Classic Engines at the Sandwich Show

Annual Sandwich Show brings out unique gas engines.

Sandwich Early Day Engine Club Logo

Sandwich Early Day Engine Club Logo

Illustration courtesy Sandwich Early Day Engine Club

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The proud heritage of Sandwich Mfg. Co., which produced gas engines and a wide selection of farm implements and tools, lives on in the annual gas engine show held in Sandwich, Illinois. Hosted by Sandwich Early Day Engine Club, the late June event brings together a fine array of gas engines, tractors, trucks and farm toys. Among the highlights in the gas engine section:

Early Root & Vandervoort 3 hp

Mick Ingram, Cedarville, Illinois, showed a 3 hp horizontal engine built by Root & Vandervoort Engineering Co., East Moline, Illinois. The engine was patented in 1903 but Mick doesn’t know what year it was manufactured or how many were made. “There can’t be many because you hardly ever see one,” he says. “It’s the oldest horizontal I’ve seen.”

The tank-cooled engine (serial no. C1504) is entirely original. Mick bought it about 20 years ago. “I was constantly trying to get the owner to sell it, but he said, ‘You’ll have to wait until I’m in the ground to get it.’ And he was right,” Mick says. “His wife sold it to me after he died.”

The previous owner bought the engine for $750 at an auction in the early 1970s. “At the time, everyone thought he was crazy to pay that much,” Mick says. He thinks the engine was probably used in a machine shop or blacksmith shop, possibly to power a line shaft. The model was sold with a base that could be mounted permanently on a shop floor. “It had to have been inside most of its life because it was in such good condition,” he says. “Mother Nature does a number on engines.”

Mick’s engine has an unusual feature: a cold weather start. “It had a small tray that you would fill with fuel and set it on fire,” Mick says. “It was supposed to heat the fuel in the ball above the tray, so when you turned the flywheel it would suck the warm fuel from the ball into the engine, making it start easier. But I think it probably burned more barns down than it did help start the engine.”

A throttle-governed engine, the R&V fires every time, unlike hit-and-miss engines that fire and coast before firing again. Throttle-governed engines give a smoother, more constant speed and power than hit-and-miss engines do. A counter-balance on the crankshaft — rather than on the flywheel, like many engines — also makes it a smooth, quiet running engine.

Mick enjoys the fact that engine collectors are more interested in preserving history than collecting trophies. “Engine collectors are always willing to help each other,” he says. “And there are no trophies or awards at the shows so there is no jealousy. Everyone gets a pin that says they attended the show and they can go home thinking their engine was the best.”

1912 Otto 4 hp

Matt Weismiller, Sandwich, Illinois, showed an unusual 1912 4 hp Otto built by Otto Gas Engine Works, Philadelphia. Designed to run on house gas (also known as illuminating gas) once piped through large cities, Otto engines were used to provide power to generators, line shafts and a variety of machinery. Some were even installed in basements to run elevators. But this engine had an unusual use: It was connected to a large holding tank in a New Jersey church, where it ran a pipe organ’s air compressor.

Matt says he doesn’t know of another Otto like it. “It has a single flywheel and a flame ignition,” he says.

Early models had a slide valve that would suck a flame in and close the valve like a sliding trap door so the flame could ignite the house gas in the cylinder, making the engine run. Only rarely seen in the Midwest, the Otto is a volume-governed engine, with engine speed controlled by regulating the fuel. It runs at one speed and will coast like a hit-and-miss, but it has to come up to 340 rpm.

The engine is part of the historic legacy of early engine pioneer Nicholas Otto. Although other inventors developed 4-cycle engines, Otto was the first to build one that actually produced significant power. Otto Engine Works was awarded its first patent on a 4-cycle engine in 1867. “Nicholas Otto was brilliant,” Matt says.

Jacobson Bullseye 5 hp sideshaft

Bill Westfall, Bloomington, Illinois, brought a 5 hp sideshaft Bullseye built by Jacobson Machine Mfg. Co., Warren, Pennsylvania, and sold by Montgomery Ward & Co. The fine original engine, which dates to the early 1920s, was most recently used at a Nebraska railroad station. “It has a nice belt pulley on it,” Bill says, “so it could have been used to power a machine shop at the station.”

The Bullseye is one of four Jacobsons (a pair of 1-1/2 hp farm engines, and a 2-1/2 similar to the sideshaft) in Bill’s collection of 60 antique engines. He still has the first engine he bought, a 1-3/4 hp United Engine Co. engine built by Associated Manufacturers, Waterloo, Iowa, a unique engine in its own right.

He replaced the Jacobson’s 10-gallon gas tank with a 1-gallon tank. “It’ll run a long time on that,” he says. The 5 hp engine can run on either battery ignition and coil or magneto; its governor is located on the engine’s side.

Sandow 2-1/2 hp

Paul Harmon, Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, has owned more than 350 engines at one time. Today he’s down to about 175. He brought one of the newest additions to his collection — a 2-1/2 hp Sandow dating to about 1912 — to the Sandwich show. Built by Sandy McManus Inc., Waterloo, Iowa, the Sandow needed minor adjustments but came quickly to life. With a cast iron piston, rings and cylinder wall, it seemed inevitable that something would be stuck. Paul did a little work on the igniter, replaced four bolts and a spring on the carburetor. “Then I hooked up a battery and coil, spun it over and she fired right up,” he says.

He plans to seal a small leak in the water hopper with silicone. “I don’t want to bust that seal,” he says. “I want to keep it as original as possible. When I talk to the old duffers, they said, ‘you don’t want to paint them or anything like that. Leave ’em in their working clothes.’ That’s why the Sandow is going to stay just like that: rusty and oily. That way people know it’s old.”

Paul never forgets advice he got from a longtime collector. “You don’t need a pot of gold,” the man told him. “You need to buy an engine that runs. Get used to that one and learn about them. Then you can buy them a little cheaper.”

Sandwich & Lennox combo

Jeff Hyatt, Sandwich, showed an early 1900s Sandwich mud pump and a Lennox engine built in Marshalltown, Iowa. His Sandwich is unusual because it is a complete system: engine and pump. It might have been used to pump water at a construction site or to pump mud or sludge. Jeff said he’s seen the engine advertised in a Sandwich brochure, but had not seen another one with the pump.

His air-cooled Lennox was built by Lennox Machine Co., Marshalltown, Iowa. He has a total of four Lennox engines; the others are bigger than the engine he showed at Sandwich. “Only about 30 are known to exist,” he said. “The old timers say they are pretty rare.”

Lennox built air-cooled, tank-cooled and hopper-cooled engines. Jeff’s Lennox engines are rated at 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 hp but are about the same physical size as his Sandwich engine. “Sandwich engines were always under-rated in size or horsepower,” he says. “My Sandwich would be comparable to other 2 to 2-1/2 hp engines.”

Hercules 3-1/2 hp

Steve Barr, Downers Grove, Illinois, showed an unusual 3-1/2 hp Hercules engine, built by Hercules Gas Engine Co., Evansville, Indiana. Steve bought the behemoth — it weighs about 1,200 pounds — at an Indiana consignment auction. “I like heavy engines,” he says. This one dates to about 1922.

The Hercules’ flywheel is smaller but wider and heavier than those seen on most engines of that size. He showed another Hercules engine — also a 3-1/2 hp — that was similarly equipped. That engine was used to run a Barnes mud pump. The engine has a Barnes decal on it, but Steve didn’t know whether Barnes made the pump for Hercules or Hercules made the engine for Barnes.

Steve’s collection includes a cement mixer with a Hercules engine that his grandfather bought in 1942. “My dad used to start it with the crank and almost broke his arm until he learned how to do it,” Steve says. “I never had to use the crank.” Steve and his dad, Bob, display the piece at shows but they don’t mix concrete. Instead, they fill it with stuffed animals or golf balls to show how it worked.

Bob claims to have gotten his son started in engines in about 1998 at an event in upper Michigan. “He bought a Little Jumbo engine that was not running,” Bob recalls. Steve confessed that it’s still sitting in his garage — and still not running.

“But they’re like rabbits,” he says. “Once you start collecting,” Bob adds, “you have to have another one and another one and it keeps going.” FC


Lyle Rolfe has been a newspaper reporter and photographer for more than 40 years. As a freelance writer, his work has been published in Classic Cars, Cars & Parts and Rural Heritage magazines. Contact him at 2580 Wyckwood Ct., Aurora, IL 60506; (630) 896-2992; lrerartr@comcast.net.