Doing something for the ‘Do-Nothing’

By Staff
article image
Clem Bessler’s “Do-Nothing Machine” prior to restoration (above) and as restored by Jim Kirschner (below).

Jim Kirschner, an avid gas engine collector
from Batesville, Ind., has undertaken one huge and, shall I say,
very heavy project: restoring “The Do-Nothing Machine.”

Because it was developed by local and farm equipment business
owner Clem Bessler and his employees, it was desired by Jim and
Sandy Werner, son-in-law and daughter of the late Clem Bessler.
They wanted to keep it in possession of someone local, if possible,
and Jim Kirschner answered the call.

The seed is sown

In the mid-1950s, Clem Bessler bought a 1913 10 HP IHC
hopper-cooled engine for $35. After Clem bought the huge engine, it
sat outside for many years. The weather took its toll, and when
Clem and his son, Mike, began restoration they discovered many
problems had developed. The piston and valves were stuck, the
igniter was ruined, the magneto was missing, the fuel pump needed
to be rebuilt, and the gas tank was rusted beyond repair. “The work
took about three years including as many as five people working on
the project on and off as time permitted,” says Mike. “Even with
the many hours and helping hands it took us until the summer of
1961 to get it running.” Clem thought an engine of this size would
be ideal to propel itself if a chassis could be built and the seed
was planted for The Do-Nothing Machine.

Birth of the Road Runner Special

The Road Runner Special, as it was first called, was born around
1961 in the shop at the Clem Bessler Farm Equipment business in
Batesville. During the winter months, when business was slow,
George and Herb Eckstein, Roy Westerfeld, Carl Wissel, and Clem
would spend hours fabricating, cutting, welding and doing all the
necessary shop procedures to develop this outrageous piece of
equipment. The only plans used were the ideas developed at the time
and sketched in their minds as the work progressed. One idea seemed
to spark another, and things soon became a reality. “Dad would
travel all over southern Indiana looking for a heavy-duty gear box
with the correct rotation on the input and output shafts,” says
Mike. “I don’t remember where he found one, but he did.” Carl
remembers that the running gears and rear end are from a 1951
Pontiac car, and the Plymouth back axel came from a junk yard.
Full-time welder for the Bessler Farm Equipment business, Roy did
most of the welding on the Road Runner.

These men decided after the chassis had been built and the huge
International engine was successfully propelling it, there needed
to be more action. Propel something and accomplish absolutely
nothing of importance other than forward motion seemed to be the
goal of the inventors. Clem had purchased a little hit-and-miss
1-1/2 HP Jaeger engine that he mounted on the machine, just for
sound and movement. He loved hearing that familiar “ka-pow” each
time the engine fired. Jim later replaced it with a 1915 1-1/2 HP
Monarch that he had in his own collection. Another engine, a 1939
1-1/2 HP Stover, was taken from an old cement mixer and precisely
attached to the machine to turn an airplane propeller. A 1927 1-1/2
HP Jaeger was mounted to the machine to run a set of governor
balls. The 15 HP Wisconsin engine from a New Idea bailer was used
to turn and start the big IHC engine because the bailer engine had
an electric start. By the time the project was completed it weighed
more than 5,600 pounds! Now the machine took on a new name, The
Do-Nothing Machine. The five engines mounted on the machine each
had a job to do, though not as important as the 10 HP IHC, which
propelled the machine very proudly in parades and social
gatherings. Children looked forward to riding The Do-Nothing
Machine for a dime around the park.

The Road Runner changes hands

After 1975, Jim Werner, Clem’s son-in-law, helped get The
Do-Nothing Machine running for parades and showings for many years
throughout the summer, but soon The Do-Nothing Machine was stored,
waiting for someone else to take care of it.

Jim Kirschner became interested in the unit, and Jim and Sandy
Werner decided to sell the family machine to him. Time had taken
its toll on everything even though it had been carefully stored for
12 years. “The front wheels were in the dirt half way up the rims
and all six engines needed attention,” says Jim, “I have spent well
over 200 hours working on the machine. Everything needed attention,
like putting new rings and wrist pin in the 10 HP engine. One of my
problems was finding parts since everything had been custom built.”
The engines had to be carefully removed and analyzed with some help
from his son, Brian, and father, Bob.

You can see Jim has things well in order displaying a beautiful
and most unusual piece of equipment. The original family owners, as
well as the present owners, can be extremely happy that Jim is
keeping the machine alive and well at many shows and festivals
throughout the area. “Wherever I go,” says Jim, “people ask what it
is and I have a great time telling them it’s a do-nothing
machine!”

The past several years, Jim has been searching for another 10 HP
IHC engine like the one on The Do-Nothing Machine. Jim would be
glad to talk engines or discuss this huge machine with anyone, and
he is constantly searching for another unusual engine to add to the
mix.

Contact Jim Kirschner at (812) 934-4095 •
JFKLAND@yahoo.com

Bob and Linda Crowell travel to many antique farm
equipment shows throughout the Midwest promoting steam, gas engine,
antique garden tractor and antique tractor magazines. Reach them at
P.O. Box 103, Batesville, IN 47006 •
vintageequipmags@yahoo.com

Watch a video of this machine on the Gas Engine
Magazine
engine video index on YouTube. Just look for the icon
at left at www.gasenginemagazine.com

Gas Engine Magazine
Gas Engine Magazine
Preserving the History of Internal Combustion Engines