The Oldest Friend?

By Staff
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Old Friend #123, the last motor-pump assembly made in the 1904 production year. A much lighter engine than #395, this engine probably proved to be too under-powered for the demands of greater pump pressures and better spray coverage.
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The patent date on the pressure tank of Friend motor-pump #123 predates by one year the Company's production of its first prototype engine powered sprayer. The first Friend powered sprayers were hand pumps grafted to gasoline engines ... still a vast impr
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Friend air-cooled engines show up in a variety of work environments in sales catalogs of 1908-1910. Grinding grain, sawing wood, chopping fodder . . . but the most unusual is that of a power unit on a New York Central and Hudson River Rail Raod service ca
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Friend engine #395, an air-cooled model, exhibits holes in the side of the base for attaching the pump. Holes in the base beneath the rear of the cylinder attached jackshaft bearings to the engine. Early photos show engines complete with belt pulley on Fr
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Made in very early 1908, engine #395 appears to be typical of Friend aircooled engines made in 1908 and 1909.
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Pictured above is the engine and pump of an early Friend sprayer, possibly a rendering of the first experimental unit Friend made. According to Julia Hull Winter, sister to the inventors, the first engine used to power the prototype model was purchased on

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.

Second entry of ‘Fickle Fate’ I
remained content from Saturday around 2:00 p.m. until Monday around
3:30 p.m. about two days. Even as I was picking up Ron’s
engine, Max was mailing a letter to me, describing his air-cooled
Friend engine that might be available photos enclosed. Jehosaphat!
Max’s photos pictured an even older engine than Ron’s,
complete with a very early Friend pump. Despite the lack of
mad-money to play with, a call to Max would do no harm.
Undoubtedly, the price would be too high for my wallet. This would
protect me from any thoughts of purchase. I was resolved only to
‘window shop to thank Max for thinking of me and to take the
opportunity to extend my knowledge of Friend engine

My resolve to remain frugal began to weaken as soon as Max and I
commenced talking. He had bought his, Friend engine the month
before, up at the Pageant of Steam Show in Canandaigua. He now
wanted to sell it. In fact, Max’s engine was the very same
engine that I had missed at Canandaigua by a day. Fate was giving
me another chance. It was all too mystical for me too good to be
true. I began to rationalize the benefits of ownership over
increased debt structure. Finding such impossible, I abandoned
rational thinking and the ‘how’ of buying, moving
immediately to the ‘when’ of picking the engine up. The
latter issue was narrowed down to mid-October, giving me some time
to worry about the ‘how’ of it all later.

So it was that beautiful autumn Saturday found us on the road to
Max’s house in the Southern Tier of New York State. It would be
poetic to say that the trip alone was worth the price of the
engine. Hardwood trees flamed in bursts of emotion, anticipating
surrender to the winds and rains of November. Little towns rose up
and disappeared in our rear view mirror as we passed through the
land of the Senecas, keepers of the western door of the Iroquois

Also home to New York’s wine industry, the smell of warm,
musky grapes drifted out of the hillside vineyards and over the
roads. On such a day in the company of one’s beloved spouse,
what oaf could think of greasy old engines? You may refer to me as
‘Mr. Oaf if you please. I was still a man on a MISSION to
retrieve the oldest known Friend engine and to bring it home!

In due time, we found Max’s house and received a most warm
greeting. Very quickly, two young men with backs much better than
mine loaded Friend #123 on the floor of my truck. Like Mr. Nelson,
we were on the road again headed home via Watkins Glen and
Canandaigua, both villages famous for engines, but engines of such
different complexities as to dazzle the mind. Several miles short
of home, we detoured into the east end of the village of Gasport to
take this wonderful old engine past its birthplace, past the
birthplace of Friend Manufacturing Company over 100 years ago. I
was very, very content.

Have I mentioned the fickleness of Fate? Max
was not the only one to see my advertisement in GEM. A few days
after our visit to pick up Max’s engine, the telephone rang.
‘Do you still want to buy an air-cooled Friend engine?’ the
fellow from New England asked. Of course, he asked that question
because he had one for sale, different than either of the two I now
had. There is only so much a man can rationalize away. I still have
two air-cooled Friend engines and the man in New England, as far as
I know, still has one. I am a shade less content than I was before
but not so discontent that I am planning a long trip to the East.
Perhaps that will be next summer’s mission. For now, I’d
like to share what Friend engine #123 has taught me.

The engine is far less robust than later models, more light in
weight. Rather than a solid thick base, this engine’s base is
open underneath the crank a hollow box supporting the cylinder head
on one end with main bearings on the back corners. The base
continues out from the off-flywheel side to support the separately
mounted single piston pump. The unit is clearly ‘a missing
link’ in Friend’s evolution from builders of hand powered
spray pumps to engine-powered models. It is a hand powered spray
pump married to an air-cooled engine, two separate identities
brought together to gain efficiency in completing an arduous task
the killing of bugs on fruit trees. The engine is small, perhaps
generating about 1.5 horsepower. All the essentials of the next
thirty years of Friend flywheel engine production are present yet
different, more primitive. Although most of the casting work is
refined, the area where cylinder bolts to base looks as if the mold
pattern was hacked out with an ax. Unlike later engines where two
machined faces meet, the fate of the cylinder bolts up to a conical
projection from the base, leaving a gap between the two. Main
bearings lie on a slant with relatively light caps hosting oil cups
to lubricate the crankshaft. Other points of lubrication on both
engine and pump are served by a bank of four oilers carried on the
pressure tank of the pump, copper lines snaking to the drip-point.
The bronze connecting rod is cast into a very pleasing quatrefoil
cross-section as it flows from wrist pin to crank. The impression
one gets is that of a delicately made light duty engine. It must
have been so even in fact. In 1907 and quite probably earlier,
Friend was producing a much more robust engine with simplified
design marked by heavy castings and much bracing to stress

A little over three years separate the two air-cooled Friend
engines I have. Engine#123, the last engine of the 1904 production
year, must be considered a transitional unit. It stands as a
summation of the first four years of gasoline-powered agricultural
sprayer experimentation. It clearly demonstrates a key stage in the
evolution of Friend’s development from hand powered pumps to
hand pumps powered by gasoline engines. Made in very early 1908,
engine #395 marks a larger, better constructed air-cooled engine
made to take a pump uniquely designed for it. Changes between
Friend engine #123 and engine #395 exhibit important changes in
Friend Manufacturing Company’s product philosophy as they
underwent the inevitable maturing process occasioned by their
success. Trial in the market-place obviously called for a stronger
engine to withstand the mechanical stresses imposed by movement
over rough terrain while under power. Demand for more spray
coverage begged a bigger, stronger, more efficient pump. Such a
pump demanded a more powerful engine an engine like #395 with thick
cast iron base, well braced to support the main bearings and solid
cast to deny any flexing that could lead to cracking. Yet in 1908,
air-cooled engines like #395 were losing dominance in the Friend
engine line to the open hopper water-cooled engines. By 1910, both
air-cooled engine #123 and #395 and like types were on the verge of
obsolescence. Too light, too small, too weak, too bad! Time and
Friend technology marched on to that litany that has been chanted
so often in America’s twentieth century Bigger, better, faster,
stronger, cheaper the only way to go!’ It seems that, as I run
my Friend engines, I can hear the chant put to music in the sounds
of a working machine. In fact, to my ear, all old fly-wheeled gas
engines seem to sing this same song as they breathe into life

‘Bigger, better, faster, stronger, cheaper the only way to

Bigger, better, faster, stronger, cheaper the only way to

Yet, in chanting their song, our old friends sing their own
epitaphs, dinosaurs of the Age of Internal Combustion. How
wonderful that we have them around to remind us of an earlier time
when they were wonders of high technology. Yessiree, there is
nothing like an old friend. I may have the oldest Friend of all.
But then, again, maybe not.

I hope to show these two engines, as well as others, at the Town
of Newfane Historical Society’s Apple Blossom Festival and
Second Annual Friend Engine Roundup, May 19, 1996.

FRIEND Serial Number Index 1901 through 1913

Serial Number

Year of Man

Number of Units




102 & 103



104 through 109



110 through 123



124 through 201



202 through 271



272 through 376



377 through 536



537 through 673



674 through 938



939 through 1414



1415 through 1891



1892 through 2317



2318 through??



* Friend Manufacturing Company’s serial number list breaks
with #2318 as the first motor-pump assembly of 1914 and does not
resume until 1917 when a new serial numbering system commences.
(List courtesy of Friend Manufacturing Company, Gasport, New York
with modifications by the author to correct period 1901 -1903).

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