By the busload

Bill Vossler
September 2002
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Bob Ludolph
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Bob Ludolph of Pipestone, Minn., started collecting gas engines as a teen-ager, drawn to them in part by their sounds. Today, he is 67 and has amassed more than 200 farm engines of different brands out of about 1,400 different brands ever made.

'That covers everything - Maytag, Briggs & Stratton, Economy, Hercules, Jaeger, Nelson Bros. - I could just go on and on,' he says. 'I started collecting in the 1950s. I picked them up here and there, wherever a guy could get a good buy. I got a few for $10, $15, $25 - you'll never be able to do that again -because I was interested in hearing the noise they made, and in getting the old engines running and back into their original shape. You know, spending time and money on them. It kind of got out of hand.' 

He says he bought most of his gas engines from retired farmers, and most of the machines never got very far away from where they were manufactured. One of his most unusual is a Field-Brundage engine, manufactured in the early 1900s by the Field-Brundage Co. in Jackson, Mich. It is hopper cooled and has a 6-hp sideshaft and an upright governor.

Another unusual engine in Bob's collection is an Earl, made by Earl Machine Works, Burlington, N.J. It is a 6-hp, screen-cooled engine with a sideshaft and an upright governor. 'That's a pretty nice engine,' he says. Another one Bob waited a long time to buy is an air-cooled Galloway 'Handy Andy.' ' The water-cooled are pretty common, but I didn't see a lot of the air-cooled ones around,' Bob says. 'I've been looking for one for a long time, and I waited a long time to find a good one.' That opportunity came recently, when he found his 'Handy Andy' at an auction held in connection with the Badger Steam Show at Baraboo, Wis.

Bob says the majority of engine people from whom he makes a purchase are honest folks, but once he bought a Fuller & Johnson 1 1/4-hp engine from a guy who told him it was one of only two in the United States. 'He said it would be neat if I owned it, so I ended up buying it. I suppose a month later, I went to a couple of auction sales down in Nebraska and I saw three of them in two days. So I got to checking things out, and it wasn't so. But that's how you learn. Every deal is not a good deal.'

Bob's collection also includes a 1902-1903 Fairbanks Morse engine that came out of a grain elevator in the U.S.-Canada border area north of Minnesota and North Dakota. It's a screen-cooled engine, so the water runs over a screen rather than into a hopper on top.

Bob also owns a 7-hp Economy engine and its saw rig, 'with underslung trucks and the whole thing. It's all original. I bought that from a guy down here by Jasper (Minn.), and all it was used for from what I was told was as a saw rig. They cut wood with it for themselves and for their neighbors.'

He recently added a 15-hp Cushman to his barn. 'It's a beautiful engine,' he says. 'I'm just getting into it. I got it from an old guy who wanted to start it up for me, but I didn't think he should be doing that. So I brought it home and got it all ready, and I'm just about ready to see how it runs. It's one I've not seen a lot of around this area.

'I guess there are actually all kinds of engines that are hard to find, but if you look long enough, they're out there. Somebody's got one for sale you can buy - except that nowadays, people are crazy about prices.'

Bob says he prefers buying unrestored engines to better evaluate their condition. 'I like to buy them raw, because when I buy them that way I can see if there are any cracks or bad things that could be wrong with the engine. Some collectors fill them up with J.B. Weld or body putty, and put a beautiful paint job on them and smooth them all up. That's not saying there's something wrong with an engine when someone does that, but if there is something wrong with it, it's pretty hard to see.'

Once he's determined an engine is sound, he warms up to its possible restoration. 'I like to fix them up,' he says. 'If they need something new, if a part is worn out, I like to make new parts or get new parts. If the bearings are bad, if the engine is loose and sloppy, I want to tighten it up. If there is no compression, I'll put in new rings or grind the valves - just get the engine back in good running order.'

The hardest and most expensive part of working on an engine, Bob says, is fixing the magneto. ' Ignitors are expensive, too, but most of the other stuff - if you've got to make a bushing or make some bearings - is not too bad.

But the magneto is the hardest thing, especially if it's in bad shape. Rings a person can buy, and valves you can buy or make, along with pretty much everything else if you have a turning lathe and a little drill press and acetylene torch.'

Bob says he has been in a few dangerous situations while fixing engines. 'The Fairmont Railroad engine was a two-cycle engine that would run either way, forward or backward. Some of that stuff was pretty tricky. I almost got hurt pretty bad a couple of times by cranking them the wrong way, and then they kicked back and threw the crank right up through the ceiling. Or having the spark the wrong way and thinking you had it right, but you didn't.'

Though Bob figures he developed his love of gas engines and tractors on his own, he did have a grandfather who owned gas engines, steam tractors, and Mogul and Titan tractors, which burned petroleum fuels. 'I never saw any of this stuff myself, but I've seen pictures of it in the family album. I got to know my grandpa, and he talked about that stuff. He told me how it all worked, and all the things that happened.'

Bob's grandfather also had a 10-hp Stickney engine, which he used to run a two-hole corn sheller. 'He went around the area and shelled corn for people,' Bob says. 'Pulled it all (engine and sheller) with a team of horses. I think he had a lot more horsepower there than he needed. He cut wood with it too, because he had a buzz-saw rig. I also have a 10-horse Stickney, as well as a 1 3/4-horse Stickney.'

In addition, Bob had a friend, the late George Winters, who lived east of Pipestone and who encouraged Bob's gas engine interests. 'He couldn't drive or hear, so I took him to a lot of gas engine shows,' Bob recalls. 'And every month, we had a gas engine meeting in Sioux Falls (Minn.), and I'd take him along. He enjoyed every bit of it. I heard a lot of stuff from him. Plus, he was an excellent machinist.'

In addition to buying engines, Bob has traded some too. About 10 years ago, he traded a Minneapolis-Moline four-cylinder stationary engine that came out of a Texas cotton gin for a couple of toy tractors made by custom builders Roger Mohr (now deceased) and his sons, Eugene, Martin and Gaylen Mohr of Vail, Iowa. 'They have a very, very large Minneapolis-Moline collection,' Bob says, 'and I figured they'd just as soon have the engine because I would probably never get around to restoring it.'

He traded for a Minneapolis-Moline G750 1/16-scale tractor and a very rare Minneapolis-Moline four-wheel drive, oscillating toy tractor. 'I only know of two of them in the country, one they made for themselves and the one they made for me.'

Bob says every time he buys a gas engine, a story comes along with it. 'I always learn something. There's always some little secret about the engine, about how to get it started, or what to do after you've gotten it started - set the carburetor, or do this and that - to make it run good.

'Everybody has a story, and a lot of them are very, very interesting.'

Some of Bob's aren't so bad, either. He is the owner-operator of Ludolph Bus Service Inc., in Pipestone, and has brought engines home from all over the United States, including Vermont, Oregon, California and Arizona.

'If there's one setting alongside the road that's for sale, I could stop and buy it, and buy it right, hopefully,' he says. 'That's exactly what I did. Sometimes you paid a lot more, and sometimes you bought them pretty reasonable.'

He says he's got a pretty good idea of what engines are worth, 'but when you go to an engine sale and there are two guys there, and they want a particular engine that I think is worth $1,500, I've seen them sell for $5,000. They have no sense of value. It gets out of hand.'

'There's a lot more engines I haven't seen, and a lot more to learn about them.'  - Bob Ludolph

Bob recalls taking a group of people into the Colorado Rockies one time, and staying overnight in the town of Beaver. 'I got to snooping around a bit and found a lady who had two engines in a shed, and she wanted to sell them both. I said, 'Here's what I'll give you,' and she said, T think they're worth a little bit more than that.'

'I said I'll be out of here by 7 a.m. tomorrow, but if you change your mind between now and 6 a.m., let me know. That night about 10, she called and said she thought maybe it wasn't too bad a deal after all. I just happened to have room for them, so I loaded them up and hauled them 900 miles home.'

Bob has strapped a number of old engines to the side of his bus' luggage bay and brought them home. 'The passengers usually think it's pretty neat. I don't do that if we're on a tight schedule, but if I see a gas engine at a flea market alongside the road, I'll say to the passengers, 'Hey, do you want to stop at that flea market and see what they've got?' Usually they want to stop just as bad as I do. Sometimes I buy something and sometimes they do.'

One of the engines on Bob's wish list is a New Holland: 'Anywhere from 11/2 to a 5 horse, a nice one that I wouldn't have to do a lot of work on,' he says, adding, New Hollands are relatively easy to find on the East Coast because they were made in Pennsylvania.

'It's like the John Deere 1 1/2-horse engine. It's easy to find in the Midwest, but you can't find it on the East Coast or West Coast, so if somebody out there picks up a horse and a half John Deere, they really think they have something.' Bob says despite his long years of collecting, every time he goes some place new, he sees something different: 'There's a lot more engines I haven't seen, and a lot more to learn about them, too.' FC

-Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and the author of several books on antique farm toys. Contact him at Box 372, 400 Caroline Lane, Rockville, MN 56369; e-mail: bvossler@juno.com




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