The Real Field of Dreams

A goldmine discovered in Wisconsin

| May 2006

I started collecting engines 60-plus years ago at the age of 8. I still have my first engine, a Model 92 Maytag, which was given to me by my uncle. He spent several months trying to get it running with no success. After discovering I couldn't shock the neighborhood kids by letting them holding the plug wire, I asked one of the men who worked at the junkyard down the road how to fix the spark. He said the condenser was probably bad. After removing the inspection plate on the flywheel, he showed me where the condenser was. He then gave me a handful of used ones, and I?spent hours figuring out how to make a condenser that wasn't made for the engine fit into the space available. It started on the third or fourth kick, and when my uncle found out about it he wouldn't talk to me for six months.

From that time until I finished high school, I accumulated about a dozen more engines, mostly Briggs & Stratton and a couple of air-cooled Lausons plus a 4-cycle Jacobsen lawn mower engine with overhead valves and two pushrods, which I learned much later is a very scarce engine (I detest the over use of the term "rare" and only use it to identify items where only one or two are known). After high school, I enlisted in the Navy, and on being discharged I began an apprenticeship in machine maintenance at American Motors Corp. in Kenosha, Wis. During this time I also got married, started a family and built a house, so the engine collecting went on the back burner for several years.

Some time in the mid-1970s, while at a farm auction, I wound up bidding on a pile (literally) of old flywheel engines, which I won for the princely sum of $7.50. In the pile were a couple of Fairbanks-Morse Zs, an IHC LA, an engine with no name that turned out to be an Economy, and a strange looking thing that I thought was an air compressor, but was actually a Baker Monitor pump jack engine.

I spent some time repairing and cleaning these engines and got all but the Monitor running in a few weeks. I restored the Monitor a couple of years later. I played with these toys for a few years but never showed any of them. In 1985, while trying to select a Christmas gift for me, my wife saw American Gasoline Engines Since 1872 advertised in a catalog, and remembering the engines I had in the shop, ordered a copy for me. This book was a real eye-opener. I had no idea that there were so many types and varieties of old engines and my wife had no idea of the can of worms she was opening. Over the next four years, I won a few more engines at farm auctions and bought a couple more from vendors at shows that I had started to attend. Then in 1989, at the age of 52, I retired from my job at American Motors and started my own machine shop business.

The business did well, and with more discretionary income and free time, I purchased a few more engines. About 1995, it began to occur to me that a large number of the old flywheel-type engines had been built in Wisconsin. The production of just two companies, Fairbanks-Morse in Beloit and International Harvester at the Milwaukee Works, accounted for close to 50 percent of all these engines ever built in the U.S. I started a list of the Wisconsin-built engines I knew of, which now exceeds 200, and began to direct my collecting interests almost exclusively to these engines. I now have over 100 Wisconsin-built engines from about 30 different manufacturers.

In the Fall of 2004, I saw an engine in an eBay auction that was listed as "unknown maker," but I recognized it as a small Simplicity. I had been looking for one of these for quite some time, so I placed a bid and a few days later was notified that I was the high bidder. I contacted the owner and found that the engine was in far northwestern Wisconsin. Because of the machine shop business, it was the middle of November before I could get away to pick it up.


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