Superior 35

Superior engine comes around ... 25 years later

| April 2006


Every year, an elderly man in a golf cart drives up to Bill Thelemann at the Le Sueur (Minnesota) Pioneer Days, and says of the big engine Bill is running, "That's sure a nice-running engine. Where did you ever get it?"

The answer goes back to one day in 1979 when an engine collector asked the instructor of the Mankato, Minn., Vocational School if someone could make parts for an oil field engine he'd found. Bill Thelemann was in the machinist tool and die class, and had been involved with gas engines for a few years. "I started with engines when I was in my early teens," the 45-year-old farmer and machinist said. "I bought a horse-and-a-half John Deere from a guy and fixed it up, and got other gas engines through my high school years from neighbors when they came up for sale."

The class instructor knew about Bill's love of old engines, so he gave the project to him. The assignment was to make a connecting rod bearing, wrist pin bearing and wrist pin. "It was a good project with quite a bit of machining, because the connecting rod bearing wasn't just a round bearing, but a two-piece adjustable one." Bill finished the parts, and engine owner John Hiniker collected them, installed them and got the engine running - and Bill kind of forgot about it all.

That is, until one day a few years later when he saw John with a big Superior 35 HP engine at a mall in Mankato. "I told him who I was, and that I had worked on the parts for him, and we talked." But after that, the engine disappeared into a shed for many years until about 1990, when John brought it to the Le Sueur Pioneer Power Show and ran it. Following that, Bill began running the engine for John at the show each year.

Five years after that, John decided to sell the engine. "John and I had become special friends, and he knew I liked that engine, and I told him it would always stay at Le Sueur, so when he started getting up in years my sister, Sue Smith (kind of the silent partner in the deal), and I bought the engine, Bill says." Because Bill and John share the same interest, they were both delighted in the outcome of Bill getting the engine. So when Bill had the feeling he was being watched from behind at a recent Le Sueur show, he turned around and there was John in his golf cart. They had their yearly conversation about that good running engine, and "Where did you ever get it?" "That's a standing joke between us," Bill chuckles.

Oil field past

Little is known about the history of this Superior 35 HP engine, except that it originally came from an oil field in the South, and that something happened so it had been run dry. "From what people have told me," Bill says, "those big engines that ran a transfer pump or oil derrick with a line shaft pump would run nonstop, and had some sort of an oil system that would supply lubricant for a long period of time." This Superior was actually a natural gas-fired engine first, using natural gas right out of the oil well. When the engine ran dry, it knocked the bearings out, which is how John came to buy it.