Gas Engine Magazine


By Staff

RD # 1, Box 564 Pipersville, PA 18947

Can a little boy’s dream come true? Can a man ever hope to
‘relive’ one of his most enjoyable childhood memories? Can
one person experience both at the same time? Erik Siren, a
dignified, soft-spoken neighbor of ours is a living testimonial to
the wonderful experiences our hobby is responsible for. Mr.
Siren’s eyes light up whenever he tells the story of how he was
‘bitten’ by the ‘engine bug.’

Let your imagination run for a moment. Come with us to a distant
shore, to the little farm village of Geta, in the Aland Islands,
Finland. This cluster of islands and its 20,000 mainly ethnic
Swedish farmers are located in the gulf separating Finland from
Sweden. While governed by Finland, the Swedes of Aland look to
Sweden for many consumer goods. It’s 1930 and cute, red-headed
Erik is visiting a neighbor’s farm. Near the barn is a small
outbuilding with a concrete floor. From within, fascinating noise
quickly attracts the curious nine year old’s attention. As he
peeks in he sees the distinctive shape and hears the unique sound
of ‘The Columbia’, one of several models of hot bulb oil
engine (also called a ‘semi-diesel’) made by the Bolinders
Mfg. Co. of Stockholm, Sweden. Arno Johnson-the farmer-sees Erik,
shows him how the engine cuts firewood, and explains how it can
also be used to thresh grain. Young Erik is in ‘seventh
heaven.’ Some day, maybe some day, he will have an old engine
just like Mr. Johnson’s.

Soon, to his amazement, little Erik begins to realize that most
farms had an ‘engine house’ and a few had older engines.
But Erik’s favorite is Like most Aland Islanders, Erik comes
from a hardy, talented family. His father had been a farmer,
blacksmith, sailor, and shipbuilder. Erik still recalls a beautiful
schooner his father built in four years. That magnificent sailing
vessel had a 25 HP Bolinder auxiliary engine. He still laughs at
how, as a teenager, he went on many voyages with his dad only to be
told that he would be cook and his older brother would have the
‘honor’ of working in the engine room!

Little Erik grew older. He apprenticed to a machinist and became
a tool and die maker accustomed to working with very close
tolerances. Later on, he shipped out with the Swedish Merchant
Marine, becoming first an oiler, then a diesel engineer on Swedish
tankers. Returning home, he married the lovely woman who is still
his wife and set up his own machine shop. In 1953 the Siren family
came to America. Erik found employment as the chief of maintenance
in a furniture factory. They are now living in a comfortable home
near Philadelphia where Mr. Siren uses his immaculate basement and
garage as a workshop-/display area for his old engine hobby.

In 1985 the Sirens felt the urge to visit the ‘old
country’. When Erik arrived on Aland, a wave of nostalgia swept
over him. He felt the years melt away as he walked back to the old
Johnson farm. Sure enough, Arno Johnson was still on the farm and
old ‘Columbia’, the source of so many childhood dreams and
so many happy adult memories, was still there-stored in a dusty
corner of the old Johnson barn. Mr. Johnson was happy to sell all
the old iron to Erik and gasped in amazement when Erik
matter-of-factly mentioned he was shipping the useless thing back
to America!!

While the engine was in transit, Siren began to research his
engine with the help of the Volvo Company who had long ago
purchased Bolinder. The original bill was found showing that
Siren’s engine #1836 was sold on November 13, 1907, by the
Bolinder engine factory in Stockholm, Sweden. Bolinder was a
thriving corporation making several engine models, as well as iron
stoves, tug boats, and even freight boats.

This early engine is a so-called ‘semi-diesel’,
featuring two cycle performance with pressure feed lubrication for
all internal bearings and cylinder. There is also an unusual
pendulum-type governor on this engine which controls the
‘hit-or-miss’ firing of the engine. Siren’s
‘Columbia’ model is an 8 HP engine in the Bolinder

Interestingly Mr. Siren found out that the engine was used near
Stockholm for about 15 years. It was then purchased by an Aland
Islander who wanted to use it in his mill. When he found that it
was too small, he resold it to Arno Johnson, Erik’s neighbor,
who used it until 1939.

With precise perfection he started to carefully remanufacture
many of the components which he felt were too badly damaged to be
used. Among other things he made new main bearings and poured a new
rod bearing. He then had to machine a new wrist pin and bushing,
new piston rings, new fuel pump plunger, and a new brass fitting
for the injector nozzle. The latter involved drilling a .09 mm.
hole (about 5/1000 inch) 1/16 inch deep. Naturally a lot of time
was also needed to machine many smaller parts. Finally,
approximately 75 riuts and bolts had to be remade. That in itself
was a challenge because the originals had the old English-style
Whit-worth threading which must have a 55 pitch angle!

At last, in April, 1986, after 8 months of work, the big day
arrived. It was start-up time. While Erik carefully pre-heated the
oil bulb with a blow torch, Ed Schwartz began to turn the flywheel
and rock the engine a bit. While other Association members looked
on with eager anticipation, old ‘Columbia’ belched a puff
of smoke and began to run. What a great day for everyone who all
understood exactly why the normally restrained Erik had a grin that
almost split his face! So many emotions must have been crowding his

Many soon realized that Erik Siren is a most knowledgeable
member of our fraternity with a collection of engines that would
make anyone proud. Besides ‘Columbia’, he has enjoyed the
challenge of doing precise, ground-up restorations on a 1.5 HP
Jacobson, a 1 HP International Harvester ‘Mogul,’ and a 1
HP International Harvester ‘Titan.’ His collection contains
a 1.5 HP Hercules in original condition with original paint and a
1.5 HP Lauson-Lawton side shaft engine in original condition on its
original cart. He also has a small Corliss-type steam engine
probably used to operate sewing machines in a laundry.

When you meet Erik Siren for the first time, you can’t fail
to be impressed not only with his masterfully precise knowledge of
machine tooling, but his warm willingness to patiently advise
fellow hobbyists at any time. It’s a rare pleasure to see how
the face of this modest, soft-spoken master machinist lights up as
he happily shares with eager listeners the story of how old
‘Columbia’ made his dreams come true!

  • Published on Apr 1, 1987
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