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

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.

Photo by Richard Backus

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.