Like football’s defensive line, the lowly pump jack gets little acclaim. But it would be a mistake to overlook the device that kept the water flowing on calm days when windmills became little more than yard art. Teamed with a stationary gas engine, the pump jack kept farms and rural homes in business.
Collector Don Hahn, Keota, Iowa, got interested in pump jacks when he saw one with a John Deere gas engine at an auction. “You don’t see too many engines with pump jacks at shows,” he reasoned. “So I decided I’d collect pump jack engines.”
He’s since gathered up 60 unique pump jack engines – any one of which would have brightened his day as a youth. “We never had a pump jack until I was in high school,” he recalls. Water for livestock was pumped by wind power, and the house had a well – but no gas engine to lighten the load. “It would have been nice if we’d had a milking machine,” he admits. “We had about 10 cows.”
One of his most unusual pump jacks displays particular ingenuity. Henry J. Kuhlman, Colesburg, Iowa, developed the innovative pump jack for a well 200 feet deep. Patented in 1922, the Kuhlman unit works through a novel succession of gears to deliver tremendous lift at 34 strokes per minute.
“Fairbanks-Morse had a little 1 hp Eclipse pump engine with a great big wheel,” Don explains, “and it runs at 800 rpm. For this gear ratio you’d need a wheel much bigger than that.” The Kuhlman gets the same result with a smaller wheel, running off a slower engine. “It only needs power to go up,” Don says. “It doesn’t take any power at all to go down; it’ll drop itself.”
Another unique piece in Don’s collection comes from an Iowa company with a rich heritage: the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Co. The pump jack with walking beam was found nearly buried along a creek. Don dates it to about 1900.
The piece was built by the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Co., successor to the Waterloo Gasoline Traction Engine Co., founded in 1893 by a group of partners including John Froelich, inventor of the Froelich tractor. “Froelich tried to manufacture tractors but he was unsuccessful,” Don explains, “so the company decided to make gas engines instead.” The company eventually produced the Waterloo Boy tractor, which served as the platform for John Deere tractors following Deere’s purchase of the company in 1918.
The Waterloo pump jack is powered by a small Beats ’em All gas engine; the Kuhlman uses a 1-3/4 hp MacLeod. “It’s listed as being made in Winnipeg, Canada,” Don says, “but it was probably built by Little Jumbo in Michigan. It’s a real good engine for the pump jack because its flywheels are an inch or so bigger than normal, and that’s why it runs so smooth.”
Leslie C. McManus is editor of Farm Collector. Contact her by e-mail at LMcManus@ogdenpubs.com.