Rare Engines at Portland Show

The 2016 Tri-State Gas Engine & Tractor Assn. show was filled with rare and unusual engines.

foos electric engine

Dave Kyler with his 1903 9 hp Foos Special Electric engine and generator. “I have found a little literature on this engine,” he says. “The colors and striping are close to original.”

Photo by Leslie C. McManus

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If you’re interested in rare and unusual engines, the Tri-State Gas Engine & Tractor Assn. show in Portland, Indiana, is the place to be. The 2016 show included a breathtaking exhibit of Kansas City Lightning engines in the ATIS area (see Farm Collector, March 2017), but one-of-a-kind engines filled every corner of the grounds.

Produced for Moline Pump Co.

Paul Frasier, Carleton, Michigan, knew he had a rare engine when a friend gave him a 1903 3 hp Eli engine, but he kept his feet solidly on the ground.

“I knew the cylinder would either make or break the restoration,” he says. “If the inside was cracked, it would have to be sleeved and I’d have to put ports in, and that would have cost too much for me at that time.” As it turned out there was a lot of rust and pits, but no visible cracks.

Paul, who showed the 2-cycle Eli at the 2016 Portland show, was lucky to connect with John Davidson, Bristol, Wisconsin, owner of the oldest known Eli. Paul took measurements of parts, including an igniter, on John’s engine, and on another Eli owned by a friend, and made replacements.

The engine was produced under contract for Moline Pump Co. to be sold with that company’s pumps. Although the engine’s tag says, “made exclusively by Moline Pump Co.,” Paul says the engine was in fact designed by a man named Parker. Eli engines were produced in sizes ranging from 2-7 hp.

The engine’s tank is a clone of an original. “John Wanat made the tank, and I did the lettering,” Paul says. “I made a template and cut letters out with a blade. It was pretty painstaking work. Then I covered the tank with masking tape and used the template to cut out the letters.”

The Eli is an unusual piece. “In the late 1990s, I only knew of nine,” he says. “The count now is up to about 15. A lot of people have never heard of them.”

The show must go on

Most engines displayed at the Portland show were farm and industry workhorses, used to power implements and machinery. The 1903 9 hp Foos Special Electric gas engine shown by Dave Kyler of Columbia City, Indiana, was a bit of a starlet: Paired with a generator, the engine was originally used in the basement of a theater.

“It powered the projector and enough lights to get people in and out of the theater,” Dave says. Water from a cistern was used for cooling; engine exhaust was piped out of the building.

When the Foos was no longer needed at the theater, it was put to work pumping water at a gravel pit. By the time Dave got it, the engine’s original generator was long gone. He’s only seen one other Special Electric: a 15 hp model displayed at the Coolspring (Pennsylvania) Power Museum, complete with an original generator.

When Dave first learned of the engine 15 years ago, he’d never heard of a Special Electric. The engine had seen better days: A roof had fallen in on it and mice had made a home in it. Dave took it apart, had the cylinder bored and sleeved, and added new valves, water tank and pump.

Built in 1903, the Foos dates to an era of silent movies with accompaniment provided by a pianist. “The generator was DC,” he says. “You could control the speed of the projector with a dial; you couldn’t do that with AC.”

Collectors on a mission

Steve Royster was hunting for engines in Canandaigua, New York, when he saw a 2 hp Monitor. “I think it had been used on a water pump,” he says. “It was in sad shape. It was sitting in a field with a 5-gallon bucket over it. I told the owner, ‘at least let me cover it up better.’”

Eventually he closed the deal and bought the engine. Then the real work began. “I had to take it apart and clean the whole thing,” he says. In the process he decided to retain the engine’s original paint. Applications of oil brought out a rich patina.

His 3- to 3-1/2 hp New Way dates to the early teens of the last century. “I bought it about 20 years ago,” he says. “My brother and I went to Connecticut to find engines, and while we were there we stopped at a collector’s house and bought six.”

The New Way is a fairly common engine, he says, but his has its share of quirks. “It has an octagonal spoke flywheel, a muffler with a diamond pattern and a casting marked 1906,” he says. “It’s the only one I’ve ever seen with all three things.” The engine was originally equipped with a metal shroud, but Steve likes the look of the casting and set the shroud aside.

Steve and his brother Mike fell in love with old engines in their early 20s. “We decided we’d better go get some then,” he says, “because they’re not going to get any cheaper.” Reasoning that their options were better in the north, they set out on missions to New York and Connecticut from their homes in North Carolina.

Today, Steve mutters unconvincingly, “I’ve got too many of these things.” But he and his brother are regulars at the Portland show, and neither seems inclined to reduce his collection. They’d probably be there even if they didn’t have an engine between them. “Most of these shows are not about the engines,” Steve says. “They’re about the people.”

The power of hot air

An Economy hot air pumping engine built in 1902 by Thomas & Smith, Chicago and New York City was running smoothly at the Portland show. Used to pump water on a stock farm on days too still for the windmill to turn, the Economy is owned by the Yoder family, Plain City, Ohio.

The single-cylinder engine has two pistons, one to receive and transmit power, the other to transfer air from one end of the cylinder to the other. Water passes through the upper end of the cylinder en route from the well to a tank, keeping the upper end of the cylinder cool while the lower end is exposed to heat. Once the lower end of the cylinder is hot, the engine is started by hand by turning the flywheel.

The engine, which is original except for a shroud on the burner, was likely designed for urban use. It could have been used in a house where there was a cistern in the basement and a tank in the attic or in a bath house in the neighborhood.

The Economy can be run on anything that will generate heat. The Yoder’s is natural gas-fired, and it’s not vented.

Just seven Thomas & Smith engines are known to exist. Little is known about this company, which may not have been in business for more than 10 or 15 years. FC


Seeing red at 2016 Portland show

The feature at the 2016 Portland show – International Harvester – turned the show grounds red. Collectors from all over the upper Midwest hauled in a huge variety of pieces, ranging from memorabilia in glass cases to mammoth tractors. Among the showing were these crowd-pleasers:

Super A
This 1948 International Super A Industrial was converted to a fire truck tractor by the General Motors Engineering Group for use in a GM plant in Dayton, Ohio. It is owned by Doug and Paul Tieman, Amelia, Ohio.
Photo by Leslie C. McManus

Deering motot cultivator
A 1918 McCormick-Deering motor cultivator owned by Kenneth and Marcella Doherty, Geneva, Ind.

Photo by Leslie C. McManus

international truck
A vintage International truck from the Kelch collection.

Photo by Leslie C. McManus

titan 30-60
A Titan 30-60 owned and restored by Wendell Kelch, Bethel, Ohio.

Photo by Leslie C. McManus

reverse tractor
1907 International Harvester 20 hp friction drive/friction reverse tractor owned by Glenn and Janis Wickham, Upper Sandusky, Ohio.

Photo by Leslie C. McManus


For more information: Tri-State Gas Engine & Tractor Assn., 1010 N. Morton St., Jay County Fairgrounds, Portland, IN 47371. 52nd annual show, Aug. 23-26, 2017. Feature: Oliver-Hart Parr tractors and Indiana engines. Email: tristategasengine@gmail.com;
52nd annual show, Aug. 23-26, 2017;
online at www.tristategasenginetractor.com.

Leslie McManus is the senior editor of Farm Collector. Contact her at LMcManus@ogdenpubs.com.