Unusual Engines

Minnesota Collector Focuses on Unusual Engines

| January 2005

Robert Geiken of Hastings, Minn., has always been intrigued with the thinking employed at the turn of the 20th century to create different designs to make an internal-combustion engine work. "You wonder if some guy didn't lay awake in bed all night, thinking about how he might build a better engine, the mechanics and actual thought that went into these different designs."

Or certainly different or unusual engines. The urge for uniqueness has led 55-year-old Robert on a quest to find oddball gas engines for his collection.

Engines like his L. E. Spear, a 1-1/2 HP horizontal engine; his Oshkosh 6 HP, which is extremely rare; his Ypsi engine, made as a school project; or any of his gearless engines, like a 4 HP Wogaman Sure-Go, (1908, serial no. 490); a Weber, (1901, serial no. 7960); or the St. Mary's gearless manufactured for Dean Electric Co. (circa-1910, serial no. 3948.) This accounting barely dents Robert's unique collection.

Oddball Beginnings

About 25 years ago, Robert's interest in gas engines was tweaked each time he visited one of his neighbors, a collector of antique gas engines. "They intrigued me, so I'd watch them running and talk to him. I used to play with restoring cars, and he kept telling me, 'You need to get into antique engines. Those cars take up too much space.' It piqued my interest. I thought the old gas engines were fascinating. They're simple enough that you can work on them if you ask a lot of questions from the people who know what they're doing - the older guys who have been around a while."

So in 1981, Robert succumbed, and bought three engines from the neighbor - a 1-1/2 HP Sattley, a 3 HP McCormick-Deering Μ and a 1-1/2 - 2-1/2 HP McCormick-Deering LA. The latter engine Robert gave to his dad as a Christmas present, which hooked his father. "He liked the idea of going to threshing shows with us, so he set up a little trailer to haul his engines with, too." Robert says it was a family affair, with his father, his wife and their children.

He has found engines in every possible way - through word of mouth, swap meets, farm auctions, other collectors, trading, buying or a little bit of both. Once, he and a friend even bought an entire estate from Wisconsin, selling everything except what he wanted, and ending up with some working capital. "I took that slush fund and bought some others," he says.


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