Jim Keenan’s rare 1904 5 hp Stover engine might be the last of its kind.
Jim Keenan's rare 1904 5 hp Stover.
Manufacturer: Stover Manufacturing & Engine Co., Freeport, IL
Serial no.: D2375
Horsepower: 5 hp @ 340rpm
Bore & stroke: 5in x 10in
Flywheel: 36in x 2-3/4in
Weight: 1,775 lbs
Ignition: Battery and igniter
Governing: Hit-and-miss, flywheel governor
Jim Keenan started collecting gas engines through a coincidence after his younger brother visited the Rogers, Minnesota, threshing show (today called the Nowthen Threshing Show) in the 1980s.
“My brother said, ‘Did you know there are shows for people who collect stuff like that cement mixer we have?’”
The cement mixer, paired with a 1924 3 hp Stover KB engine, had been part of the Keenans’ life growing up. “Our dad and grandfather picked it up in the early 1960s for putting in the sidewalks for our house in Blaine, Minnesota. So we knew what gas engines were. I started attending shows and saw that people indeed do collect stuff like that, and we have one.”
After getting the 3 hp Stover engine on the cement mixer going again, Jim bought a 1928 2 hp Stover KA drag saw that he stumbled across while on a walk in an affluent area of Bloomington, Minnesota. At the same time he also purchased a 1-1/2 hp McCormick-Deering that was being used as a flower planter. That took a little work, but chasing down the parts was fun. “That kind of got my brother and me going into the hobby, although he switched to Maytags and then to outboards. But since 1987, I’ve been into it and slowly accumulated different engines, primarily Stovers. I guess they are my disease of choice,” the 59-year-old says, laughing.
Jim likes to take the cement mixer to shows because it’s easy to see what the engine is used for. “One question I always get for any gas engine is, ‘What is it used for?’ if it’s not hooked up to a water pump or grain mill and just sitting there. You have to explain that these gas engines are what people used before electricity, maybe hooked up to a water pump. If you were a kid in the family and had an engine, you didn’t have to sit and pump water all day by hand for the cows or garden or whatever else. The cement mixer is self-explanatory. It made cement.”
Jim had been interested in the 1904 5 hp Stover engine for almost two decades, after a neighbor told him about a Stover engine with raised letters on the cylinder, all in pieces and lying in the dirt, that had sold at auction. “He said I would know the guy who bought it if I saw him, but I wasn’t there, so I didn’t know who it was.”
A couple of years later, Jim delivered a crank guard from one of his engines to fellow Stover fan Marty Lysdahl, who had a friend who needed to have it duplicated, and discovered Marty had the 5 hp Stover. “I saw that Marty had the Stover mostly together on a cart. Marty said the head and fuel pump were off when he purchased the engine, but he was promised they were around someplace. But he didn’t get it running.”
The Stover was available, but Jim couldn’t afford it at the time. “I stayed in touch with him and saw Marty occasionally at shows. A couple of years later, I heard that he had sold it.” But Jim didn’t know to whom until he saw Marty at a show and told him he was still interested in it. “You don’t need to worry about it. I have first right of refusal,” Marty said. In 2014, Marty got the engine back.
They worked out a deal, and eventually Jim had his 5 hp Stover. The engine is now in nice shape, Jim says. The fuel pump and mixer are original, as is some of the plumbing. Considering its age and the fact that it had been taken apart, it most likely was stored inside, otherwise those items would have been gone.
The previous owner, Ron Olson, had added a gas tank, a water tank and a skid, but hadn’t gotten it running. Jim thought it looked as it had 10 years earlier, when he’d taken pictures of it, as it had the same patina on the engine. “As far as I can tell it has never been painted,” he says.
The mixer and part of the head were stuffed with a mud dauber’s wasp nest. He and fellow engine collector Mark Wigmore replaced the wrist pin and did some other work on the Stover, and the first time he tried to start it, the engine took right off. He shined up the face and edges of the flywheels, but whenever it gets rained on, those areas rust quickly. Despite having to clean the flywheels when they get rusty from humidity or rain, he has no plans to paint them. “I like how it looks,” Jim says. One collector suggested rubbing oil that collects in the sump onto the exposed metal to give it patina and help prevent rust, but Jim doesn’t like that idea. “I can’t put oil on the face; I wouldn’t be able to spin the flywheel to get it started.”
After contacting Stover records keeper Joe Maurer, Jim learned the engine was put together in the Stover plant in Freeport, Illinois, in late 1903, and shipped to a T. Splittstoser of North Branch, Minnesota, on Feb. 19, 1904. Kirby Olson, distantly related to the Splittstosers, says T. Splittstoser ran a company that developed potato pickers and the like. “Supposedly, International Harvester bought that patent from them in 1923. Kirby thinks the ‘T’ might stand for Thaddeus, who lived in North Branch, Minnesota, at that time. Those historical facts make it entertaining and fun for me.”
Jim assumes the Stover was shipped from Freeport to North Branch but he doesn’t know if it originally came on a cart or skids. Now, 112 years later, the engine runs again, safely housed only 20 miles from where it was originally delivered. “I’m the current caretaker of it, I guess,” Jim says.
At 1,775 pounds, the Stover is heavy, and its weight is part of its uniqueness, Jim says. More interesting is the nice raised lettering on the cylinder. “From what I can tell from the Stover books and Joe Maurer, they stopped the raised lettering in 1903, and one of the last ones with raised letters on the cylinder was this 5 hp model.
“It was also a transition model,” Jim says. “In 1902 Stover first produced their tank-cooled engines of that sort. In 1904 they came out with hot tube starting options or screen cooled, and by 1904 they quit producing any with raised letters on the cylinder, which is very rare on the Stover.”
Jim suspects the raised letters were difficult to cast. “If you just have to pour a smooth cylinder, it’s cheaper and less time-consuming if you don’t have to keep refreshing for the raised lettering on the cylinder. I never poured any cast iron myself, but I somewhat know the process you have to go through to create the molds.”
Over the years, Stover changed engine parts to make them cheaper to produce. “Early on, more labor and material was used in the production of engines, like putting together a steel crankshaft along with brass and bronze bearings in some of the throws, before mass production came in the Teens and Twenties and engines with Babbitt bearings. They went for economy. If you look at some of those later hoppers, you can very plainly see where they were poured, but with the hopper on the 5 hp Stover, you can’t. Or at least I haven’t found it. In those early days they put more time into each new engine.”
This could be the only one surviving Stover of its type. “A friend who attends a great many Stover shows in Illinois says he’s never seen one of that vintage, so it may be one of a kind, but I can’t say that for sure,” Jim says.
Like many early gas engine companies, Stover Mfg. & Engine Co., of Freeport, Illinois, started out manufacturing various agricultural items. In 1866, D.C. Stover of nearby Lanark, Illinois, opened the Stover Experimental Works in Freeport inventing improvements on windmills, wire forming machinery, bicycles, stoves, barbed wire, and later tractor parts and accessories, grinders, saws, tank heaters, stock waterers, corn shellers, hammer mills, and, of course, engines. “By 1887,” C.H. Wendel says in American Gasoline Engines Since 1872, “the Stover plant housed the largest windmill factory in the world.”
Stover Engine Works was established in 1893, with the first engines available perhaps about 1895. Major production started in 1902, and Stover quickly rose to become one of the three largest engine manufacturers in the U.S., along with Fairbanks, Morse & Co. and International Harvester Co. As new lines were added, the company eventually took on its final name of Stover Mfg. & Engine Co., in 1916, employing more than 1,000 workers.
Jim Keenan’s 1904 5 hp Stover might be the only one of its kind left. This type of engine was introduced in 1902, in 4, 6, 8 and 12 hp versions, all very similar in design to Jim’s 5 hp. Apparently, no 5 hp was mentioned in company information at this time, which suggests very few were produced.
Wendel says 5 hp Stover horizontal engines were produced starting in 1905, with “the same general appearance that characterized the line for several years,” with identical weight and bore and stroke dimensions to Jim’s engine. That date seems to be in question, as Jim has proof that his 5 hp horizontal was shipped from the Stover plant in February 1904.
Stover’s 1905 lineup of horizontals included 5, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14 and 16 horsepower sizes, produced until 1910, when the Stover Junior series superseded them. The company closed in 1942, having produced 277,558 engines.
Jim says he enjoys playing with the Stover. “Maybe that sounds silly, but if you remove one of the governor weight springs you can get it to run at 96rpm instead of 340 like on the tag, so it will fire just under three times a minute, once every 22 seconds. I play with the spring tension on the governor, the mixer and air flow and see how slow I can get it to go. That’s fun on this engine.”
Jim adds that by running it slow, it's easier for people to see and appreciate how it works because the process is easier to see and explain when it’s running slow. He can point out how the governor keeps the exhaust valve open so it doesn’t suck in any gas mixture when it’s just coasting. “You can still see it when it runs fast, but it happens a lot faster, and it’s harder to catch, so I usually have to repeat it a couple of times for people to catch it,” he says.
He notes that many collectors, as they get older, move to smaller engines, but he’s been getting bigger ones. “I find engines with big flywheels to play with and get them to go much slower. Last year I got an 8 hp KD Stover attached to a Kansas City hay press to start taking to shows next year.”
Out of about 30 Stovers, this is Jim’s first tank-cooled engine and he is hoping to someday add a vertical to his collection, noting that he enjoys getting them running. “For the longest time I couldn’t afford to buy engines that were running because the price was out of my range, so if I had to get some parts or get it unstuck, I could do it. I’m not a machinist and don’t have a lot of skills, but it was enjoyable to get them running then bringing them to shows.”
The people, of course, are a big part of the draw. “Meeting the people who exhibit at shows, or who just come to see the engines, is enjoyable. The fact that you get to restore and display the engine for other people who are actually interested in engines is fun. Throughout the course of the fall you get to know most of the people who are displaying, and some of the people who come to see them, and have their stories to tell."
“I enjoy the history of the engines. You can think that in those old days that would have been a nicer way to live, though it obviously would be a lot harder. Collecting engines is a great hobby, and the people you meet make it worthwhile. If you can help somebody that’s getting into it learn a few things, that’s a good feeling. It would be nice to get more younger people interested, and if somebody comes up to me and is truly interested in some of the engines I have, I’ll do whatever I can to make it easy for them to get one.”
Jim has been involved with gas engines for more than 30 years and is the contact person for anyone interested in displaying engines at the Nowthen (Minnesota) Threshing Show, held the third weekend of August each year. “I meet people at other shows and try to get them to bring their engines to the local show here at Nowthen. I try to make sure that they have a good time, and help load and unload. I guess I’m the local cheerleader for gas engines.”
Contact engine enthusiast Bill Vossler at Box 372, 400 Caroline Ln., Rockville, MN 56369; firstname.lastname@example.org