Gas Engine Magazine

The Little-Known Landis

By Staff

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.

These design features led to inefficient combustion. The cylinder head was a manufacturing nightmare, in that along with the exhaust porting, igniter and intake area, the exhaust valve was installed thru the small combustion area of the head and had a screw-in valve guide. The bore and stroke are somewhat rare in that the bore is 4 1/2-inch and the stroke is 5 1/4 -inch. This is much closer to square than most engines of that time period. The crank pin was oiled by a scoop on the end of the connecting rod. This scoop, made from 1/8-inch brass pipe, came very close to the bottom of the crankcase. The engines have a galvanized cover to control the slinging of oil. There is a similar brass pipe scoop or funnel in the front of the head used to oil the exhaust valve.

The history

Two of the Landis engines are in tractors. I first saw the tractor, I own, about eight or nine years ago as part of Bill and Diane McCleary’s collection. Although I had seen small tractors manufactured by the Flinchbaugh Co. (the York), this tractor really caught my eye. Over the years, I tried to obtain the Landis tractor by purchasing or by offering other very desirable engines in trade – I was unsuccessful. Fortunately, when Bill was ready to sell the tractor, he gave me first option and I made an offer that was accepted. I knew when I purchased the Landis tractor from Bill and Diane the fuel system had been modified. The original gas tank, fuel pump and carburetor/mixer had been changed to a small gas tank hanging on the side with a Lunkenheimer mixer. I didn’t have enough information to consider returning it to the original design, but Bill told me about another Landis engine in the area. He made an initial contact on my behalf with the owner, Harold Landis, whom I later met.

Harold’s great-grandfather, Jacob Landis, had purchased an engine from his nephew, Milton Landis.  This engine, although on trucks, was installed in a building on the farm and was connected to a line shaft that was used for powering a washer and wringer. The exhaust was piped to the outside of the building. This engine had been passed down through the generations to Harold. I met with Harold and learned some of the family history and took a lot of photos of the engine he owned.

It was a guessing game as to what was inside the gas tank and as to how the carburetor/mixer worked, but it was a start.  I had also seen another small Landis tractor owned by a collector in Iowa. I had some photos of his tractor and engine, and asked the owner for detailed photos of the, carburetor/mixer and gas tank. He politely and promptly sent me a CD with additional photos. During all of this I had indicated to Harold that I would be interested in purchasing his engine if it ever became available. Initially it was not, but after several months we came to an agreement and I was able to purchase his engine. I feel very fortunate to have been able to purchase an engine that had been in the Landis family for 100 years.

The engine was an extremely well-maintained engine in that it had always been indoors. It has the wear of use but is in exceptional original condition. Having obtained the engine, I was able to closely inspect the components necessary to return my tractor to its original features. My Landis tractor has been totally cosmetically and mechanically restored. The Landis engine I purchased from Harold has been cleaned, adjusted and left as received; as some would say, in its “work clothes.”

South central Pennsylvania seems to be unique in producing small tractors. In addition to the York and Landis, there was the Kreider with a Lancaster engine. The Kreider used the same running gear as Landis. There is a sketch in Wendel’s Yellow Book (American Gas Engines Since 1872, page 269), of a Kreider tractor. There is also a third surviving Lancaster engine but I have been unable to find a connection between the two manufactures. As always, engines are a little like icebergs: The ones you know of only represent a percentage of the ones tucked away in barns and buildings. I would be interested in hearing from anyone that has any knowledge of other Landis, Kreider tractors or engines or other manufactures of small tractors.

  • Published on Oct 3, 2008
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