Stewards of Gas Engine History

Reader Contribution by Staff

Whether by intention or necessity, collectors regularly find themselves funneling their old engine energy into historical research, becoming stewards of history in more ways than “simply” restoring and keeping their old engines running.

The point comes up thanks to two articles in this issue, Charles Wise’s excellent piece on the Walls engine and Jim White’s examination of the production roster of John Deere’s kerosene EK engine line. In their respective articles, both Charles and Jim took on the role of researcher and historian, seeking out relevant documents for insight and information on their chosen subject.

Charles, as you’ll read in his article “Rediscovering the Walls”, searched through old advertisements and newspaper clippings for any records that could help him understand the history and development of the Walls engine, designed by Cicero Walls in the early 1890s. For his article on John Deere’s EK engine line, Jim looked at over 100,000 serial numbers in the John Deere archives to come up with complete production data for the three EK variations produced (1-1/2 hp, 3 hp and 6 hp). In both cases, the authors discovered new and interesting information.

Researching the EK line, Jim found unexplained anomalies in EK prefixes in the factory notes, points of fact that will be of great interest to EK collectors. In his research, Charles uncovered the compelling story of an engine designer who, eager to enter the nascent gas engine business, turned to Keystone Iron Works, an established foundry in Fort Madison, Iowa, about 1894, to produce his engines. About a year later, Walls took over production when he founded Decatur Gasoline Engine Co. with his brother-in-law. That concern apparently lasted no more than a year or so, after which Keystone Iron Works began building a variation of Cicero Walls’ 1893 engine design under an 1896 patent awarded to George Lamos, Keystone’s owner. That’s a curious progression that begs as many questions as it answers, including whether Walls made an arrangement with Lamos giving the latter rights to his basic design? Whatever the case, Walls went out of business, but Keystone Iron Works continued making its version of the Walls engine until perhaps 1900 or so.

Lost as they are to time, it’s unlikely we’ll find the answers to some of these questions. And yet, who could have imagined that 72 years after the last John Deere EK left the factory we’d still be uncovering new and detailed information about EK production? Or that almost 125 years after the fact we’d be discovering for the first time the unique story of an engine and its designer?

Thanks to the never-ending curiosity of engine collectors everywhere, we’re constantly treated to new discoveries to fuel our imagination, and our interest in learning as much as we can about the companies that made the engines we collect.

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