ somewhere; therefore all of us are ‘engine
snobs’ in various ways. Myself, I like BIG stationary engines,
but see little of value in oil field iron. I have good friends who
are into oil field engines, and while supporting their interests,
theirs is NOT mine. Others seem to ‘get it off’ by
collecting S/N-date lists. Again, that’s not my thing, but I
support their efforts.
The ONLY ‘collectors’ that I have a problem with are
those who claim that MAYTAGS are ‘engines.’ The only GOOD
MAYTAG is a MAYTAG with an axe in it!
What we can or cannot afford doesn’t really make a
difference in what we like. It does make a big difference in what
we have in our collection.
AMEN to that brother!! What I like and what’s in my
collection are DEFINITELY on different levels. Don’t get me
wrong, I like all the engines that I have. I won’t buy one
unless it interests me in some way. But I REALLY like a whole lot
of engines that will be forever out of reach for me to own. But
that DOES provide for a lot of enjoyment when I see some of these
rare birds at a show or a museum like Coolspring or Kinzers. I find
that I’ll stop at the displays that feature an engine that I
own, or at a display that’s interesting in some way–usually
the engine is powering something else that’s interesting. And
of course, I stop to drool over the unique engines. So at some
shows that means a quick walk through the display area, then
spending the rest of my time with my engines and visiting other
And at the ‘tourist’ shows (as opposed to
‘engine’ shows), you have loads of folks who not only
didn’t grow up with one on the farm, but haven’t a clue as
to what it is or what it does. And for them an IHC M or a FM Z is
as fascinating as a camstopper is to us.
As I was getting into this hobby, I found ’em all
interesting. As my tastes change, some are less so than others.
The shows over here that are selective about entries are in the
minority. Of the shows I have attended in England, the only two
shows that select entries are ones that only have a small space for
engines. Even these shows have common engines, but only let their
own younger members bring them.
People starting in the hobby should always be allowed to show
common engines, but anyone who has been to shows for several years
has had many leads to get something better. If you can only afford
a cheap engine, you can still make a good display by thinking of
something unusual for it to drive (a water pump supplying water to
a homemade waterwheel is cheap to do and attracts as much attention
as a rare engine). The public pay a fairly high admission price to
see the show, and the least we can do is to try to entertain or
Yes, we’ve seen the engine snobs. But personally, I
don’t care. We have been laughed at seriously for buying a
Gilson instead of a rare engine, but we really like collecting the
Gilsons. Hey, we can’t all have the very rare and unusual, but
it doesn’t really count if you don’t share your
‘treasure’ and show them at shows, etc. It’s only my
opinion, but I think the shows teach our young people that these
are a great toy and even if it’s a common engine, like Gilson,
FBM Z, McD, etc. there are engines for everyone! And they are a lot
of fun and gather with them some wonderful people.
I find the idea of restricting displays to ‘rare’
engines disappointing, because to me, a rank beginner with little
knowledge, every engine is a rare engine. I enjoy seeing, learning
and talking to the owners of so-called common engines just as much
as a rare one like an Otto. How else can we learn about the hobby
and the engines that made it so over the years? I can also
appreciate the effort a guy has put in to get an engine running
again and the pride he has in it, whether it’s a garden variety
or some real fancy rare thing.
There seems to be an implied ‘collects rare engines=engine
snob.’ While there may be some like that, I’ve found that
some PEOPLE are snobs and some aren’t and that you really
can’t tie it to what they do or what they collect.
What I find to be bizarre is the concept of an engine show that
tries to EXCLUDE ‘common engines.’ I’ve heard of some
shows here in the U.S. that have told a guy with a nice dirty,
rusty old IHC ‘M’ that he wasn’t welcome to exhibit
because all he had was a ‘common engine.’
It would seem to me that if a show limited itself to only the
‘rare and exotic,’ it would die a swift death from a lack
of both exhibitors and spectators.
When this subject was brought up, everyone threw up their hands
in horror and said ‘not us!’ but we know that most club
secretaries try to get the older and more interesting stuff as a
matter of principle, and you cannot help but agree that a show full
of Lister D’s would be somewhat boring.
There are a small number of invitation-only rallies that seem to
do very well indeed. From what I understand, invitation is based on
a subtle blend of you and your engine, and since the criteria
aren’t published, we’ll never know.
First off, let me state I do not feel to be an engine snob.
Every engine has its own sound, and with a few running at the same
time, I can tell which ones are mine. Ever see two of the same
engine kind running? They do not fire the same, and will run much
different. We have seen engines run so slow you could count spokes
as they go by. We have seen engines bounce off of the ground from
running so fast.
About a month ago we were in a barn filled with the sweetest
engines you could ever want–like a KC Hay Press, Field SS, Hour
Glass Challenge, Columbus SS, Alamo Flyball Governor, and you know
what? The chap that owns them is just as common as the next guy.
Very nice guy, he had a barn filled with people that were total
strangers to him, but this did not bother him as he was gleaming
ear to ear with the pride that people had stopped to see his toys.
Then we sit back and think about the locals that dare step into our
little engine shed and think how we feel proud as geese while
showing them our engines. Once again, nothing but common run of the
mill items here to see– but ours. How did the old song go, ‘If
you can’t be with the one you love, then love the one you are
Well, I am one of those people with a common engine (a Kohler
Light Plant). I have told people that I take it to shows because it
gets me a good parking place and free admission, but the truth is I
take it because it is fun. I have it set up with a row of lights
and a familiar wall light switch and I invite people (especially
kids) to flip the switch and watch it start itself up (and shut
itself off). People like it, and ask questions, I like it, it makes
noise and gets dirty!
I’m looking for a rare engine (A FBM Z 32 volt light plant).
When I find it, I will try to be more of a snob, but I don’t
think I am very good at it.
Heavens, I didn’t even KNOW there were people who looked
down on me for bringing my little Stover and F&J to shows! I
must be dense. I thought that stationary engine collections were
all fairly rare, because not many people are as interested in them
as, say, ceramics or other collectibles. I have yet to see an
engine on the Antiques Roadshow!
I’ve been watching this thread and, for me, it’s people
that make an engine show, not engines. I tend to remember the nice
folk I have met, not their motors.
When I first started going to engine shows after getting on the
internet, I was intent on getting pictures of as many rare or
unusual engines as I could, and would often overlook the little old
gentleman proudly sitting there with his little LB or dishpan
Fairbanks. Pretty soon, I started talking to the exhibitors more,
finding out what I was really missing: the great people in the
hobby. Now I find myself having too little time at a show, no
matter how small.
I have found that the guy with the Geiser or beautiful Ohio
sideshaft is just as friendly and accommodating as the next fellow,
and enjoys sharing his pride and joy as much as the kid showing his
I do it because I enjoy it and I like my engines. I get more
pleasure out of some oldtimer stopping by to reminisce about the
Fairbanks Z he had on the farm than a collector telling me I am
coming along nicely! Own what you want!
Once again, I don’t think we actually SOLVED anything in
this discussion, but plenty of people aired their views! Have fun
with your engines, and hopefully we’ll see some of you at