Accidental Hobbyist Acquires Antique Gas Engine Collection
David Harder’s antique gas engine collection evolved by chance.
David with his 1926 Fairbanks-Morse 15 hp Model Z. The engine’s over-sized flywheel is about a foot larger in diameter than the usual 44 inches. David is also very involved with the Butterfield Steam & Gas Engine Show’s Power House, which features stationary steam engines.
Photo By Bill Vossler
David Harder credits a buddy for his love of farm antique gas engines. “We were on a motorcycle trip when we passed a place in southern Manitoba that had a lot of engines just standing there,” he recalls. “We stopped in and each of us ended up buying McCormick-Deering 3 hp engines.”
A few weeks later, the friends returned with a pickup to retrieve the engines. At the time, David — who lives in Butterfield, Minn. — wasn’t especially interested in antique gas engines. Although he’d grown up on a Minnesota farm, he’d had no exposure to the old hit-and-miss engines. “So I’m not sure why I got interested in engines,” he says with a laugh. “Mostly because of the mechanical part, I guess. I’ve always been interested in mechanical things. When something is broken, I like to fix it so it will work again.”
That first McCormick-Deering gave him plenty of opportunity to tinker. The old engine was stuck and needed a lot of work. David took it apart, got it running and gave it a cosmetic restoration — and he was hooked.
Chance pasture find
While visiting California in 1981, David took a walk into the hills near San Bernardino. In a pasture there, he spotted an unfamiliar antique gas engine. “A fire had gone through the area,” he says, “and the paint was burned off the engine, which was lying on its side. Obviously nobody wanted it.”
He went to the nearest house and asked the homeowner about the old relic. Abandoned for years, the engine had long been used to pump water for cattle. “The homeowner said that small amounts of gasoline and oil would be put in and the engine was started and left unattended,” David says. “By the time the fuel ran out, the stock tank was full. Later, a bulldozer hit the engine, apparently breaking its flywheel.”
David made an offer of $50 for the engine. “The man scratched his head and said the guys from a local engine club had offered him more than that,” David recalls. “About that time, his wife, who was standing behind the screen door where I hadn’t noticed her, said, ‘You better take that. One night that engine could be gone and you’ll be left with nothing.’”
When David got the old engine back to Minnesota, he found out it wasn’t in as bad a shape as he’d first thought. “I took the cylinder head off, cleaned it up, put gas in, belted it up and it ran,” he says. “Only the cast pulley was busted, not the flywheel itself.”
Today, that 1923 Hercules 3 hp engine (manufactured by Hercules Gas Engine Co., Evansville, Ind.) is a regular performer at the Butterfield (Minn.) Steam & Gas Engine Show, where it provides power to a pair of 5-gallon White Mountain ice cream freezers. “We use a mix of powdered eggs, sugar, milk, cream, vanilla and salt. It takes 20 to 30 minutes to freeze a batch in a 5-gallon can,” David says. “We can make two batches at a time.”
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