When nearly two dozen Aermotor gas engines turned up at last summer's Midwest Old Threshers Reunion in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, it was a rare treat for engine enthusiasts. A fairly rare line, Aermotor was the feature at the 2005 show. "It's not an everyday feature," says engine enthusiast and Barry Tuller, Three Way, Tenn.
Aermotor engines were manufactured by the same company that began producing steel windmills in the late 1800s. Based in Chicago, Aermotor built three basic engine styles: an 8-cycle, one-flywheel pumping engine; a fluted-hopper engine, available in 2-1/2 and 5 hp models; and a "sausage hopper" engine, available in 5 and 8 hp. Although each style is distinctive, the fluted-hopper engine is the one that really draws a crowd.
The unique hopper, crafted of galvanized steel, is more than a mere novelty. "The concept was that you could cool water faster if you had more surface area," Barry explains. The unusual design continues to set the Aermotor apart: The fluted-hopper would be tough to replicate today. "The tooling they used to make that hopper would have been incredible to see," he adds.
At last summer's show, the feature display included six fluted-hopper engines, another set up as a pump engine with a cover where the hopper would have been, and several 8-cycle engines. The 8-cycle pumping engine is the most common engine in the line, Barry says, and was probably the Aermotor with the longest production run. The "sausage hopper" remains a scarce find (none were displayed at Mt. Pleasant last summer).
Aermotors are not only unique; they're solid. "They're exceptionally well built engines," says engine collector Mark Churchill, Coon Rapids, Minn., who showed his 2-1/2 hp fluted-hopper model at Mt. Pleasant. "They used great materials and great workmanship." Thirty-six years ago, as a junior in high school, Mark launched his engine collection with purchase of that Aermotor. Every new collector should be as lucky. "At the time, I didn't know what an Aermotor was," he recalls, "except that it was strange looking."
Mark's parents, though, were not keen on his acquisition. When Mark made clear his desire to attend an auction to buy the engine, his father attempted diversionary tactics familiar to parents everywhere. So the 17-year-old set off to his first auction on his own, bid without a number, and got the Aermotor for $75. "I would have gone to $100," he says now. Returning home with his treasure, he encountered the full force of his mother's wrath at his purchase of "an old piece of junk." Happily, a knock at the door silenced the scolding.
At the door stood a local man, who, having seen the engine in the pickup, wanted to buy it. "He offered me $125 for the engine," Mark recalls. After politely declining, he told his mother about the offer, and a truce was reached. "I never heard any more complaints about my purchase," he says.
The Aermotor was completely covered with grease, which Mark says probably served as a good preservative. "It didn't run when I got it, but it would turn over," he says. "It was in excellent condition; it still had the yellow pin-striping." New to the hobby, he followed a beginner's instincts and removed all the grease and, in the process, the paint. "Today I would have removed the grease gently," he says, "exposing the original finish."
Mark's engine spent its working life pumping water on a farm. When he got it, it had a bent detent lever and a knock in the connecting rod crank bearing. His dad helped him pour a new bearing and straighten the detent lever. He painted it in a shade of burgundy, and topped it off with a coat of polyurethane. Today, nearly a century after it was built (no records are available, but Mark's best guess is that his engine dates to about 1912), the Aermotor runs like a top. "It's in excellent condition," he says. "It runs well, and it has excellent compression, and no leaks. I'm sure it puts out 3 hp at least."
It remains one of Mark's favorites. "What I like about Aermotor is the way, on the 2-1/2 hp model, the name is cast in the flywheel. And you can see all the working parts," he says. "You can see how the engine really works."
Barry, an engine collector for more than 30 years, is equally enthusiastic about the line. "It has its own design," he says. "Aermotor is a little bit quirky." Barry restored his 2-1/2 hp fluted-hopper engine just in time for the Mt. Pleasant display. It required a fair amount of work. "The piston and valves were stuck," he says. "You could tell there had been water in the cylinder. It had been run a lot; all the pins were worn. I made new valves for it and had to knock the piston out of the cylinder. The cylinder isn't perfect, but it's adequate for running the engine at shows." A few days before loading for the show, the engine ran for the first time, much to Barry's relief. "It is always a great feeling when a project comes to life," he says.
A native of Iowa transplanted to Tennessee, Barry is partial to Iowa-built engines and smaller engines in general. "They're easier to move around," he says. He also keeps an eye out for engine-related literature and memorabilia. "I may be more interested in it all now than I was originally," he says. "There's just so much to learn about the engines and their history."
For more information:
Mark Churchill, firstname.lastname@example.org
Barry Tuller, (731) 824-0923; email@example.com