6 Williamson Lane, Chester, New Jersey 07930-2311
One fine spring Sunday in early June 1998, I went for a drive in my model A Ford up to Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey, to see the antique boat show.
This was the third year in a row I was going, and it's only 20 miles one way. The boats, restored or original, are beautiful. Most are pleasure combo speed boats. Always having boats since I was a kid in the 40's, and owning and being around them all my life, brings fond memories while I'm wandering on the docks by myself, looking at the many boats. While admiring one of the many, with the motor compartment cover lifted, the owner said to me, 'Sure is a monster, isn't it?' and I responded, 'It's a handsome masterpiece of the 20's.' I spoke of the powerful big bore and long stroke engines. After our five minute conversation, I went to walk on but a fellow tapped me on the arm and said, 'You seem to know a lot about old motors.' I said, 'Some, because I collect old gas engines, hit and miss type. You may see them at county fairs, and you remember seeing one because of the big flywheels. They are usually called farm engines. I like to restore them.'
He asked, 'How many do you have?' I said, '25 or so, probably more. Most are done.'
He said, 'My name is Jerry and I know what they are, I have one. It's an upright. It's been in the family since new. Would you be interested in it?'
I said, 'Sure, always.' He said, 'It's an Otto' and I said, 'You mean Novo.' He said, 'No, Otto.' (I'm thinking) Wow I never saw an Otto upright (other than the first at Kinzer) and I have done shows and gone to many, many, many shows over the years. Saw a picture of Roy Apgar's 25 HP horizontal that he restored and sold. That's as close to an Otto as I've ever been. Never saw one for auction or sale in Gas Engine Magazine.
I said, 'Jerry, how much do you want for the engine?' He said, 'Not much, a few hundred.' I said, 'That's my type. How big are the flywheels?' Jerry spread his hands to approximately four feet. I said, 'I can handle that.'
Jerry said the engine came from his family's farm, the largest sage (spice) farm in the country. It was located in Linden, New Jersey, across from where the General Motors truck plant is now. This was the only piece he could move and handle. The Otto pumped irrigation water on the farm. The rest of the farm equipment and machinery is in a museum in Newark, New Jersey.
He said he had moved the engine three or four times over the years, and wanted to recover those dollars because he had to hire a truck. Now, he shares rental for a garage and wanted to sell the engine. I asked if it was all there. He said yes, except the piston was at his store, the cylinder was at his house, and the base was in the shared garage in an apartment complex. Jerry gave me his full name and phone number. The location was approximately 25 miles away.
Next day I phoned him and he said he was glad I phoned but the car was in the way. The car was a new Mercury Grand Marquis that the owner only used on special occasions, but he would contact him and ask him to leave it out so we could get to the base. I called him everyday except Sundays. Sometimes twice a day, because he would go look in the garage.
Now, get this! For eight weeks I would phone and say, 'Jerry, is today the day?' and he would say 'No.' After many weeks passed, I thought maybe he did not even have an engine. He had told me someone else was interested in it but never came back. Finally, eight weeks later, 'Jerry, is today the day?' He said 'Yes.' I said, 'I'll be right down.' I put planks and rope in the truck and went! I met him at the store. We went to the garage and there it was, the Otto. It was the Mercury's bumper stop. Base and flywheels were still one. Backed the truck in, set and braced the planks, starting cranking the winch. As the flywheels started up the planks, I stopped and said, 'Jerry, just how few?' and he flashed some fingers and said the price at the same time. I thought for half a second and said okay. He told me 'You can pay me now.' I finished cranking, paid him, had to go back to the store for the piston. Lucky me! He said, 'Here's the piston, but I have two old Briggs in the shed. I'll throw them in.' One is a 1923 PB engine and 1919 Briggs motor wheel. I am having a very hard time trying to conceal my excitement. My feet are not touching the ground and my wallet is mad at me.
Now Jerry said, 'My house is on your way home, follow me.' At his garage was the cylinder and we lifted it onto the truck. I thanked him, chatted a bit, and was on my way home.
I wanted to leave the engine in as-found condition, but it was covered with a dusty coat of rust. I found a small patch of paint, bluish grey on the flywheel under grease, and red on the base under grease. Whoever put the Otto to rest knew what they were using to protect it. The bore wiped clean and shiny as new with a solvent. So did the crankshaft, connecting rod, and journal. I don't know how long after the engine was installed in 1913 that electric came to the farm, but it wasn't long because the bore, journals, gears, valves, valve seats, rings and ring grooves are perfect.
After I wire wheeled the parts and painted them the matching colors, I assembled it. I found that I was missing a governor weight, and governor arm. I called Jerry back but he did not have any memory of them or any other parts.
I go to the Kinzer, Pennsylvania, show every August. This year, 1998, I went with a sign on my hat, 'Otto Parts Wanted.' Someone stopped me and said, 'Go to the small engine shed and ask for Roger Kriebel.' I talked to Roger for a while but his parts supply was gone, and he directed me to Butch Johnson of Flemington, New Jersey. I went to see Butch who was 1? hours away from my home. Butch Johnson has a 3? HP Otto upright No. 21, just like the one on page 371 of C. H. Wendel's yellow book. What a gem! He had the governor weight but not the arm. I traded a fancy oilier for the weight and picked all the dimensions from the arm, then fabricated the arm. I picked up the gas tank, water tank, and wheels at the fall Jack-town, Pennsylvania show. Then I built a cart to make the engine mobile. I like to wheel out three, four or five engines on a Sunday or any warm evening, get them all running, then phone an engine friend and when they pick up, don't say a word, just hold the phone toward the reporting engines. Puts a warm smile on them that you can feel through the phone! Their response is usually a hearty laugh and 'I knew it was you,' or, 'Sounds great! I'm on my way over.'
I'm lucky enough to have friends in their late 80s who used the old engines to power implements on farms or home, for water or wood. Some friends earned a living, or side income, cutting and stacking and filling wood sheds. Hard, cold work but great stories. One fellow always says, 'Wood warms you twice. Once when you cut it, again when you burn it.'
I know the history of a few of the engines I have, but all engines have a story connected to them. I enjoy reading them in Gas Engine Magazine or listening to them at the shows.
Some of the stories are built and fabricated by strange means. Dennis Townsend purchased a headless Witte from a lady named Margaret, and when he asked about the 'Ohio' she also had, she said she would discuss it with her brother, and that the engine was in her family since the 1700s. It took a lot of tact and diplomacy to tell her it was a 1916 Ohio 10 HP!
Remember, there are no grouches at engine shows. If you see someone without a smile, they are thinking very hard about how much to increase the bid they were just turned down on.