Trinity Treasure

Quite Possibly the Oldest Surviving Engine from the Stover Engine Works


| July 2005



Wheel

In far northern California is a beautiful area. It is a sparsely populated, rugged, historic gold mining country called Trinity County. This area was once powered by numerous old steam, gas and oil engines. The engines were used to power up gold stamp mills, jaw crushers, water pumps, generators and other machinery at remote mines. It's amazing to see some of this old machinery far back in the wilderness of the Trinity Alps. You really have to appreciate the effort it took to get several tons of heavy iron up into some of these remote areas. I know of an old 10 HP Fairbanks-Morse in the backcountry, which had two pulleys running a mine's water pump, ball mill and jaw crusher. It also powered up a line shaft that ran all the shop equipment.

My quest for Trinity treasures of this kind began in the late 1960s with an old friend named Jim Everest of Weaverville, Calif., who introduced me to the world of engines. Jim was shown with some of his engines in the November/December 1967 issue of Gas Engine Magazine. These engines have fascinated me all my life. Jim actually bought and operated engines for mining and home use. Fortunately, he realized the importance of preserving engines for future generations and he instilled that in me. At that time, Jim and I were the only Trinity County residents who restored and displayed engines at different events throughout the county.

Jim passed away in 1987, but he left me with his knowledge, love and expertise for engines, which I have passed on to my friends George Owens, Fred Maddox and Don Maclean, who all share the same enthusiasm and enjoyment of old engines. Together, we put together three shows annually in Trinity County: one on the Fourth of July at the Trinity County Museum gold stamp mill, one at the car show in the park in Weaverville, and one at the Trinity County Fair in Hayfork. The show at the fair in 1995 is where the story about the little vertical Stover begins.

Stover Discovery

On several occasions, a gentleman named Bob Stengel would visit the engine show at the county fair. He invited me to his ranch, which has one of the oldest barns in Trinity County. As I approached it, I noticed in front of it what I first thought to be a vertical FM-T, which at the time I needed parts for. Upon further study, I realized this was a different engine than I first perceived. I could see embossing on the old, rusty flywheel that made my heart race. Like the pop of an engine, my feet bolted from my torso and carried me to this beautiful piece of iron. There in bold letters embossed on the flywheel read, “Stover Engine Works.” Curious and excited, I drove up to the ranch house to meet Bob and his wife.

I was taken on a tour of the ranch. Bob showed me a number of engines and told me about his fondness for old iron. He said his family used one old engine, a Fuller & Johnson mounted on an original cement mixer, to shell walnuts.  

Eventually we made our way to the barn, and the Stover engine that I was drooling over. I began wondering how to ask him the big question. When I worked up the nerve, I asked, “Are there any engines you are willing to part with?” I felt like a kid asking for a second piece of candy. He looked at me and said, “No, not really.” Then he paused for a minute, looked out at the Stover and said, “Yeah, the little engine out there, I'll trade it for a running engine.” He went on to say that he could get a pop out of it, but it would never take off running.