The Wonder of the Walls Engines

By Staff
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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.
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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.
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The muffler on the Walls is actually a spent shell casing. Close inspection shows the horizontal flyball governor on the belt pulley side, which latches and unlatches a trip arm to hold the exhaust valve open during overrun.
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The Walls' working end. Just visible between the main frame and the belt pulley is the drive gear for the horizontal flyball governor.

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.

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.

Progress on the Walls stalled for a few years, but one day
fellow engine collector Joe Winter, Richards, Mo., returning from
the Portland, Ind., engine show, decided to check in on Rick and
the Walls. Joe knew about the engine, and he knew Rick was hoping
to get it running, so while Rick was still at work Joe finished
setting up the Walls, making necessary adjustments to get it going,
and by the time Rick got home the Walls was in his driveway,
running for the first time.

Mechanicals

There is no separate intake valve per se, the air intake is
controlled by the Lunkenheimer carburetor. The exhaust valve runs
directly off the camshaft along the pulley side of the engine. A
horizontal fly-ball governor geared to the camshaft latches an
actuating arm, which in turn holds the exhaust valve open during
overrun. ‘It’s so simple it’s unbelievable,’ Rick
says of the governor system. A spark plug ignites the fuel/air
mixture, and ignition voltage is supplied from a Ford Model A buzz
coil; a swipe off the back side of the camshaft contacts a brass
rivet head to make the coil circuit. A single six-volt battery
supplies the initial voltage.

With a bore and stroke of 5×6-1/2 inches, Rick estimates the
engine to be somewhere between 1-1/2 HP and 2-1/2 HP, max.
‘It’s probably about a 2 HP,’ Rick says. Since getting
the Walls running, Rick says he’s done very little to it.
He’s never pulled the head, but he has lapped the exhaust
valve. ‘Every year I lap the valve before Mt. Pleasant,
Iowa.’ As near as he knows, the engine’s babbitt bearings
are original.

An interesting part of the Walls is its single flywheel. While
it is hardly a unique feature, the vast majority of U.S.-built
stationary engines used dual flywheels, to enhance balance and
kinetic energy, and the engine’s single flywheel leads Rick to
think it might have origins in a German or English design (heavy,
single flywheels were quite common on early European engines, a
great many of which were bolted down for permanent installation),
but that’s only speculation at this point.

The engine nameplate identifies the Walls as built by the
Decatur Gasoline Engine Co., Decatur, Ill., and shows a patent date
of April 9, 1895. Rick has researched both the Decatur Gasoline
Engine Co. and the Walls name in Decatur, Ill., but so far his
research has produced precious little. He’s found no mention of
the Decatur Gasoline Engine Co., but he did find mention of the
Walls name in connection with an unnamed Decatur newspaper
published around the turn of the century. Interestingly, the
engine’s previous owner told Rick the Walls engine was used to
run a printing press at a Decatur newspaper, but he didn’t know
what newspaper. This raises a number of possibilities, including
the idea the engine was essentially a one-off, it and its twin
built on special order by a small, local manufacturing concern.
More than one company offered patterns and plans for engines
(engine patterns supplied by Parsell & Weed come to mind), and
it’s always possible the Walls was one of these. That, however,
fails to answer the question of the engine’s serial number,
number 306, which suggests quantity construction of some level,
even if it was only six engines. It should be noted that small
manufacturers commonly started with a multi-digit serial number,
building their production numbers from there and in the process
giving the impression of building more engines than they actually
had.

The Walls Today

Rick runs the engine regularly, most notably at the Midwest Old
Threshers Reunion held every year in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. ‘I
generally run it for 35 to 40 minutes, at most, at the show,’
Rick says. ‘There’s no load, so it doesn’t generate a
lot of heat.’

The cooling tank is Rick’s own design, sourced from a circa
1945 water sprinkler system – the cast iron water reservoir started
life as a charging tank. ‘I saw this cast iron funnel and
bottle, and I thought it was perfect,’ Rick says. The muffler
is an old cannon shell, put on by the previous owner. The
engine’s heavy flywheel gives the engine a substantial weight
bias on the left side of the engine, which prompted Rick to put the
Walls on a lower cart so he wouldn’t worry about it falling
over at shows.

Rick would like to learn more about the Walls and the Decatur
Gasoline Engine Co., and he’d like to learn more about the
engine’s original hot tube arrangement so he can eventually get
the engine into original condition. ‘You don’t usually see
a hot tube that small,’ Rick says. ‘I would love to find a
hot tube unit or a pattern, it would be nice to know what it looks
like.’ He says the Walls is touchy to get running as it’s
currently set up, and wonders how it would run in its original
form.

Given the engine’s obvious rarity, it seems a stretch to
think anyone might have the information Rick needs to return the
Walls to its original state. But as we’ve all seen time and
again in the old iron hobby, anything’s possible.

Contact engine enthusiast Rick Kaufman at: 18383 N. 50 E.
Road, Danvers, IL 61732.

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