Waterloo Boy Contract Engines

By Staff
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Lineup: Seven of Paul Sams’ Waterloo Boy and Waterloo Boy contract engines.
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Paul Sams’ 1914 1-1/2 hp Waterloo Boy engine. This one has igniter ignition, and like all his engines it’s mounted on a cart for display.
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One of Paul’s many Waterloo Boy contract engines. This one is a 1912 1-1/2 hp American Boy engine equipped with a Webster oscillating magneto.
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Paul’s 1916 1-1/2 hp Ever-Ready engine, built by Waterloo Boy and equipped with a Webster magneto.
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A 1914 4 hp Sandow marketed by Sandy McManus, Inc., of Waterloo, Iowa, but built by Waterloo Boy.
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Paul’s igniter equipped 1918 2 hp Sheldon. Sheldon engines are thought to have succeeded Sandow engines.
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Identification plate for the 1916 Ever-Ready.
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Identification plate for the 1914 Sandow.
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Identification plate for the 1918 Sheldon.
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Collector Paul Sams with his Sheldon and Ever-Ready engines.

Eight of Paul Sams’ gasoline engines look very similar, though they carry five different names. Patent theft? Not hardly. “Their castings were all built by the Waterloo Gas Engine Co.,” Paul says, “and sold under contract to other places to resell.”

Paul’s collection reflects only a portion of the Waterloo contract engines. His list shows 43 different companies that Waterloo supplied engines to. “Some were marketed under the Waterloo Boy name by the company, distributor, clearinghouse or big warehouse for Waterloo Boy, while others branded these same engines with different names.”

A little history

Paul has liked old iron for many years, but began collecting in the early 1980s. “I started with tractors, mostly Allis-Chalmers back when you could find them in a grove and get them pretty cheap to fix up for your collection or to resell.”

He brought tractors to shows, where they sat for several days. “At the end of the show I loaded them up and took them home. There wasn’t a lot of tractor activity at most shows. I got interested in gas engines because the collectors at the shows stayed with the engines, and did fun activities with them. That appealed to me more not doing a lot with a tractor. Also, you can put more gas engines in one area than you can tractors. So I moved over into gas engines, and have enjoyed working with them, and I enjoy the gas engine people a lot.”

Sixty-seven-year-old Paul, from Marshalltown, Iowa, says his first engine was a 1-1/2 to 2-1/5 hp International Harvester LB. “It was something that wasn’t very expensive, and got me started in the engines.”

Under contract

After a few years of collecting gas engines, including a couple of Waterloo Boy engines, Paul began to notice contract engines. “I wasn’t looking for contract engines, but when I found one a little different, or something you didn’t see every day, I started picking them up. I like them because they’re good running engines. You can run them real slow, and parts are available.”

Paul has eight Waterloo Boy-type engines: 1914 1-1/5 hp gray Waterloo Boy; 1915 1-1/2 hp red Waterloo Boy; 1916 3 hp Waterloo Boy; 1912 1-1/2 hp American Boy; 1912 5 hp American Boy; 1918 2 hp Sheldon; 1916 1-1/2 hp Ever-Ready; and a 1914 4 hp Sandow.

“They are similar to each other. The engine bodies look very much the same, and they all use the same igniter. Major changes came as the years passed, with different styles of water hoppers and things like that. Probably the biggest change was different speed controllers and different governor weights on different engines,” Paul says.

Waterloo Boy always used a little flyball governor, with a lever mounted in different places, moved forward and back to change the speed. “Some had a thumbscrew alongside the latch-out that adjusted the speed if it was tightened,” Paul notes.

There were also variations in the lever itself, like the Ever-Ready, whose lever was stamped steel instead of the usual cast iron, and was vertical instead of horizontal. “The American Boy lever stands upright with a spring beneath it holding it tight. It’s moved side to side rather than forward and back. These changes weren’t unique in any particular contract engine as several engines used the same type. There were differences in how you controlled the speed,” Paul says.

“Most contract engines have the flywheel weight in the flywheel, where the true Waterloo Boy engines had the flyball weights. However, the American Boy contract engine had a flyball weight like the Waterloo Boy, so it can be very confusing to say what one brand is unless there’s a tag with the engine,” Paul adds.

A rare one: The American Boy

Paul says the one he sees the least in Iowa is the American Boy contract engine. “If you went to Missouri and Kansas maybe you’d see more of them. But in this area, we don’t see very many.”

Paul’s 1912 1-1/2 hp American Boy engine is tagged with the Davis-Colbert Co., of St. Joseph, Missouri. His 1912 5 hp American Boy was purchased at a Nebraska show. “The engine had quite a bit of wear. I had to take it apart, and tighten some of the bushings and bearings, taking shims out. It didn’t have very good compression, and the cylinder wasn’t in very good shape and had to be sleeved to give it better compression.”


Paul had only seen two Ever-Ready engines until last fall, when he saw a third. “I had been trying to find out how to letter and decal an Ever-Ready engine. So I visited a collector who has a lot of Waterloo contract engines with the lettering painted on them. Unfortunately, he didn’t have an Ever-Ready painted and decaled.”

Fortunately, at a fall show a man who had a museum in Iowa brought an Ever-Ready to display. “It wasn’t in running condition, because it had sat for many, many years. But enough decal lettering showed on the side of the water hopper for me to take a picture and have a sign shop make decals for the side of my Ever-Ready water hopper. I had looked for three years to find what an Ever-Ready decal looked like, and finally found one by chance.” His 1916 1-1/2 hp Ever-Ready was bought at a Kansas City auction, and was in good running condition. “I took it apart, tightened some bearings, painted it, and put it back together, so there wasn’t a lot of mechanical work needed on that engine,” Paul says.


Paul’s 1914 4 hp Sandow engine was distributed by Sandy McManus Inc., of Waterloo, Iowa. “From what I’ve learned,” Paul says, “McManus was an executive who floated around to different companies in Waterloo. For a while he was associated with Waterloo Gas Engine Co., and when he had his own company he used the Waterloo Boy engine and called it the Sandow. His company was basically a mail-order company, like many contract companies.”


Sheldon Engine & Sales Co. of Waterloo succeeded the Sandow name of Sandy McManus Inc. “The striking similarity,” says C. H. Wendel in American Gasoline Engines Since 1872, “plus the simultaneous withdrawal of McManus and announcement of the Sheldon line support this theory.” Additionally, the September 1915 issue of Gas Power noted that “Sheldon engines have been on the market for years.”

“We don’t see a lot of Sheldon engines,” Paul says. “Mine is a little different than many of them because it has rounded front corners on the water hopper, but I have seen other contract engines with rounded corners on the water hopper. You don’t see a lot of them, but it’s not unique to the Sheldon.”

Paul says his 1918 2 hp Sheldon probably came in on a load of engines from Canada. “It was in pretty rough shape. The previous owner had torn it apart and started working on it. He‘d put some bushings in it, and things like that, but lost interest in it, and never finished it. After that it set for a while, and when he offered it for sale I bought it.”

Reassembling it wasn’t a major problem because Paul has worked with so many Waterloo Boy-type engines. “It’s more knowing that you have all the parts that you need. This one required a lot of cleaning up, finishing bushings, replacing small things like a worn pushrod and things like that. A new little wheel in the governor assembly had to be made. Sometimes I make needed parts, and other times a friend who does machine work does. Most of what I personally do is pretty straightforward and not real technical. I’m fortunate to have friends that can do those things. They do more for me than I do myself,” Paul says.

Lots left to learn

Paul says there’s a lot left to learn about Waterloo Boy contract engines. “We’re sure that the majority of the parts were made by Waterloo Boy, but whether they actually assembled them, or sent out the castings and somebody else assembled them, that might vary with different contract companies. But I do think many contract buyers were a broker-type thing. Waterloo Boy made the engines, shipped to them, and they resold them.”

Paint issues

Finding the correct color for contract engines can be a puzzle. “Sometimes you can find the engine color in Wendel’s books. His handbook gave some colors and paint numbers that were used. But some of it is strictly guesswork. Sheldons are typically blue, and a friend who has one painted his quite a bit darker than mine. So who’s right? We don’t know, and probably there is no right or wrong. I think that a lot of times they painted what they had available, and if they ran out, they got more, which might not have been exactly the same color as before. There’s no way to know,” Paul says.

Other times, painting an engine doesn’t bring the expected results. “Like my gray Waterloo Boy. The dried paint didn’t get as dark as I thought it would, so it’s probably a little bit lighter gray. Colors might have been determined by how the engine was going to be used, as for a cement mixer it might be a dark gray. Sometimes the same brand has different colors, and I really don’t know why. But I suspect the seller might have painted it a color you preferred in order to get the sale. I think that happened with the contract gas engines particularly.”

He adds that early Waterloo Boy engines were first green before they went to red. “I was looking at a gray one on the Internet the other day, but it had red flywheels. So whether Waterloo Boy painted it that way, or somebody else, nobody really knows,” Paul says.

Sometimes at a show attendees might challenge the color of an engine. “Occasionally that happens. You listen to it, and don’t worry about it, because it’s hard to know for sure unless somebody was there 80-100 years ago to know what it looked like. I just take it with a grain of salt. I would like to paint them the original colors, but sometimes when the engine has already been fixed up, it will stay that way regardless what somebody else says.”

The lettering can also presents problems. “Sometimes you get it wrong. My small American Boy has yellow block-style lettering on it, but using literature a guy sent me makes me think it‘s wrong. But it was painted that way when I got it, and I have no desire to take a nice paint job off and redo it.”

Paul likes paint on his engines. “Some old engines, with striping and a lot of original paint, I like to see left alone. But at most shows it seems that the spectator who doesn’t know a $500 dollar engine from a $5,000 dollar engine will look them longer at painted engines and ask more questions about them. I attend eight to 10 shows yearly, and the fun part of showing is the interaction of the exhibitors and spectators.”

Paul says his expertise has developed through trial and error. “I don’t have any training or anything, but I enjoy looking at and thinking about problems on gas engines. Throughout life I’ve pretty much had to fix things on my own, so the experience of working on other things and looking at them helps me figure out what to do.”

The part of collecting gas engines that Paul enjoys most is the friendships that he makes with other like-minded people. “It’s fun going to shows with a group of guys that good-naturedly pick on each other all the time, and have fun being with other collectors, Paul says. He also enjoys talking with spectators. “People will say, ‘I think my grandpa had something like that.’ People look at the engines, and ask questions. ‘What makes it run? How does that work?’ It’s fun to answer them. Young people will look at an engine, and have no idea what it was, and what it was used for. So I get to talk to them about a little bit of history, and how they used to do things 100 years ago, and how they do it now.”

Engine specs

1912 Waterloo Boy
Manufacturer: Waterloo Gasoline Engine Co., Waterloo, IA
Serial no.: 105584
Horsepower: 1-1/2 hp
Bore & stroke: 3.5in x 5in
Flywheel diameter: 18in x 1-3/4in
Governing: Flyball, hit-and-miss

1912 American Boy
Sold by: The Davis-Colbert Co., St. Joseph, MO
Serial no.: 44621
Horsepower: 3 hp
Bore & stroke: 5in x 9in
Flywheel diameter: 26in x 2-1/4in
Governing: Flyball, hit-and-miss

1916 Ever-Ready
Sold by: Iowa Spreader & Engine Co., Waterloo, IA
Serial no.: 134014
Horsepower: 1-1/2 hp
Bore & stroke: 3.5in x 5in
Flywheel diameter: 18in x 1-3/4in
Governing: Flyball weights, hit-and-miss

1914 Sandow
Sold by: Sandy McManus Inc., Waterloo, IA
Serial no.: 109772
Horsepower: 4 hp
Bore & stroke: 4.5in x 9in
Flywheel diameter: 26in x 2-1/4in
Governing: Flyball weights, hit-and-miss

1918 2 hp Sheldon
Sold by: Sheldon Engine & Sales Co., Waterloo, IA
Serial no.: 149104
Horsepower: 2 hp
Bore & stroke: 3.5in x 5in
Flywheel diameter: 18in x 2in
Governing: Flyball weights, hit-and-miss

Contact Bill Vossler at Box 372, 400 Caroline Ln., Rockville, MN 56369 • bvossler@juno.com

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