The Arkansas Messinger Engine

A Messinger engine found in Arkansas returns home to Pennsylvania.

By Staff
article image
by Paul Schmidt
Paul Schmidt's circa-1906 Messinger engine.

Circa-1906 6 hp Messinger

Manufacturer: Messinger Mfg. Co., Tatamy, PA
Year: Circa 1906
Serial Number: 272
Horsepower: 6 hp @ 300 rpm
Bore & stroke: 6in x 10in
Flywheel dia.: 40in x 3-1/2in
Weight: 1,900lb
Cooling: Hopper
Ignition: Igniter w/coil and battery
Governing: Hit-and-miss, horizontal flyball governor

Messinger engines were built by Messinger Mfg. Co. in the small town of Tatamy, Pennsylvania, from 1903 to approximately 1925. Engines were assigned a serial number as they were built regardless of the horsepower. This is the story of engine number 272, an “early style” 6 hp that made its way from Pennsylvania to Arkansas, and back home.

Engine history

Rumor has it that this engine was shipped to Sevier County in Arkansas to work on the Bellah mine by one of the prospectors, Tyler or Hippack, who reopened the mine after its closure by the North American Ore and Metal Co. in approximately 1906. It could also have been hauled to Arkansas by one of three men, Sober, Williford or Lynn, who leased the mine from about 1912 until its final closing around 1915. It is also possible it was brought to the area by an unknown prospector from Pennsylvania hoping to strike it rich mining for silver, as there were many rumors in the early 1900s of silver strikes in Arkansas, most of which turned out to be antimony, zinc and lead. The Bellah mine mainly produced zinc and lead, with traces of silver and gold. It was mined during the Civil War by the Confederacy for lead. Most men worked in the mines till they could purchase land to clear and then became farmers.

After years of service at the mine it was moved to the Mickle farm, 2 miles away, where its duty was to pump water. After it outlived its usefulness on the farm it was pushed on a pile headed for the scrap yard. Apparently, the horse-drawn portable wagon burnt, with the only wood remaining being two charred sub timbers.

In 2015 a local man, David, seeing some history and value in the engine, rescued it and took it to his farm. Doing what repairs he could, he looked for someone who knew anything about the Messinger Mfg. Co. In Arkansas, the company was unknown. He came in contact with Brian, who lives in the Easton, Pennsylvania, area near Tatamy. Brian and his brother Mark did a lot of research on Messinger through the years and collected Messinger engines.

With some parts missing and broken, Dave decided to offer it for sale, telling Brian it should go back to Pennsylvania. Brian agreed, but did not have the room or any way to handle a large engine. Knowing I liked larger engines, he called me and told me about the 6 hp Messinger for sale. It was interesting, because Brian called me the day after I had made an agreement to purchase a later style 6 hp Messinger that was in a barn locally.

After a couple of phone conversations with David we made an agreement, and then I arranged for the engine to be picked up and delivered to me. David had made quite a few repairs already. He had the clutch pulley, water funnel and a few other items repaired. However, the governor assembly was missing, the timing gear was broken off the hub and had been riveted back together a long time ago, and the gas tank and brackets were missing. He recovered most of the original cart hardware apart from the brake linkage and some stiffener brackets, which I had to make. The muffler was completely shattered, but David dug through the dirt and with a metal detector found almost all the pieces. Also, the water jacket was split the whole length on the bottom.

However, as possibly one of only three or four surviving early-style hopper-cooled Messingers, it was worth bringing back to life. I chose to do only a mechanical restoration on the engine.

The work begins

The first step was to make a cart. Using my later model engine and a larger, earlier-style cart for dimensions and ideas on how it would have been built, I started. The rear axle was bent too badly to be used, so I got a piece of square stock, then machined the axle tapers and shrunk the inner rings onto the axle.

Next, cut and assemble wood timbers and axles. I had some ash rough cut at a local mill and I hand worked the bollsters to match the original axle straps using a plane and a sander.

I disassembled the engine and flipped it upside down to repair the cracked water jacket. I chose to stitch the crack. Stitching the crack would be the safest repair, by not adding any extra stresses to the casting. Once the stitching was complete it was time to put the engine on the cart.

I had to make a new exhaust valve stem and spring retainer, as the threads were striped on the originals. The intake valve seat was bad so I made and installed an insert in the intake box. The connecting rod had been broken into several pieces and brazed back together, so I decided to make a pattern and have one cast, along with the timing gear. I machined the connecting rod using the original bearing caps.

The timing gear blank had to be bored, faced and the OD turned before the teeth could be cut. I also decided to make a new piston pin and timing gear pin. I added flattings in the piston pin for the set screws to lock in better.

One of the biggest challenges was the missing governor. Through a friend of mine, I got in contact with another collector who had one of the other early engines. He agreed to let me take photos and measure the governor to make patterns. After taking several photos and starting to measure it, to my surprise he offered to let me borrow it so I could do a better job making the wood patterns and take better measurements for machining. I am still very thankful for this gesture!

I had a new gas tank made as close to original as possible by a tin smith. Then I rolled and bent the two mounting straps to fit the tank and engine. Messingers used a fuel strainer, which was also missing, so again a pattern was made for casting, and one was machined and assembled.

Upon checking out the condition of the igniter I found it needed a new shaft for the movable contact. Along with the engine, David shipped a bucket full of miscellaneous pieces. In the bucket was the completely shattered muffler. My son epoxied the pieces back together, covered them with body filler and sanded them down so they could be used for patterns.

First run

We assembled the engine, checked the timing, checked the spark, put gas in it and found out that right at top dead center the compression would blow by. I knew there had been some pitting in the bore, but did not think it was that bad and figured I would give it a try. After pulling the head and piston back out, I honed the bore. That is when I saw how bad it was.

My son made a mounting plate for my portable boring bar and we bored and sleeved it. After installing the sleeve, he bored the sleeve close to the rest of the bore than honed it in to match. The sleeve came out to the head so the intake and exhaust ports had to be cut into it along with the compression relief port. This was done after installation.

The piston got a new set of gapless rings and the engine was reassembled. We checked everything again, and after a couple pulls through she was running again for the first time in a very long time! A video of the Messinger can be seen at

Special thanks to David for rescuing it, to Brian for directing it to me, to Bill for carefully hauling it, to Dave for the use of parts to copy, to Cattail Foundry for the great castings, to my son for his help, and finally to my wife for not divorcing me!

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