Gade Engine Restored

Self-taught engine enthusiast restores rare, unique 4 HP Gade engine.

Gade Engine

Dave’s 4 hp Gade engine sits in the back of his 1926 Ford Model T vehicle, giving show-goers an eye-level look at the machine.

Photo By Bill Vossler

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Dave Arnold was a city boy with a farm gene. “I’ve always been interested in engines and the mechanical life,” he says, “flying, working on airplanes and cars.”

But as a youth, he was told he couldn’t be a farmer. “In the ninth grade I wrote about becoming a farmer,” he recalls. “My teacher and high school counselor both said I couldn’t, because I was going to go to college and farmers didn’t need college. That’s a snapshot of how education viewed farming in 1955.”

Booking it

In the 1980s, when Dave attended his first threshing show, he marveled at the array of working antique machinery he saw there. Then working as marketing director for Motorbooks Inc., he looked for books on gasoline engines but found publishers had largely overlooked the category. So he opted to learn by doing. “I thought gasoline engines could be a neat hobby,” he says, “so I decided to learn as much as I could about antique stationary farm engines and tractors and steam engines.”

He found a good source in Hazel Magnuson, who continued to operate Yesteryear Farm in the Lindstrom, Minn., area, after the death of her husband, Denny. “Dennis was an auctioneer who brought home whatever was left from auctions in the 1950s-1970s,” Dave says. Dave visited the Magnuson farm many times to study equipment and learn about old iron, always traveling by motorcycle to appease Hazel, who worried that he might want to appropriate pieces from the collection.

Eventually Hazel decided to part with the collection and Dave bought seven gasoline engines from her. Using what he had learned, he went on to write three books on old iron: Vintage John Deere, The Iron Workhorse: American Gas Tractors and Steam Traction Engines, and Classic American Farm Gas Engines (with C.H. Wendel).

The gift of the Gade engine

One of the gas engines he bought from Hazel was an unknown. “Nobody knew what it was but I sensed it might be rare,” he says. “I took it out of the mud and brought it home in about 1985.” In the era before the Internet, Dave struggled to learn the engine’s identity. It turned out to be a 4 hp Gade engine built in about 1910, one of only nine of the low-base 4 hp Gades known to exist.

The engine wasn’t what you’d call complete. It was missing the carburetor, oiler, grease cups and flyweight governor springs, and the igniter didn’t work. “I’d never really seen an igniter,” Dave admits, “so getting it to conduct electricity properly was a challenge.”

The rod bearing to the crankshaft had some slap (or play) to it, so Dave filed down the brass pieces and reduced the sloppy play. “Pretty much everything else was there,” he says, “though most springs were missing. I didn’t even know where springs were required. All the major linkages were there but they were badly rusted and didn’t move and had to be cleaned. It was all there, but nobody really knew how it worked.”

Dave found an Iowa man who cast old Lunkenheimer carburetors once a year. Ten months later, his carburetor showed up — but it didn’t work right. “I had to choke down the air intake to get it to work right,” he says. “When I finally fired the engine (with no muffler) inside a metal pole barn with a low ceiling, it was so loud I couldn’t believe it. But I was happy I got it to fire.”

Dave knew he had to modify the carburetor to get the engine to run better. “At first I couldn’t bring myself to alter this expensive and pretty brass casting,” he recalls. “Finally I bought pipe reducers to lessen the opening that seemed to be letting way too much air into the carburetor for the amount of gasoline inside. I still don’t know why the reducer was required, but maybe it was because those smaller manufacturers made design changes every other month. And who knows what carburetor was originally on this Gade engine when it left the factory.”

An educated guess

Gade engines in general lack proper identification information. The earliest ones had a brass tag with the name, horsepower, rpm and other information riveted to a smooth spot at the bottom of the cylinder. On later models the brass tag was attached to the engine’s wooden cart or battery box, a solution that lacked permanence. Dave figures only about a third of all Gades in existence have tags on them, so it’s quite difficult to be sure of the engines’ pertinent details.

The late Gilbert Fox, a Gade collector from O’Neill, Neb., had created a Gade engine directory. That source helped Dave narrow down the horsepower of his engine using the diameter of the flywheel and the number of fins on the cylinder (although the 3, 3-1/2 and 4 hp engines can all have nine fins, like Dave’s). “It gets you in the ballpark as to what horsepower engine you have,” he says. “Other engines have seven or eight fins; some have 11 fins. Whenever anybody asks me about the horsepower, I just have to say I have a good idea, but I don’t know for sure.”

Dave’s theory — only partially in jest — is that when some smaller engine companies, like Gade, were faced with direct competition on one of their models, they changed the color of paint and increased the claimed horsepower in order to compete. “There wasn’t a lot of truth in advertising in those days,” he says.

Gade engines were built in both high- and low-base versions. Dave’s is a low-base model; the flywheels hang below the beams of its cart. It weighs 900 pounds, with the piston, rings, connecting rod and rod bearing weighing 25-1/2 pounds. The engine’s normal governed speed is 350 rpm, with make-and-break ignition, and a governor that controls the igniter and air valve. Lightweight models like Dave’s were supposedly more portable than the heavier high-base engines.

Cooling problems?

The Gade engine was touted as being air-cooled without a fan. “It breathes air,” company literature said. “This engine is cooled without fans and water.” The theory may have sounded good at the time but Dave has doubts as to how well it worked in practice.

Gades are 4-cycle hit-and-miss engines. They operate on the same 4-stroke principle as your car engine or other 4-cycle engines, that is, intake, compression, power and exhaust strokes. The Gade difference is that it does not have a traditional exhaust stroke where, after traveling to bottom dead center on the power stroke, the piston pushes the hot burned gases up out of the top of the cylinder on the exhaust stroke.

Rather, when the piston in a Gade engine travels to bottom dead center on the power stroke, it uncovers a port (a hole) in the cylinder wall near the bottom of the cylinder in the same manner as a 2-cycle engine. The hot exhaust gases immediately rush out of that port, relieving the piston from pushing gases back up out of the top of the cylinder. That reduces the engine’s total time exposure to the hot exhaust gases and theoretically should result in a cooler running engine.

Additionally, since the Gade is a hit-and-miss engine, the power stroke (especially when the engine is not carrying a load or doing any work) results in a significant rpm increase. The governor then holds open, for several revolutions, what other engines would call an exhaust valve, preventing more gas-air mixture into the cylinder.

Thus no more firing takes place, but the piston continues to move up and down, and since both the upper and lower ports are held open, fresh cool air is pumped back and forth through the cylinders, cooling the cylinder without water or a fan.

So far so good. But under a significant load, the engine slows down and fires more often, without many (or even any) missed strokes. The cool air coming in the ports is limited and can’t keep up with the heat created by the engine. “The cylinder fins aren’t enough help, so after a while the engine just seizes up,” Dave says. “Probably doesn’t damage anything, but it gets pretty frustrating for a farmer.

“Now you have a 4-cycle engine without water cooling and fan cooling whose only advantage is ridding itself of hot exhaust gases faster than traditional engines,” Dave adds. “I would think, but don’t really know, that this was not enough of an advantage to forgo a cooling fan or a water hopper. I think the Gades likely couldn’t keep themselves cool enough to compete with other engine manufacturers of the same horsepower rating — which is why I think these engines might not have been used very much and those at shows don’t show much wear.”

1926 Ford Model T Truck

Outside of his rare Gade, Dave favors McCormick-Deering or International Harvester Model M gasoline engines. “They seem so refined and practical for the time,” he says. “To me, they are the epitome of the engineering of the day. They look and sound like they might kick over forever and run forever and last forever. I like those big 10 hp models the most and would like to get one of them, but they’re expensive. But the others are interesting, because through them I can try to envision what the designer was thinking. It was a time of diversity, a time to try any ideas. You can see the diversity and imagination in all these different engines and kind of see how they thought their work would be a good idea in 1910.”

At shows, Dave wants his Gade at eye level where people can really look at the machine, so he found a beat-up 1926 Ford Model T truck and restored it to elevate the Gade. His original plan was to drive the truck but then he discovered that the T’s two-speed Ruckstell rear end is an underdrive, not an overdrive; engaged, it actually slows the truck down. “I thought it would go faster but it actually goes slower,” he says. “It turns a 20 hp engine into a stump puller.

“I don’t have a nice implement to hook the Gade up to, so I set it on back of the truck,” he says. “I figure 75 percent of the people like the truck and 25 percent of the people really like the Gade. Everybody can relate to trucks and not many to Gade engines, so I wanted to have something that would appeal to most people. The problem is presenting it in a way to attract the attention of the casual passerby so they can quickly grasp what it is, before they wander on looking for caramel corn. That’s the challenge to communicate to the younger generation.”

One unique engine

Dave says that people who are really interested in antique engines are sometimes confused at first when they see the Gade running, because they’ve never seen an engine with the exhaust at the bottom of the cylinder. “The other major question I get at shows is how many times it turns over before it fires, which depends on the day and temperature, whether it is low on gas or whatever, but it can be 30 to 45 times,” he says. “The factory says it should run at 350 rpm, but I’ve set it to fire slow, probably under 200, which creates a lot of interest when it suddenly fires again.”

Despite its shortcomings, the Gade is a unique engine. “It’s a good example of entrepreneurs coming up with an idea and giving it a serious shot by going into manufacturing and production,” Dave says. “In the end it was a concept that wasn’t viable in the marketplace. But I would enjoy hearing from anybody who could tell me differently. I’m open to being totally wrong. I’d like to hear from somebody that has seen one loaded down and functioning for an hour or more, and firing every fourth stroke and not getting hot.”

Dave has huge appreciation for the engineering behind old gasoline engines. “I love looking at these old engines and seeing what guys were stuck with in terms of engineering capabilities and materials,” he says. “About the only thing they had to work with was big and heavy and crude cast iron, yet they built some really neat things out of it, which were a great help on the farm. Each piece represents a place and efforts and trials and tribulations of people who went before us.

“If you look at these old engines for a minute, you can enjoy how they represented the past and the best of what people were trying to accomplish at the time,” he says. “I look at one of the engines and think about those people who had to haul an engine weighing 1,000 pounds from cutting wood to pumping water. That was a heck of a good deal for those people, but we’ve got it so easy compared to people a hundred years ago. How lucky we are.” FC

For more information: 

— Dave Arnold, 11605 Kost Dam Rd., North Branch, MN 55056; (651) 583-2722; email:

Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and author of several books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact him at Box 372, 400 Caroline Ln., Rockville, MN 56369; email: