1091 Benjamin Franklin Highway East, Douglassville, Pennsylvania
I have some information on small engines I’d like to share
with GEM readers. I’m also sending along some photos related to
When A. O. Smith of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, acquired the North
American manufacturing rights to the Motor Wheel from the Wall
Company of England in 1914, its primary use was to propel bicycles.
This small power unit (1 HP) was mounted on a twenty inch dished
wheel. A. O. Smith spent almost two years making numerous changes
and improvements, before putting their own version of the Motor
Wheel on the market. All their work must have paid off, as the
Motor Wheel became quite popular.
In 1917 they had a company from New Jersey design and
manufacture a buckboard type vehicle for them as an additional use
for their Motor Wheel. They named the new vehicle the A. O. Smith
Each one of these flyers had its serial number on a brass plate
mounted on one of its wooden slats. All the metal work on the Flyer
was painted bright red. The body consisted of six varnished
hardwood slats, two and one-half inches wide. The flyer wheel base
was 62′ with a tread width of 30′. All the wheels had
20′ x 15/8‘ clincher tires. Both
axles were bolted directly to the wooden slats (no suspension).
Each of the two upholstered seats (sitting on four posts), were
also bolted to these slats.
The steering column had a hardwood automotive type steering
wheel with the throttle lever mounted on one of its three spokes.
Its steering linkage was similar to that used on a riding lawn
mower. A hand lever mounted on two of the slats was attached to a
steel rod that in turn was attached to a small saddle on the fender
of the Motor Wheel. This acted as a clutch, lifting the Motor Wheel
off the ground for starting the little engine. The engine had a
compression release, also 8 to 1 gear reduction directly on the
crankshaft. A hinged arrangement was used to attach the Motor Wheel
to the flyer. The hand lever was secured in a notched gate, while
starting the engine. The simple brake system can be compared to
those used on farm wagons. The Flyer brake pedal activated a rod
that pushed the rear fenders (which had leather pads at an
appropriate place) against the rear tire for braking.
In 1919 A. O. Smith sold all the rights to the Motor Wheel and
Flyer to another Milwaukee firm, the Briggs 6k Stratton Company.
This company continued producing and marketing the Motor Wheel and
Flyer. They also made some noted improvements increasing the
horsepower and integrating the entire ignition system under the
flywheel. The A. O. Smith engines had externally mounted magnetos.
They also added fan cooling to the flyer engines.
Although A. O. Smith and Briggs 6k Stratton both produced
thousands of Motor Wheels for use on bicycles and the Flyer, and
both had some success with these products, in 1919, less than six
months arter acquiring the Motor Wheel rights, Briggs &
Stratton made one of the most significant moves they would ever
make. They took 150 of the little Motor Wheel engines, cut off the
so-called horns, and put them on the market as small stationary
engines. They designated these engines as their Model S. The S
prefix in front of the serial number may have identified them as
Almost no one knew, or knows now, of the existence of any of
these S models. In early 1980 by pure luck, I became the owner of
one of these engines. I bought a pair of old Briggs 6k Stratton
engines from an old gentleman whose acquaintance I had made at a
farm sale. After cleaning up these engines, one of them turned out
to be a Model P, which I knew was an early model Briggs 6k
Stratton. But the other engine had its model and serial number
(S-102) stamped, it seems almost randomly, on top of its block and
down the one side. Since neither one of these engines resembled any
of my other Briggs 6k Stratton engines, I decided to write to
Briggs 6k Stratton for any information they might have on either
one. Their reply was quite unexpected. They told me the Model P was
built in 1920. But they had almost no information on S-102, other
than their records indicated this engine was shipped to the
Sharplee Milker Company of West Chester, Pennsylvania, in November
of 1919. This is only a few miles from where I bought the engine.
They also told me they had no idea what these engines looked like,
as they had never seen one and did not know of the existence of any
other S model engines.
The Model S engine had a unique method of checking the oil
level. This consisted of a one-inch glass window located in the
back of the oil pan. All the Briggs & Stratton Motor Wheel
engines also had this feature, but it was never used again on any
later model Briggs &. Stratton engines.
I sent the Briggs & Stratton people a photo of my S-102, and
they showed an immediate interest in acquiring this engine. Their
interest is understandable, but after numerous letters and phone
calls (even a visit from two of their company representatives), I
still have no desire to part with S-102.
Even though S-102 does not resemble any of my other Briggs &
Stratton engines, when you cut the horns off the little Motor Wheel
engines, as Briggs &. Stratton had done on their initial entry
into the small stationary engine market, there is no doubt these
engines are identical. This gives the Motor Wheel engines the
distinction of being the father of the largest manufacturer of
small stationary engines in the world, with the S model as its
first offspring. I bought my first Motor Wheel at a garage sale
four or five years before I bought S-102 and I guess it was a few
more years before I came across an article in an antique car
magazine on the history of the Flyer and Motor Wheel by a man in
the business of restoring these little vehicles.
Before I discovered this article, I knew nothing about the Motor
Wheel or Flyer, and it wasn’t until my first trip to Florida in
March of 1988 that I saw my first Flyer in the flesh at an engine
show. When the owner of the Flyer started the little Motor Wheel
engine, for the benefit of a dozen or more onlookers, my interest
in the Flyer and Motor Wheel was greatly aroused. My curiosity
failed to subside until I paid the little Flyer a number of visits
before leaving the show. In July of that same year, I came across
another Flyer at a show in northeast Pennsylvania. The owner of
this Flyer said he had pulled his out of a fence row and restored
it. I haven’t seen one since. I guess this was when I got the
bug to own a Flyer of my own. When I got to thinking about the fact
that I had only ever seen two of them while attending dozens of car
and engine shows, I figured my chance of finding an original Flyer
was pretty slim. But since I already had a complete Motor Wheel
plus a dozen or so photos and the article in the Antique Car
Magazine, I decided to make a reproduction of a Flyer. I also got
some valuable information and encouragement from the now defunct
Motor Wheel Club of America.
I started work on my reproduction in November of 1990, doing a
lot of the work on my enclosed back porch since my hit &. miss
engines were hibernating in any space that might have been suitable
for working on my project. Since I had retired in 1988, most of my
time was my own. This was a big help. My lack of any knowledge of
drawing up plans or blueprints didn’t help matters any.
Despite all my shortcomings, by September of 1991 I displayed my
reproduction Flyer and restored Motor Wheel for the first time at
the Hay Creek Valley Historical Association Fall Festival. I always
informed my onlookers (and there were many of them) that my Flyer
was a reproduction. Whenever I started up the little engine, anyone
nearby had to inspect my Flyer and Motor Wheel. Almost no one had
ever seen one of these small cars.
During this show, a fellow member of our organization who was
inspecting my Flyer informed me that he had an original Flyer at
home in his basement waiting to be restored. He had acquired his at
an auction for almost nothing many years ago. Naturally, I offered
to buy it from him, but he said he still had hopes of doing his own
Acquiring this Flyer never left the back of my mind, and when in
1995 this fellow decided to have public auction and move out west,
I immediately inquired whether the Flyer and Motor Wheel were going
up for sale, which they were. When I got to the auction site the
day of the sale, I discovered the Flyer and Motor Wheel lying in a
heap in the owner’s back yard. A basket case if I had ever seen
one. I decided right then it was now or never if I was ever going
to own an original Flyer. As the saying goes, you win some and you
lose some, and when the bidding was over I had won one!
The restoration of this Flyer was a lot simpler than building
one from scratch. Surprisingly, most of the original parts were
there, and all it took was a lot of elbow grease to clean them up
and re-finish them. This Flyer had been stored in a fairly dry
basement which certainly helped make my restoration easier.
Most of the problems I encountered I solved myself, with the
exception of the wheels, which originally had clincher tires; as
these are no longer available, I had a bike shop install new rims
and spokes on the original hubs so I could use conventional bike
tires. I was also missing one of the Flyer wheels, but I was
fortunate to have a machinist friend, who made a very accurate
reproduction of a new hub for me. The bike shop took care of the
I was able to use all the original wood parts and also all the
metal parts with the exception of the wheel rims. As for the Motor
Wheel engine, it was also complete, but I did convert it to battery
ignition by removing the magneto and coil from under the flywheel
and replacing them with a pair of six volt dry cell lantern
batteries and a six volt car coil. I mounted both these items
inside a small wooden box behind the seats of the Flyer. I also
mounted a toggle switch between the seats for on and off ignition.
This setup works very well, and though not original, it just makes
my Flyer a little more unique.
After reading this article it may sound like I have abandoned my
hit &. miss engines, but this is not the case. I’d like to
end my story on a subject ‘Ye Olde Reflector’ keeps
reminding us of, and that is safety around our engines.
My father was a farmer all his life. In 1923, when he was 33
years of age, he had a Columbus 10 HP hit & miss engine they
used for sawing wood and various other farm chores. They were
sawing wood with this engine one day, when he got a sleeve of his
jacket caught in the pulley of the engine. This was three years
before I was born. This almost completely severed his hand from his
wrist, but somehow they did save his hand and got the two to grow
back together as one, leaving him no flexibility whatever in his
fingers or wrist, for the rest of his life. He lived to be 83.
Some years later, my father had another unfortunate accident
with this same engine. He and one of my brothers were lining up the
engine to cut fodder when an iron bar he was using under one of the
wheels slipped off and broke his leg.
The last time I saw the old Columbus was shortly before World
War II on a flat bed truck on its way to a scrap yard. I think my
father got seventeen dollars for this engine as scrap.