Picture Perfect: Moore Engine

An Iowa engine collector falls for a Moore engine at first sight.


Travis Benner with his rare 4 hp Moore engine. The line also included 2-1/2 hp and 7 hp engines.

Photo by Bill Vossler

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Just one look, and Travis Benner was hooked. After seeing an illustration of a Moore engine – the Sure Cool – in C.H. Wendel’s American Gasoline Engines Since 1872, the Blue Grass, Iowa, engine enthusiast knew he wanted one for his collection.

“I saw this odd engine that was hopper-cooled with a screen cooling tower on top of it, with an eccentric-driven pump that pumps the water up to the screen cooler. That intrigued me,” he recalls. “I wanted to look into that."

Manufactured by Moore Plow & Implement Co., Greenville, Michigan, the Sure Cool may have been Moore’s way of differentiating the engine in the marketplace. “The manufacturer probably hoped it would be unique enough to help them grab their share of the engine market,” Travis says. “When buyers saw it, they probably thought any potential heating problem was automatically solved. The engine would stay cool and wouldn’t overheat when run hard. That new cooling feature could be enough to catch the eye of a comparison shopper, who might think it represented a real leap in technology."

Unusual cooling system

The most unusual feature of the Sure Cool Moore engine is its cooling tower, which sits on top of the hopper. A pump on the side of the hopper pushes water up a pipe to the top of the cooling tower, where it dribbles down the screen and falls back into the water hopper. Water circulated over the vertical screen helps increase heat exchange. “

Moving water that cascades down is cooled faster than if it’s just in a tank,” Travis says. “Root & VanDervoort, Famous and O.S. Kelly also used a screen cooling system with some of their engines, but none of them had a screen cooling system sitting on top of a water hopper.”

Travis hasn’t seen any Moore engines at shows, but he has run across a few photos and illustrations. “I thought they were all hopper-cooled with the screen tower at first,” he says, “but then I saw a few that were tank-cooled.”

Patience pays off

Travis had the opportunity to bid on a tank-cooled Moore engine, but he wasn’t the winning bidder. Later, he visited the seller before the engine’s new owner picked up the Moore. “I got to see both versions,” he says, “a tank-cooled engine and a hopper-cooled engine with the screen tower, right next to each other.” Interested in the engine’s unique bell-shaped muffler and other unique features, Travis kept his eyes open for a Moore of his own.

Seven years passed before Travis found a Moore for sale. It had a hopper and an early serial number, but the engine’s cooling tower assembly was missing. He figured he’d find someone to build the missing parts, or do the work himself. Eventually he connected with a man who’d worked on five Moores at the same time, making his own reproduction water pumps and screen cooling towers. That person had since moved on to other projects, but offered suggestions to Travis, who set to work building a tower of his own.

Put a lid on it

It was important to Travis that the tower look original, be the right size and shape and have the correct curve. For that, he turned to cookware. “The very top piece I used is cast iron,” he says. “It’s actually an old lid from a cast iron Dutch oven, like on the originals. It needed to have a smooth bottom side instead of the typical dimples that more modern Dutch oven lids have, because that’s not how it was made originally.”

It took awhile to find the right lid. When he did, Travis cut off the handle, blended it in and cut out the correct shape. “I also play around on the forge,” he says, “so I forge-welded a strap so that the seam would look old.” He attached the metal strap to the bottom of the cast iron top so it hangs like a skirt below the cap, welding it from the inside so the weld was hidden. He also fabricated an inner cap, shaped so the pumped water spills onto the cap, flows to the edge and falls down the screen. The screen is held between the skirts of the inner and outer caps.

He made a plumbing fitting that attaches to the top of the water pipe that brings water up to the top of the screen cooling tower. The fitting needed to have a profile that would let the water spread out across the top of the inner cap and had to fit in between the inner and outer caps. “I ended up using a part of a union fitting that I turned down on a lathe,” he says.

Quandary of the missing casting

The bottom of the mesh screen sits in a casting that rests on top of the water hopper. An important part of the design, the casting diverts the cooled water into the hopper. “It’s a necessary part of making the restoration complete,” Travis says. “Since it was missing, I was in for a tough time. I needed an actual copy of the casting and no one seemed to have that part. In order for me to get a copy, I would either have to make a wood pattern or find someone willing to take their own cooling tower apart to have their piece copied.”

Eventually, another collector agreed to take apart one of his cooling towers and have the part cast. In return, Travis agreed to make a cooling tower for another Moore engine. “It’s a little give-and-take,” he says. “Most engine guys are willing to help each other out, and it doesn’t hurt to reciprocate.”

The only other part requiring mechanical attention was the governor. “The engine wanted to run much too fast, and it worked fine that way,” he says, “but I wanted to be able to run it slower, so making new governor springs was another challenge.”

Dating the Moore by the water pump

Travis put the round cylinder head in a lathe to remove thick layers of paint and clean and polish it. Polishing the head and flywheel rims makes the engine look more like the unit shown in early promotional illustrations, he says.

The color of the engine – serial no. 726 – is up for debate. “This engine was painted when I got it and it was pretty well done, so I didn’t repaint it,” Travis says. “It looks like red may have been the original color, but it is possible that it was more of a maroon or even brown. I’ve seen a few Moore engines with their original paint that are a faded brown color. It’s hard to tell if they were brown originally or if the original paint has faded. I just decided to leave my engine the color that it is for now.”

The engine’s age is unknown, but based on the way it’s equipped, Travis figures the Moore predates 1909. “Advertising that year shows one of these engines with the more modern pump, so mine – with an earlier-style plunger pump – may have been made before 1909.”

The older water pump on the side of the hopper is made of cast iron, he says, and the newer style of eccentric-driven water pump was made of brass. “That newer pump can seem more desirable than the cast iron one because it has the manufacturer’s name on it,” he says, “but I am happy to have the earlier style.”

True to the original

With a keen appreciation for the history of Moore engines, Travis wants restorations he’s involved in to look as original as possible. “Things were done a little differently back then, and when those little details are restored to match, it helps people appreciate the mechanical history,” he says. “People can learn that even simple things have changed over time, even small things like pipe fittings.”

Take plumbing, for instance. “I tried to make the fittings look old and authentic,” he says. “Current plumbing fittings have a band around them that’s thicker and wider than they used to be, and all you can find at a hardware store are fittings like that. Back in the day, the fittings were either smooth with no band at all, or they had a simpler bead of metal at the edge of the fitting.

“It takes a lot of work to make a new fitting look old. It can take time in a lathe and a lot of hand filing and grinding to make the fittings look right and make everything come together. That was the right thing to do for that engine. I tried to put it back as close as I could to how it looked when it left the factory.”

That emphasis on original extended to the screen’s woven mesh. Travis’ wife, Terri, tracked down a company in Illinois that produces a screen that looks period correct. “I didn’t want to use just any hardware store screen,” he says.

Tracking original components

Travis’ Moore had a muffler when he bought it, but it wasn’t the one that came with the engine when it was sold new. “The original muffler is distinctive; it looks like a bell, and that part seems unique,” he says. “I’ve only seen that style of muffler on Moore engines. I was fortunate enough to find a reproduction Moore muffler from a collector who had some made a long time ago.”

While studying an early Moore catalog, Travis saw a photo showing a pulley on the engine’s off-side, so he decided to match a pulley for his engine. He tried to find one with about the right diameter and the correct number of spokes (five). “The spokes are straight instead of curved, but I tried to match it as close to the picture as I could,” he says. “After I dug around and found one that was close, I broached the keyway and added it to the end of the shaft.”

At shows, people are curious about the Moore. “They’ve seen hopper-cooled engines,” he says, “but when they see that extra thing sticking up from the hopper, they ask about it.” Travis points out the eccentric-driven water pump bolted along the side of the water hopper and explains how that drives water to the top of the screen so it can cascade down. “I tell them that it’s much more efficient for cooling,” he says. “After running the engine for a few hours, I have to add water because it evaporates so much faster.

“It’s been an interesting project,” he says. “I didn’t expect it to turn out as well as it did. I just dug in and did my best. Fortunately, I had support from other collectors.” FC

For more information: Travis Benner, 8945 140th St., Blue Grass, IA 52726; (563) 320-5834;  t_benner@mindspring.com.    

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: bvossler@juno.com.