A Logical Partner

Waterloo pump jack offers historic sidenote

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Left: A pump jack at work, powered by a John Deere stationary engine.

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Because my wife, Joan, and I take care of a small, farm-related museum (Little Village Farm, Dell Rapids, S.D.), we are always looking for unusual antiques. When my brother, Mike, bought a junkyard recently, I had to have a look. It contained a rather varied mixture of items, ranging from old cars to piles of insulators and fruit jars.

As we walked through the 10-acre yard, I spotted an old pump jack under a pile of old iron. Mike let me have it, figuring as I did that it was probably stuck and totally worn. After I hauled it home, curiosity got the better of me. By heating and cooling the bolts and castings, I was able to get the jack apart by careful pressing. As it turns out, it had never been used! Inside, both the worm gear and its driver still had grind marks from when it was finished at the factory. I checked all the shafts with a micrometer, and found no wear.

A casting on the side of the flywheel reads "Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company." As most Farm Collector readers know, the Waterloo Gasoline Traction Engine Co. and John Froelich were involved with a tractor. Froelich split from the company in the early 1890s. The company then changed its name to the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Co. and, after 1894, concentrated on building engines and, later, tractors. In 1918, the company was purchased by Deere & Co., and the stage was set for the development of the famed John Deere tractor.

Pump jacks would have been a logical sideline for an engine company, as pumping water was a job for engines, and all farms had to have water for livestock and household use. Oil-bath windmills were not widely available until after 1910 or 1915. Moreover, few farmers relished the idea of climbing up a windmill once or twice a week to grease the open-geared mill.

Interestingly, the part numbers on the pump jack are similar to those used on early John Deere tractors. For instance, a 1935 Model B features part numbers such as B52R, B566R, B306R and so on. The pump jack's part numbers include P9R, P1R, P7R and so on. This little unit was fairly inexpensive and easily built: The two side pulleys for the wooden arms, as well as gear case halves, are the same, cutting down on parts. Finishing a unit was simple: The gear case castings were ground flat (no gaskets), then clamped together, necessary machining was done and the parts were assembled, making a nice, durable unit with an 11-to-1 ratio, adequate for engines of the era.

- Jim Lacey is an antique farm equipment enthusiast and collector in South Dakota.