Exclusive Club of Monitor Engine Owners

Four friends, four rare 1 hp Monitor engines

Bill Keene, Robert Womack, Perry Kolb and Paul Armstrong

Bill Keene, Robert Womack, Perry Kolb and Paul Armstrong. The four got together with their Monitors at a spring "gas up" meeting of the Granbury (texas) Flywheelers held at Bill Keene's home. "We do this every year, the first Saturday in March," Keene says. "The ladies feed everybody lunch, and we don't charge anybody anything."

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Four collector buddies, four Monitor engines: It's not such an unusual story ... except that the four Monitors – all identical 1 hp engines – are extremely rare. Just seven of the 1 hp Monitors are known to exist. 

"This is a very unusual Monitor," says Bill Keene, a retired maintenance electrician. "Monitors in general are plentiful, but not the little 1 horse. The pump jack is part of the engine on the 1 hp Monitor: It does not bolt on. It's a permanent part of the engine. They had a little pulley available so it could pull something little like a cream separator."

Owners of the four Monitor engines are Bill, who lives in metropolitan Fort Worth, Texas; Robert Womack, Goldthwaite, Texas; Paul Armstrong, Hart, Texas; and Perry Kolb, Satanta, Kan. The three Texans belong to the same engine club, the Granbury, Texas Flywheelers. Perry, the lone Kansan, meets up with the others at occasional shows.

Engines are their common bond. Each is an enthusiastic collector.

"I'm looking for engines all the time," says Robert, who works as a welder. "I don't know when I'm not looking for engines. I enjoy the chase. When I've got the engine, and it's running, sitting there going 'kerfut, kerfut, kerfut', well, there's not much fun to that."

Perry, a retired farmer, was the first to snag a 1 hp Monitor.

"I got my engine (number 6530) at an auction at Boonville, Mo., probably 15 years ago," he says. He didn't get any background on the engine's history, but it was obvious that it had been well cared for.

"It was in good shape when I got it; in running order," he says, "which is unusual."

Produced by Baker Manufacturing in Evansville, Wis., most Monitor engines went to Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico – anywhere you'd see big ranch operations.

"Those little Monitors were primarily used to pump water in this part of the world," Robert says. "You see very few around these parts that were set up for belt use. A lot of them had had their piston taken out, with a piece of wood or a plate and an electric motor, and were used as a pump jack engine."

The two he scared up – his, and one he found for Bill Keene – fit that scenario. His Monitor's serial number is 6294; Bill's is numbered 6334.

"I got his within 30 miles of where I found mine. If had to make a guess," he says, "I'd guess mine and Bill's were shipped in the same boxcar."

Robert found his Monitor at an engine show.

"It was missing a lot of parts," he says. "The guy I bought it from wasn't really a collector. The engine had been converted to run with electricity, and he hadn't been able to find parts for it. There's no source for new parts, but I had a lot of stuff I could use: I've got sort of a junkyard here. I worked on it for a week before it was in running condition. I did everything possible to mine. It clicks right along now."

Bill's engine, too, was missing parts when Robert found it. That's typical of Monitors in the southwest, Robert says.

"One thing you run into with Monitors in this part of the world is that most of them have been left outside. They're rusty, the engine is stuck, there's parts missing," he says. "People who'd be out fixing water wells, they'd borrow parts from an old abandoned engine nearby. A lot of them are not complete when you find them. Things like the timing mechanisms are gone, because they didn't need those when they were used with electric motors."

Paul Armstrong's Monitor (serial number 6689) offers a bit of an exception.

"When I got mine three or four years ago, it was in bad shape," he says. "It was complete, but the cylinder was worn out pretty bad. It's in Kansas now, being sleeved. Then it will be a pretty good engine."

Bill Keene performed the wizardry required to get the vintage Monitor running.

"Bill's just got a knack," Paul says. "He's a very good mechanic."

For Paul, a retired farmer, much of the Monitor's appeal is its rarity.

"You just don't ever see these," he says.

But his also has sentimental appeal.

"It's special to me because I got it from a good friend, Charles Reeves," he says. Reeves, now deceased, also collected engines. "I just think of him whenever I see it."

Three of the four collectors say they'll probably paint their engines (most likely red, the original color of the 1 hp Monitor).

Robert, though, plans to keep his as is.

"It means more to me if the engine has some rust on it," he says. "Cast iron has a rough, grainy texture. There's a lot of people, they'll use body filler, and get that engine slicked down like a 1929 Cadillac, until it doesn't look like an old engine anymore."

Although no precise numbers are available, Bill says the 1 hp Monitor was never manufactured in large volume.

"They probably only produced a small number of them," he says. "And the serial numbers on these four are reasonably close together; they're not very far apart. But I'm sure there's still a couple more out on ranches that we're not aware of."

Monitors have enduring appeal, Robert says.

"One thing about Monitors: A lot of them are uprights. You can take a half a dozen different engines, shine them up, put them out at a show," he says. "And then you'll have one old clunker Monitor with bad paint, and the people are all gathered around it. They just have an unusual design. The crowd always likes Monitors."

The collections amassed by the four men pretty well cover all the bases. Paul likes International, Famous and Atlas engines. He has something like 100 different engines in his collection (and an 1897 Case center crank steam engine: "It's about to get old," he says). Robert has several 3 hp Monitors, horizontal pumpers. Perry – well, Perry has almost everything made by Monitor. He even collects Monitor serial numbers.

"I have 31 engines," he says. "There's two 15 hp Monitors, and I don't have one of them, and never will, but I have everything else. I also have Monitor windmills, almost all of the Monitor pumps, Monitor water cylinders, a tail for a windmill; and Monitor grain grinders, two or three different ones."

In addition to Monitor engines, Bill collects tractors: John Deere, International, Rumely, Hart Parr, Huber, Heider.

"I'm the same way with engines," he says. "I'm not real particular about any brand."

But in the end, he says, the collectibles always come in second.

"I enjoy the engines, but more so, the people," he says. "They're what makes the hobby." FC 

For more information: Bill Keene, 5500 Midway Rd., Haltom City, TX 76117; (817) 834-6065; Robert Womack, PO Box 292, Goldthwaite, TX 76844; (915) 648-2800; Perry Kolb, Rt. 1, Box 8, Satanta, KS 67870; (316) 657-2321; Paul Armstrong, HC 2 Box 86, Hart, TX 79043; (806) 938-2449.