Midwest Utilitor

By Staff
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A Lyons-Knight car, from a 1913 ad in Chilton Automobile Directory. This car featured a 50 HP 'silent Knight' engine, 130 inch wheel base with 37 x 5 tires. The 5-passenger model sold for $2900.00 and the ad boasted that the firm was backed &quo
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A view of the main plant of the Midwest Engine Company in Indianapolis, taken from a Uilitor catalog. Much of the complex is still intact and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
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A sample of the Utilitor's versatility-'The Utilitor engine may be belted to any light farm machinery making an ideal 4 HP general purpose power plant.'
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A detailed view of the Utilitor, model 500, from January 1920 Spare Parts List.
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One of the joys of a magazine like GEM is the sharing of
information among individuals who may never meet each other, but
nonetheless share a hobby. Frequently, subscribers send us ideas
for stories or old manuals which might lead us to do some research.
Charles Shelton of 1528 Cliftwood Drive, Clarksville, IN 47130 is
one reader who sends us stories and photos and about a year ago,
sent us a 1920 Midwest Utilitor manual, which got us started on
this story. As we began, we found that another subscriber, Howard
W. Andrews of 59 Buena Vista Avenue, Rumson, NJ 07760 had also sent
us a 1920 Spare Parts Price List for the Utilitor. Additional
information was furnished to us by the Indiana Historical Society
and the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission.

The Utilitor was a garden tractor manufactured by the Midwest
Engine Company of Indianapolis. The company’s history begins
with the life of Stoughton A. Fletcher, Jr., who was born October
25, 1831. He was the son of Calvin Fletcher, an early pioneer in
the area, and first lawyer in Indianapolis. Stoughton Fletcher had
eight brothers and all were raised on the farm, received fine
educations and became successful in various occupations. Apparently
Stoughton showed great aptitude for agriculture and agricultural
machinery. In 1853, he became conductor on the Bellefontaine
Railroad and rose to the rank of superintendent within two years.
‘He not only understood cars, but locomotives and railroad
machinery,’ according to the 1884 History of Indianapolis and
Marion County.”

After several years in the railroad business, Fletcher moved on
to banking, then the gas company, of which he was president for ten
years. ‘In 1878 he, through various circumstances, became the
head of the Atlas Engine-Works, where portable and Atlas-Corliss
engines are turned out by nearly six hundred hands,’ the
History continues. ‘Its business extends over the whole Union
and to distant foreign lands, and is said to be the largest and
best equipped concern of its kind west of the Alleghanies.’

According to the 1902 Journal Handbook of Indianapolis, the
beginnings of what was to become Atlas Engine Works (the largest
exclusive engine and boiler works in the world) in the city, were
the project of the Indianapolis Car Manufacturing Company. ‘In
1880 the policy of miscellaneous manufacturing on orders was
abandoned and the company deter mined to devote itself exclusively
to the manufacture of steam engines and boilers of standard types
and sizes.

‘This meant repetitive construction, with interchangeable
parts; the manufacture of engines and boilers in lots, instead of
one at a time, and the carrying of large stocks of manufactured
merchandise, not only in Indianapolis, but at various distributing
points. These methods of production and distribution, so common
today, were then new in heavy machinery and they were supplemented
by constant effort to produce better goods, to sell them for less
money, and to increase the volume of the business.’

The company apparently grew and prospered until in 1902 it had
approximately 1,500 employees, an enormous building and the
equipment included ‘not only every labor-saving and cost-saving
device that can be applied to the manufacture of engines and
boilers, but also very complete arrangements for the health and
safety of the men employed.’

A March 17, 1902 article in the Indianapolis News reported an in
crease of capital and capacity for the 30 year old firm. The firm
had in creased its capital by $ 1 million and planned to add to
their buildings. At that time, the president was H. H. Hanna.

From an Indiana History Bulletin, 53 (March 1976), in an article
by W. S. Huffman entitled ‘Indiana’s Place in Automobile
History,’ we see that the Lyons Atlas was manufactured by the
Company in 1914, and the Lyons Knight from 1914-1916. Also, in a
list of manufacturers of ‘Tractors- Steam Engines’ we find
the Hume, made by Lyons-Atlas, and the Utilitor, made by Mid West
Engine Co. The Indianapolis Automobile Indus try Thematic District
nomination to the National Register of Historic Places, which
included several still extant portions of the factory complex,
provides additional history:

‘The gasoline-engine production of the Atlas Engine was
absorbed by the Lyons-Atlas Company in 1912. They produced a car
called the Lyons-Atlas from 1912-1914 and also a car called
Lyons-Knight from 1914-1915. The Lyons Atlas Company also absorbed
the Atlas Motor Car Company of Springfield, Massachusetts .. . Five
and even seven-passenger cars, as well as a closed limousine, were
among the large automobiles produced by this company.’

LYONS-KNIGHTS

The nomination goes on to say that after 1919, the firm
continued to build truck and tractor engines, and produced
six-cylinder engines for the ‘Handley’ of Handley Motors,
Inc. of Kalamazoo, and for the H.C.S. Motor Car Co. of
Indianapolis. The Midwest Engine Company was dissolved in the
1930’s.

In an Indianapolis News article published October 26, 1912,
announcement is made that ‘Whistles of Atlas Engine Works Now
Cal-ling Hundreds of Indianapolis Workingmen Back To Benches of Big
Shops.’ Additional company history is given in this article as
follows:

‘No industrial transaction in recent years has aroused such
interest in local business circles as the acquisition of the Atlas
Engine Works by James W. Lyons of Chicago and his associate
capitalists. After almost five years of reduced activity and court
control, the city’s largest industry this week entered upon a
new era that promises to eclipse all of its previous records as a
producer and as an employer of men.’

Lyons was joined in the acquisition by his two brothers, William
P. and George W., as vice president and secretary-treasurer
respectively. The brothers were said to have entered the
Indianapolis industrial field ‘with practically unlimited
capital.’ Plans were announced for a $250,000 expenditure to
increase capacity of the plant. Lyons had long been associated with
some of the largest engine building concerns of the United States,
including Allis-Chalmers.

The article goes on to detail the assets of the plant, which
took up 27 acres of a 65 acre site and allowed for 427,000 square
feet of manufacturing space. There was also a local rail-road.
‘Seven miles of track run into every part of the works and it
is a matter of Atlas history that one of their flat cars once was
lost for several days, illustrating the magnitude of the
concern.’

At the time of the article, the latest addition to the plant had
been for the manufacture of the Silent Knight engine and Standard
poppet-valve motor engines. (According to the World Almanac of
1912, the Silent Knight, invented by Charles Knight, a Chicago
newspaperman, had been introduced to America some years ago without
much interest. Only after Knight introduced it to the European
market where it was widely manufactured, did it gain worldwide
approval. Then the American makers took notice and by November 1,
1912, four manufacturers had been licensed to build it in the U.
S.)

‘The manufacture of the Diesel oil engine, which attained a
reputation for efficiency and economy is to constitute a large part
of the new corporation’s interest. A diesel engine now in
service at the Atlas plant was designed by Norman McCarty, of this
city, and has proved its efficiency in every way.’

McCarty was apparently a NewYork engine designer who came to
Indianapolis to work for Atlas in the last years of the old
organization. McCarty was to be retained by the new management, as
was F. H. Baker. At this stage in its history, Atlas had apparently
manufactured more than thirty-five thousand steam engines, and
thousands of boilers and motors. The news of the sale was said to
be ‘the one topic in every household and business place in the
vicinity’ of northeastern Indianapolis.

More change was announced in the Indianapolis Star on June 23,
1918. The Midwest Engine Company, a new $3.5 million firm
controlled by Stoughton A. Fletcher, evolved from a merger of
Lyons-Atlas with the Hill Pump Concern of Anderson, Indiana. The
Hill Pump Company principally manufactured turbine engines and
pumps, while the Lyons-Atlas Company by now was producing
principally Diesel engines. Another $1 million addition to the
plant was announced. The company predicted sales of $20 million
annually and a work force of 5,000 after the addition was
completed. Hill Pump Concern brought with it, apparently, a large
volume of government contracts, and both concerns were producing
turbine engines suitable for use in sub-marine chasers and
ocean-going ships.

The story continues, and another article in the Star on July 12,
1922, announces that Midwest’s assets were sold for $312,500,
and management was taken over by a Reorganization Committee. The
plan called for a name change to Midwest Engine Corporation.

Unfortunately, none of the material we found could tell us more
about the Utilitor Garden Tractor, and what kind of success it may
have known- how long it was manufactured or in what quantities, but
hopefully one of our readers could fill in the gaps here. We would
certainly like to hear from you if you have more information.

The Utilitor as a Stationary Engine

Subscriber Dennis Silva, 89 Arrowhead Dr., Griswold, Connecticut
06351, sent us quite a bit of information on the Utilitoras
manufactured by the Midwest Engine Company (pre-corporate).
Included in this information were the following detailed
specifications:

The tractor was powered by a one cylinder, 4 cycle, L-head
vertical type motor, with a 3? bore and 4?’ stroke. The normal
speed was 1200 r.p.m., with 4 HP at the pulley and 2 HP at the
drawbar. All working parts of the motor were enclosed, and were
water-cooled. Ignition was accomplished with an Eisenman high
tension magneto.

The Utilitor had a total weight of 700 pounds, measured 84
inches long, 17? inches wide, and 3 feet high. Speed range was 1 to
4 miles per hour, with 2? m.p.h. being the recommended plowing
speed. The body color was red, with yellow bull wheels and green
flywheels.

Advertisements for the Utilitor, appearing in such magazines as
The Country Gentleman circa 1919-1920, lauded the tractor for its
ability to ‘do more work than one horse or mule and do it
better and cheaper. As a tractor it will plow, harrow, cultivate,
mow the lawn, pull small loads; as a stationary engine it will saw
wood, pump water, grind feed, turn grindstone, run separator or
churn, or do the work of any 4 HP stationary engine.’ All this
work was claimed to be done for a cost of approximately five cents
an hour.

Several Utilitor ads from issues of Country Gentleman, sent to
us by Dennis Silva.

An interesting note in many of Midwest Engine Company’s
advertisements is the number of women pictured using the
Utilitor.

By the summer of 1920 the company had received so many
testimonials to the usefulness and economy of the Utilitor that
they published ‘Yes!’, a promotional booklet of owner
experiences with the tractor. An excerpt from a letter dated June
21, 1920, states, ‘I have not had a horse or mule on my place
since I rolled the Utilitor off the truck. The tractor and a
one-ton truck have taken the place of a five-hundred-dollar pair of
mules.’

The Utilitor, with standard equipment (magneto, air cleaner, 16
inch castor wheels, standard or cultivating quick detachable rims,
handles, belt pulley and double clutch), sold for $345
complete.

At press time, we heard from Doug Tallman, 121 St. Rt. 224,
Greenwich, OH 44837, who owns tractor #3531. We’ll try to get a
picture of this and any others for use in a future issue!

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