The Oldest Friend?

| August/September 1996

6190 Keller Avenue Newfane, New York 14108

I suppose it is a natural inclination among engine collectors to want to own the oldest example of a particular favorite engine. With possession of the oldest known engine of a certain brand comes some ill-defined bragging rights. If we are brave, we may publicly state our claim to fame as the owner of the 'oldest' in a line of engines. It's a bit like playing that childhood game, 'King of the Mountain.' However, one gets to get on top only until someone with a lower serial number comes along to shove us off into that much less glorious and prestigious category owner of the second oldest engine known. On the other hand, such a bold statement may serve the purpose of smoking out older engines for examination and further education. If one's ego can absorb the punishment, claiming top-of-the-hill may help students of enginology to learn more about their engines. Often, there will be someone willing, if able, to help us to be more humble; to educate us if the situation calls for it. In hopes of learning more, I'd like to brag that I have the oldest known Friend engine in existence. Yessiree, t'aint none older that I know of. If you say there is, prove it! If you prove it then, of course, I'd like to buy it.

My oldest Friend engine is serial number 123, the last engine made in the 1904 production year. It was the engine on the twenty-third Friend power sprayer built. When it comes to the history of gasoline engines powering agricultural sprayers, old Friend engine #123 dates back almost to the dawn of time! To my knowledge, it is the oldest Friend-made engine in existence. As such, it has much potential to contribute to our knowledge of the evolution of Friend design technology in the formative years of this remarkable company.

My share of the story of Friend #123 begins at the premier engine show of New York State, the 1995 Pageant of Steam held at Canandaigua. In previous years, we made the two hour journey so that I could drink in the sights and buy some parts that I needed. My wife enjoys the flea market and I learn much from just looking at the beautiful engines, whether rusted or restored. But in 1995, it was different. I was a man on a mission to locate and purchase a Friend air-cooled engine if one could be had. When we arrived on Saturday, we were told that there had been two such engines at the show. One was already sold and one was not for sale. We found the not-for-sale engine and admired it. The serial number indicated a 1909 assembly date. The engine was virtually the same as Ron Polle's air-cooled Friend engine exhibited at our Friend Engine Round-up held in Newfane in May of 1995. Much to my dismay, Ron had not been willing to part with his engine and neither was this man at Canandaigua. No one knew who had purchased the other air-cooled engine at the show. We departed the Pageant of Steam and Canandaigua as light as we had come, having enjoyed ourselves, but not successful in completing my mission. I had been a day late and a dollar short.

The summer was slipping away and with it, my hopes of finding an air-cooled Friend engine at one of the area's engine shows. My wife suggested that I advertise my wants in GEM, and I did so. With great care, an advertisement was constructed and submitted to GEM's 'Wanted' section.

Enter the fickle hand of Fate: Before the advertisement had a chance to appear, Ron Polle decided to offer me a chance to purchase his air-cooled engine. Was I interested in bringing the engine back home to the Gasport area where Friends were made? Most definitely! Ron set his price and I met it. A few weekends later, Beth and I drove to Brockport to see Ron, and to pick up Friend #395, a 1908 air-cooled engine in excellent shape. I had completed my 'mission' successfully and had shot my wad of fun money for the summer. Having purchased what I figured would be the only available air-cooled Friend engine around, I was content. Life had a nice balance to it. I had the engine I wanted and had no thought of buying another.


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