Coloring Outside the Lines

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A 1915 1 1/2-hp Economy engine resplendent in Hercules red

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Conventional wisdom says antique engines should look either barn fresh or restored, with paint schemes meticulously matching an engine's original colors. Indeed, dressing an engine up to look like its original condition is the modus operandi for most collectors - but not for Peter Gutoski. This Eugene, Ore., hazelnut farmer is blazing his own artistic trail by adding his own personal pinstriping and paint schemes to a hobby that traditionally frowns upon adding a unique flair to old engines.

'Purists say it isn't the right color and that I should try to paint them more historically accurate,' Peter says without a hint of apology. 'This year at Brooks, one younger guy, probably in his mid-30s, kept coming up and taking a long look at my engines and then walking away in obvious disapproval.'

Reactions like that are common from engine purists, Peter says, but sometimes the warmest responses come from women and children who don't have a traditional view of the perfect engine. They fancy the creativity and bright colors that make Peter's engines stand out among the other traditionally painted engines at antique shows. To some collectors, his engines may appear too ostentatious to truly represent the history of antique power, but a closer look reveals that most, if not all, of Peter's engines are inspired by antique pinstriping motifs.

'Older buildings and machinery used to be a delicate balance between form and function, but now it seems most of the emphasis is on function,' the 63-year-old Nebraska native explains. 'Much of the inspiration for my paint jobs and ornate patterns comes from the pinstriping on old courthouses and carriages, greeting cards and older everyday-use items like coffee grinders.'

Mechanics come first

Not content to be just a one-trick pony, Peter is also the mechanical brains behind his painted-up presentations. In fact, his background is mechanical instead of artistic. Peter says he 'dinked' around with engines beginning at age 15 when he restored a 1/2-hp 1936 Briggs & Stratton engine. He progressed from there to Ford Model As and later even larger engines. His first brightly painted and pinstriped engine was an International Harvester Co. LA in 1966, and in 1969 he painted a 5-hp Hercules. Peter jokes that he wasn't a 'hippie' when he painted these engines with an almost-psychedelic style in the mid-to-late 1960s, and his colorful creations don't have anything to with that culture or style.

He's been a self-taught hazelnut farmer since 1983, working by himself on 145 acres and sidestepping additional equipment costs by crafting as many pieces of farm equipment as possible in his home-built machinery shop. In between time spent on his busy 'filbert' farm (as the edible hazelnut is also known), Peter has applied a lifetime of mechanical knowledge to his colorful experiments by conducting immaculate restorations. In fact, Peter's engines regularly win the slow-run or 'tick-over' contests at the Antique Powerland Museum Assn. 34th Annual Great Oregon Steam-Up show in Brooks, Ore. In 2004, he placed first in the 3, 5-and 6_hp engine categories. His exceptional restorations make it considerably difficult for naysayers to criticize his work.

Among his standout engines at the Brooks show was a circa-1914 5-hp Sattley engine, serial no. 17065. With a 5 l/2-by-9 1/2-inch bore and stroke, this engine is a very easy starter and runs flawlessly at a snail's pace, which earned it first prize in the 2004 5 HP slow-run contest. It's make-and-break governed and uses a 3/4-inch Lunkenheimer carburettor. Peter says it was in very poor condition when he purchased it in 1999 for $350. Decorations were kept relatively simple, yet effective.

Art ain't easy

'Restoring is easy compared to pinstriping,' Peter claims. 'I understand how the engines work and give them as much attention as they need. But with pinstriping and painting, it takes a steady hand and creativity.'

Peter goes about the coloring and pinstriping process by first finding a design or style that suits his tastes. Inspiration often comes from antiques with ornate, old-timey pinstriping and caligraphical elements. Peter's wife, Judy, scans the selected image onto a computer hard drive, and then prints it on carbon paper. Next, Peter holds the carbon paper with magnets onto the engine and stencils the pattern directly on the cast iron engine. Finally, he uses a pinstriping tool -loosely resembling a hypodermic needle - that delivers a steady stream of acrylic paint with pinpoint accuracy. Peter says Acrylic paint is a pain to work with, but the end result is a bright color and a finish that will retain its color. Peter keeps a set of little paintbrushes to touch up the work done with the tool, although he says he's no good at drawing the designs free hand.

Another colorful engine on display at Brooks in 2004 was a circa-1918 1 1/2-hp sky blue-and-silver headless Fairbanks-Morse engine with make-and-break ignition. This engine was a freebie acquired earlier in 2004, making it one of Peter's newest acquisitions. The engine - with a 3 3/4-by-5-inch bore and stroke - is reminiscent of a sleepy, lucid dreamtime theme, with silver pinstriping and stars.

Thinking up fresh paint schemes and designs for his engines is becoming problematic for Peter. With about 40 years of painting and restoring under his belt, Peter's finished about 40 engines of varying make and model, each with a unique paint job. Once in a while, he stumbles across inspiration. Peter's 6 HP throttle-governed Fairbanks-Morse Model Z, for instance, sports a sleek Pueblo American Indian design.

'I kind of ran out of my own ideas, and I was down in one of the Mexican border cities looking for some vanilla extract for my wife when I saw some Pueblo art I thought would look good,' he says.

The result is a maize yellow, red and white color scheme set off with a round Pueblo emblem adorning the side of the water hopper and a red flower on the crankshaft guard. With a 5 3/4-by-10 1/2-inch bore and stroke, this Fairbanks-Morse was a slow-run winner in the 6 HP category in 2004 and several years prior. It was bought in like-new condition with a Sumpter magneto for $750 in Oregon and restored in 2000.

Leaving a personal touch

Most people view gasoline engines as just a machine to fix up, and restoration emphasis is placed on historical accuracy. But gasoline engines are also an antique icon, open to interpretation and expression. By returning the idealized concept of both form and function to engine restoration, Peter has bridged a gap between the world of antiques and art. It's a new and unique concept that's slowly being accepted among hobbyists. While Peter may take that concept farther than most, don't be surprised if some 'Painted Power' crops up at the next antique farm show near you. FC

- To learn more about Peter Gutoski's colorful engine collection, contact him at 32587 Colberg Bottom Loop Road, Eugene, OR 97408; (541) 344-3969; hazelnut@epud.net

Early Years of Collecting

Peter began collecting stationary engines in the early 1960s after moving to Oregon. During annual trips home to Nebraska, he hunted them down at bargain prices before returning westward. That was before most guys knew how much antique engines could be worth.

'In the 1960s, I used to get most engines real cheap, probably $10, $20 or even free,' Peter recalls. 'That didn't last. One guy, for instance, was in the habit of selling them cheap until he got his hands on a Gas Engine Magazine and changed his tune to $150 for an engine. He read the magazine and found out how much they were worth!'

Despite the price hike trend, Peter kept collecting and moving the antiques one by one back to Oregon. Living on a shoestring budget made transportation hard.

'I got most of my engines in Omaha [Neb.] and had to move them out to Oregon, so I drove them one-by-one to the West Coast in my 1958 Volvo, making about one trip a year,' Peter recalls. 'For the larger ones, I took the flywheels off and stored them in the back seat.'

This process continued for many years. He now owns about 40 restored and painted engines, and says he's run out of room to store them. If something special comes along, however, he'll take it. Peter's favourite engine in his collection is a 1915 Associated 'Chore Boy.'

In keeping with the thrifty nature of his collecting habits, Peter lets the engines come to him, as the colorful paint jobs often equal engine karma. His next project is a 1903 Fuller & Johnson upright engine that he'll tackle this winter. High prices, however, usually keep most of his 'wish list' at bay.

'I collect whatever comes along because the hobby is too expensive for me,' Peter admits. 'It's too big of a business now, I don't have the money for that.' Even on a tight budget, Peter's done pretty well for himself considering the wide variety, quality restoration and fine detail he puts into each engine.