Hagan Reliable: Rare and Well-Traveled

Iowa collector focuses on engines that worked around patent restrictions.

| October/November 2014

Give Travis Benner your old, your odd, your unrestored antique gas engines that yearn to run again — and they will. The Blue Grass, Iowa, elementary school teacher’s growing collection is full of rare engines that show the innovation that drove manufacturers to come up with new features to skirt existing patents.

The 46-year-old recently added several of these weary engines to his collection, and the engines also happen to be well-traveled: His 1928 7 HP Blackstone engine began life in the factory of Blackstone & Co. Ltd. of Stamford, England. It was then installed in a distillery in Belfast, Ireland, and was imported to Nebraska before finally finding its new home with Travis.

The 1906 3-1/2 HP Hagan Reliable engine that just joined the collection, built by Hagan Gas Engine & Mfg. Co., Winchester, Kentucky, ran a line shaft in a machine shop in Florida, came back to Kentucky, immigrated to Canada, traveled to Pennsylvania and finally to Travis’ collection in Iowa.

The women in his life

Travis grew up on a farm where he was always interested in mechanical things, and the women in his life have had a noticeable influence on his engine collecting. “On the farm I was forced to be handy and fix things,” he says. “I grew up with old tractors and equipment that would be used regularly, and we had to keep our equipment going, so I learned to appreciate vintage and older mechanical things.”

After getting married, Travis expanded on his interest in historical things by attending farm shows, where he enjoyed seeing how farming has changed over the years. “To me, there’s an elegance to these older machines,” he says. “I appreciate the styles of the designs and see the art that was created. I learned to appreciate how manufacturers sought to design new ways to get around the different patents and get the same job done.”

Travis’ wife’s grandfather had small engines that were sold when he died. One was a 1930 Fairbanks-Morse Model ZD. To Travis’ surprise, his mother-in-law, Kay, bought the ZD back and gave it to Travis as a Christmas gift. “That was my first engine and I still have it,” he says. “I am so very grateful that she recognized my interest in this old iron.”


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