The Little-Known Landis

| October / November 2007

One of the least known Pennsylvania engine manufactures was M.B. Landis. Milton lived in eastern Lancaster County on a farm along Route 30 in Strasburg. Today, the farm is called the Amish Farm and House, and has been open for tourist for many years. It has been one of the standard Lancaster County Amish attractions on most visitors’ “to see” list.  Recently, Target purchased the property and built to the west of the house and barn. At some point, Milton moved his manufacturing operation to the south side of Route 30, which was torn down in the 1980’s to build Rockvale Square, a large outlet center.

Starting around 1902, Milton built upwards of 30 engines over the course of 10 years.  Various accounts estimate between 30 and 50. Based on the design and manufacturing methods, I believe Milton was a skilled blacksmith but more importantly, a mechanical genius.

The details

Landis engines are unique in various ways and exhibit design features unseen in other engines of the period. Although the engines do not have tags stating horsepower, I believe they are 2 HP based on the bore and stroke. They have 5-spoke flywheels, and although this is not unique, it is rare. Built as hit-and-miss engines, the governor is a pivoting weight mounted on one of the flywheel spokes. This weight pushes against a flat spring blade mounted on the inside of the spoke which moves a plate ring around the crankshaft inward to cause action required for latch up. They are of sideshaft design and on two of the three known surviving engines, the side shaft comes only partly toward the cylinder head. The third has a full-length sideshaft.

Some of the more unique features center on the fuel system, speed control and timing of the engine. The carburetor/mixer is a simple device that projects into a series of pipe fittings. These fittings start as 1-inch pipe, reduce to 3/4-inch at the point the gasoline is drawn into the system, and increase to 1-inch again, creating a high speed Ventura which sucks and atomizes the gasoline. With the design of the carburetor/mixer, the gasoline lies slightly below the needle valve and will only be drawn into the port by suction and air velocity. Therefore it can’t overflow and flood.

The gasoline tank is located directly below the carburetor/mixer. Internal to the tank is a fuel pump, actuated by the movement of the exhaust rocker arm. During the miss cycles, while the exhaust valve is held open, the fuel pump does not pump. Only after the exhaust valve is closed, calling for a power cycle, does the pump operate. Accordingly, it only pumps once at the time of each firing. The carburetor/mixer allows excess fuel to return to the tank with minimal reservoir. Additionally, the igniter only trips and fires the engine during the power stroke. The trip mechanism is part of the exhaust rocker arm and during the miss cycles does not contact the igniter trip mechanism. This all means that during the miss or drift cycles the pump is not needlessly pumping fuel and the igniter is not needlessly wearing out the battery.

The engines also have a speed control. A unique feature is that when you change the speed of the engine, you also change the ignition timing. The timing is controlled by a cylindrical device mounted on the front of the sideshaft. This cylindrical device, which trips the igniter, has a drive slot cut with a slight helical twist. It moves forward and backward as you change the speed of the engine. There is a spring-loaded pawl that works in the helical slot and slips if the flywheel turns backward. All of this made for a compact control system located in the vicinity of the head.