Reuniting a 1907 Sta-Rite 6 HP engine with its long-lost family — and having a whole lot of fun along the way.
I met Jerry Siem at Farm Technology Days in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, where he saw my display board of Paulson memorabilia and commented on what a nice piece of history it was. He mentioned that he had some engines to sell, and asked if I would be interested. I said yes, and he invited me to his place that weekend.
At Jerry’s, he shared his collection of old farm machinery with me, and then uncovered a partially disassembled 6 HP Sta-Rite engine. I had been looking to add a Sta-Rite to my collection for some time, and was very excited to see it, so I asked if it was for sale. Jerry said that many people have asked to buy it and he never wanted to sell it, but now it was time. He asked me to make an offer, which I did, and he accepted. He pulled out a bucket of parts, and it was missing the mixer and fasteners. He said if I didn’t want the engine because it was missing those parts, I could leave it there. I told him I still wanted it and would pick it up the following day, Monday.
As I was loading the Sta-Rite on my trailer, I asked Jerry about the history of the engine. He said it had been at his place for 62 years, disassembled. He had bought it that way from his neighbor, who told him that it had originally come from the Henry Doehr farm, just down the road. I asked how old he was when he purchased it from his neighbor, and he said he was 10 years old. He was not old enough to drive the truck to pick up the engine, so his dad let him use his John Deere and the hay wagon. I asked how much he paid for it, and he said, “I hate to tell you … I paid $8 for it!” He said he never earned an allowance working on the farm with his dad, so his dad gave him the $8 to buy the engine. But he never had the time to work on the engine, so the Sta-Rite became the centerpiece on their front lawn for a few years. Then they decided to move it to the backyard because people kept stopping by wanting to buy it.
That night when I got home, I researched Sta-Rite engines on the Internet. I found a registry by Denis Rouleau, and going by the serial numbers on the list, I figured my engine, which is serial no. 922, was built in 1907.
The next three days (Tuesday through Thursday) I spent tinkering with the parts in the bucket. Everything was very rusty and stuck, but Gibbs penetrating oil did the trick! The engine itself was in great shape; thankfully, Jerry kept it oiled every year to keep the flywheels turning.
Friday: Skid day. I looked in C.H. Wendel’s American Gasoline Engines Since 1872 to get an idea of what the factory skid may have looked like, and then replicated the skid that day.
Saturday: Assembly day. I got all the friction parts (piston bearings, journals, etc.) cleaned and ready to assemble. Everything went together so well that I thought, “I might just get this running today!” But I still needed a mixer. Fortunately, the head was 1-1/4-inch pipe thread, and it so happened that I had some plumbing lying around for a makeshift intake. I wired it up, shot some gas into the spark plug hole, reinstalled the plug, and then pulled the flywheels back over the compression stroke and “poof!” It was the first sign of life in over 62-plus years! Without a mixer, I could only keep it going a little while by squirting gas into the intake. Now I needed a mixer.
That afternoon, I contacted Jerry and invited him to come over to see the engine running. He said he would not be able to come over until the following Saturday. The next thing I did was to Google “Henry Doehr.” I found his only son’s obituary, which listed his surviving children. One daughter, Denise, lived in the area, and I found her in the phone book. I called her and told her that I had her grandfather’s engine, and she said, “Really? Now, how would you know that?” So I told her the story and told her that I could have the engine ready for Orv’s Old Iron Show in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin, in a couple weeks, if she would like to come and see it. She said that she, her husband and two sons would be very interested to see the engine. That lit a fire under me, and I was on a mission to make a mixer.
I remembered seeing a story in GEM about a guy who made his own mixer, and found the article by Ed Stoller in the October/November 2011 issue. I looked at the article and made a mixer of my own. It was a success, and the engine ran great! Thank you, Ed!
The following Saturday, Jerry came over to see my progress. He was amazed to see how nice the engine started up and ran. After watching the engine run for a while, we sat down and visited. I asked him what he thought about seeing the engine running after all these years. He said, “I don’t know what to think, but I can tell you what my wife said. She said, ‘What the hey?! That thing has been sitting around here for over 60 years and this guy gets it running in six days?’” I chuckled, and told him that I was on a mission and there was nothing I wanted more than to see this thing run.
Orv couldn’t have asked for a nicer day for his show. Denise and her family arrived that afternoon, eager to see her grandfather’s engine. Jerry and I met them and Jerry shared his history with the family. They thanked me for tracking them down and inviting them to see the engine. Denise asked how I found her, and I told her how I found her name in her father’s obituary.
Denise and her family had many questions about the engine, so I turned the engine off and explained how it worked. Once I felt that they had a good understanding, I asked if one of her sons would like to help me start it. They jumped at the chance, and the Sta-Rite came back to life again. She asked me if I was going to further restore the engine. I told her that I was happy with it the way that it is. I said that maybe one day, one of her boys would take interest in owning it, and further the restoration. She gave me a priceless smile. She knew that her grandpa’s engine may one day be back in the family. If anyone can help me find the needle valve and intake tube for this engine, please contact me.
Contact mechanical genealogist Barney Kedrowski via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.