Buried Treasure: Pre-1920 Stover Engine Found in Thicket

Louisiana farmer uncovers 12 hp Stover engine at long-abandoned farmstead

Top: Michael Bradley and his Stover. Bottom: The 12 hp Stover as found. The Stover Engine Co., based in Freeport, III., operated from 1862 to 1941. the factory trucks on this engine are original.

Top: Michael Bradley and his Stover. Bottom: The 12 hp Stover as found. The Stover Engine Co., based in Freeport, III., operated from 1862 to 1941. The factory trucks on this engine are original.

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Louisiana farmer Michael “Mike” Bradley described the experience of finding a 12 hp Stover engine in a thicket just off a major highway, 90 miles from his home in Transylvania, simply – as beginner’s luck. 

“We pretty much hit the jackpot,” Mike said. “I haven’t found that many pieces of iron before, and certainly nothing as desirable as this.” The real miracle, he said, was finding an engine of that vintage (the Stover was likely manufactured prior to 1920).

“That just doesn’t happen down here,” he said. “It wasn’t settled here when that kind of engine was being used; the people weren’t here yet. Oh, if you’d go to the big towns, like New Orleans, they would have had engines like this. And there were a few grist mills around here, but mainly it’s farming country. It’s kind of amazing to find something like that in my part of the country.”

Mike and a buddy were out scouring the countryside for finds when they stopped at a country store for a soda. When they asked for leads, they were referred to a nearby resident, who said yes, he had seen some old thing down in the woods, but he didn’t know what it was. There, about 100 yards off a major highway near the Natchez Trace (an early trade route), Mike was stunned to find the Stover.

“It was under a huge oak tree, with what was left of an old homestead, with a 6-inch tree growing through the spokes,” he said.

Wedged deep in a nearby tree was a 5-foot saw blade. “Not much was sticking out,” Mike said. The engine was basically intact.

“Somebody had chopped all the brass off with a hatchet or an ax,” he said, “but otherwise, it was all there except for the rocker arm and fuel pump lever.”

Three years passed before Mike was able to claim the find as his. The original source said the engine was not on his land, but he’d make contact with the landowner and get back to Mike. After several phone calls and a fair amount of runaround, Mike and the landowner finally hooked up.

“I made an offer over the phone, and he said, ‘OK, send me a check,’” Mike recalled. “That was it.”

Since getting the engine home, he’s gotten it unstuck (field mice had nested from the mixer into the cylinder) and replaced missing parts. He’s had an intake valve made for the engine, the mixer rebuilt, two piston rings remade and reconstructed a badly pitted cylinder. “We’re almost ready to go with the engine,” Mike said, and restoration is down the road. But that, he admits, is almost anticlimactic.

“It was just a lot of fun finding it,” he said. Mike collects International engines, Model A trucks and International farm toys. He traced his start in the engine hobby to a time when he and his wife were driving down an interstate highway north of Lincoln, Neb.

“We saw a show just off the road. We hadn’t planned to stop there, but we did,” he said. “I guess the bug bit me.” FC