8350 Newbury St., Cincinnati, OH 45216
The engine pictured here is a Watkins marine inboard engine, built in Cincinnati, Ohio, in approximately the year 1905. The Patent Pending number is 1895, the model number 85. It is 3 HP, 1-cylinder, 2-cycle, and has a Model T Ford spark plug coil and spark plug. The engine is water-cooled, it weighs approximately 40 pounds, and stands about 32' tall.
This engine was given to me by my very good friend, Bill Behr. Bill always knew I was interested in marine engines. One day he came to me and said, 'Hey, 1 know where there's a good inboard engine, but it needs a lot of work.' So, I said, 'Let's have it, Bill, where can we get it?' He came back to me about a week later and said, 'I'm sorry, George, but the fellow said you could have it, but there's a few strings attached to it. He said he always wanted to hear the engine run and started up.' And I said, 'Well, Bill, I'm sorry, if I'm going to do all this work, I don't want any strings attached.' 'Well,' he said, 'I'll tell him about it.'
So I forgot all about the engine. About a month later, Bill came to me and said, 'Hey, look what I got for you.' I said, 'What are you talking about?' He said, 'Come on out to the car.' And, what do you know, he had the marine engine! So I said, 'Boy, it looks like I'm going to have to do an awful lot of work.' Bill, being a mechanic, said 'I think you can do it. You've restored a lot of Briggs & Stratton and all and this doesn't look too complicated for you. I'll try to help you out on the ignition system.' (Bill worked in a shop and he was a starter and generator distributor man.) So I said, 'O.K., Buddy, when shall we start?' He said, 'Oh, we won't rush into it. Just hold off for awhile.'
I took the engine home and, to this day, I never will forget the look on my wife's face. I knocked on the back door and said, 'Hold the door open for me, will you?' She said, 'What in the name of sense have you got there another piece of junk!' I said, 'No, no this is a boat engine. I'm going to restore it. I'll take it down to my workshop and I'm going to work on it.' She said, 'Well, let me remind you that we have a wedding coming up and I don't want to be an engine widow and doing all this work while you're working on that.' I said, 'No, just forget about it for awhile. Bill and I intend to restore this, but in our leisure moments.' She said, 'Yeah, I've heard that one before.'
Well, I did keep my word. I put the engine on my work bench and went about my business. But I do have to admit that I cheated a little bit here. I could see that the engine needed a few parts. The water jacket looked like someone had worked on it with a ball-pen hammer. I figured that, with the wedding that was coming up in about three months (the oldest daughter was getting married) and in between this I could chase a few parts and maybe get a little bit of labor done. So, I went about doing this. Of course, I never touched the engine. I just more or less looked at it every time I walked into the shop.
Then the wedding was over everything came off in grand style and now it was time to get down in the workshop and do a little bit of work on that marine engine. I talked to Bill and said, 'My wife bowls on Monday nights at 9:00. That would be a good evening to work on the engine.' He said, 'It's all right with me.' So we made a date for every Monday night to work on the engine while the wife was bowling. So we more or less called Monday night 'meeting night.'
After about six months, we had the engine pretty well restored and we decided we were going to start it. We had been waiting for that day. So a friend of ours made a stand for it and we bolted it to the basement floor and the night came to start the engine. I asked Bill 'What do you think?' He said, 'I think she'll fire up right away.' I said, 'How about the stand?' He said, 'The way you've got it bolted down there, I think it will be o.k.'
We put a little fuel in the cylinder and put the spark plug back in. Bill cranked it and the first time it kicked back. He said 'Well, I got this spark advanced too far. Let's try it again.' So he gave it another whirl and, sure enough, it took off. It just about leveled off and Bill was closing down the throttle when all of a sudden, that stand gave way. I grabbed for the engine to kill the switch on it. I missed that and the flywheel got me in the wrist. But we did save the engine it didn't hit the floor. So everything seemed to be in order except the stand we did demolish it. I'm still carrying the scars on my wrist, but it was worth it. We had a great time. Bill looked at me and I looked at him and he said, 'Where do we go from here?' 'Build a new stand is the only thing I can figure out,' I said.
I went back to my old friend Charlie Cheyney and Charlie took one look at the stand and said 'My gosh, what did you fellows do?' I said, 'Well, Charlie, we decided we'd run the old Watkins engine and this is what happened.' He said, 'I really didn't build that stand to run the engine on. It was more or less for display purposes. Nevertheless, I'll build you a new one. But remember, this is the last one.' I said, 'O.k., Buddy, go ahead.'
I really wasn't satisfied with the fuel tank on the engine. It wasn't just what I wanted. So I got a piece of copper pipe, approximately 3' in diameter, about 8' long. I had two ends silver-soldered in and I used the ' plug for a gas cap. I wasn't completely satisfied with the flywheel, either, so I took it off and took it to a welding shop. It had quite a few pit holes in it and the fellow said he could fill them up and then polish it off. I said 'O.k. That would look better than it is now.' To my surprise, when I picked it up, he'd had the outer surface chrome plated which is an original but, nevertheless, if I didn't like it, I could always paint over the chrome.
Well, to make a long story short, I got all the parts back, the engine back together, back on the stand, and it looked beautiful. Now came the time to find the history of the engine. The first place I went to was the public library here in Cincinatti, to the rare book room. I talked with a lady there and she went through everything she had and she had no information on the Watkins marine engine. She suggested that I check into a museum, and mentioned the Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. So I contacted Les Emory in Dearborn and told him what I had. He invited me to the museum and, if possible, to bring the engine along. So I made reservations in a motel. My wife and I and the youngest girl decided we'd take a two or three-day vacation, so we went to Dearborn.
I met a Mr. Henry in Dearborn and he was really amazed with the engine. At that time, they were just starting a marine division and he liked the engine, but he didn't know anything about it. He suggested that I subscribe to some collector's magazines. He gave me a couple of them. This was the year 1965, the year before GEM started. So I wrote to a couple of these magazines. Some of them were out of business, so I dropped it then. At the Museum, Mr. Henry had another fell a look at it, a Frank Davis, who worked with Mr. Henry. They both wanted me to leave the engine, but it was too good and I wanted to keep it for awhile. He said, 'Make me a promise. If you ever decide to dispose of the engine, could we have the first crack at it?' I said, 'You certainly could.' He took me through the whole museum (we spent two days there) and he said anytime we wanted to come back we would be welcome.
I brought the engine back home with me and I thought I would just let it rest awhile and get with it some other time. Well, 18 or 19 years went by. When I retired I thought I'd start looking up the history of the Watkins engine. I heard about GEM, so I subscribed to it at that time. I really got interested in it. One day, Bill called me and said, 'Hey, since both of us are retired now, why don't we do a little checking on that Watkins engine?' 1 said, 'That's what I'm doing now. I've subscribed to GEM and as soon as I get the first issue, maybe it will give us a few leads.' Well, the magazine really helped me out. I can remember one issue where I was reading about a historical society, and I followed that lead. One day I called Bill and asked him, 'Do you know where the historical society is in Cincinatti?' He said, 'Sure. It's in Eden Park.' I said, 'Do you have to be a member or anything?' He said, 'No, it's open to the public.' So I said, 'Let's go. What day do you have free?' He said, 'Now.' I said, 'No, let's wait 'til tomorrow morning and get a fresh start.'
So the next day, Bill and I went over to the historical society, which I had never been to in all my life, even though I'd lived in Cincinatti for a number of years. We talked to the lady over there and told her what we were looking for. I had a picture of the engine. She was quite interested and said she'd do all she could for us. So she checked all her books and she had nothing. She said, 'I have a good clue for you here, but I don't know whether it will help you or not. We have all the city directories here, going back to at least 1900. You could check the city directories, starting from the beginning, and maybe find out if the company was in business here in Cincinatti.
So we checked out the city directories. Well, the first one we picked up was for the year 1895 and it listed F. M. Watkins, manufacturer of laundry machines, located at 8th and Broadway, Cincinatti, Ohio. The next city directory I looked in was 1897 and it had F. M. Watkins, manufacturer of laundry machines and gas and gasoline engines, 6th and Bay miller, Cincinatti, Ohio. Checking all the directories up to 1905 was pretty much the same as 1895. In 1905, they ran an and' Gas and gasoline engines and motor launches, Cincinatti, Ohio.' In the 1907 directory, they had an ad 'Gas and gasoline and motor launches, manufacturing of stationary and marine engines, 2-cylinder.' Since the engine I have is a 1-cylinder, I'm judging by this ad in 1907 that they built the 1-cyinder first, in approximately 1905. Also, looking back to the first city directory, the patent number on this engine is 1895. I'm wondering if they started to build this engine in 1895 and then sent for the patent.
Nevertheless, I'm satisfied with the history of the Watkins engines, and hope this information might be helpful to others.