The Wonder of the Walls Engines

At least two Walls engines were built but who was behind the Decatur Gasoline Engine Co.?

| April/May 2003

Walls Engine

A strong current of discovery flows within the old iron hobby, pushing engine collectors and restorers in a hunt for previously unseen or unknown engines before they're forever lost to the ravages of time and the elements. While that's hardly a surprising observation, it is surprising how many engine discoveries continue to be made, especially considering how much time has passed since most of these engines we collect were designed and built - a lot can get lost in the course of 100 years. Engine collector Rick Kaufman of Danvers, Ill., has made an interesting engine discovery, but in this case he really wasn't looking for anything unique, he's just interested in old engines.

Rick Kaufman's Walls Engine, manufactured by the Decatur Gasoline Engine Co., Decatur, Ill. The engine appears to be of about 2 HP capacity, but the engine's nameplate gives no speed rating.

Showing a patent date of April 9, 1895, and serial number 306, this engine is one of only two Walls engines known. Nothing is known about the Decatur Gasoline Engine Co.

Walls Engine

The circumstances surrounding Rick's discovery were really nothing special. About 10 years ago Rick met, through the normal course of events of engine collecting, a fellow in Illinois who had a collection of engines he wanted to sell. The man in question was more of a tractor collector than an engine collector, but even so he'd managed to accumulate about 30 different engines. Most of his engines were what we might call ordinary, but one stuck out in the crowd: A single flywheel, four-stroke, horizontal single-cylinder Walls engine. It was an engine Rick had never seen, let alone heard of - nor, it seems, has anyone else.

The only problem was, it was the only engine of the group that wasn't for sale. Undeterred, Rick made an offer on the entire collection, an offer that included the Walls as part of the deal. The seller turned him down at first, but finally agreed, so long as Rick would increase his offer. 'That determined my buying the collection,' Rick says. 'I wouldn't have bought the collection without the Walls.'

The previous owner never had the Walls running, but not for lack of trying. When he bought it, it came with a spare Walls engine. The second engine was mostly broken up, and the connecting rod on the first engine was broken, but between the two he was able to put together a mostly complete unit. The cylinder was in poor shape so he had it sleeved, but other than that it was mostly ready to run when Rick bought it. Well, almost. The Walls was originally equipped with hot tube ignition, but when Rick bought it, it was equipped with a cobbled-up mixer and lacked any kind of functioning ignition system. With no hot tube to use as a pattern, and no way to source one, Rick found a suitable Lunkenheimer carburetor and started work on converion of the engine to a working buzz coil and spark plug ignition.