Rare Witte Engine Saved from A Salvage Yard
Before and After: Rare Witte Engine, circa-1915, was rescued from a salvage yard in Oklahoma.
The restored Witte on display at a recent show. This is the only known 30 hp Witte to survive World War II scrap metal drives. Inset: A 1904 campaign button featuring presidential candidate Alton B. Parker and the Witte company.
Photo by G. Wayne Walker Jr.
In its prime, this circa-1915 Witte 30 hp “sideshaft” portable gas engine was used to power a thresher.
But by the time Harold Ottaway, Wichita, Kan., got hold of it, the engine had fallen on hard times indeed.
The engine had spent much of its life on a small farm in southwestern Oklahoma. The owner, though, wouldn’t part with it. A friend of Harold’s kept an eye on the engine as he passed through that area each year. In 1961, the call came: The owner had died, and the engine had been sold to a salvage yard, where it was being scrapped. Harold immediately contacted Harold Jones, owner of the Duncan, Okla., salvage yard. His source was right: Jones said that the engine had been cut up, and much of it had already been loaded onto a rail car. But Ottaway could have what was there, for 3 cents a pound (about $180). The vintage engine was in sorry shape.
The engine’s steel parts had already been removed from the cast iron: the portable truck wheels, crankshaft, sideshaft and connecting rod had all been torched off and shipped out. The brass had been stripped off and was long gone. To most, it looked like an uphill battle. Even Harold’s brother – an accomplished machinist and welder – scowled at the prospect of restoration. “I don’t know why he’s messing with that,” he said. “He’ll never put it together anyway.”
That was all the challenge Jerry Abplanalp needed. Harold had asked Jerry, owner of Jerry’s Welding and Machine, Wichita, for his help in rebuilding the Witte.
“It did look kind of impossible when we first looked at it,” Jerry said. “It had been laying out in the open for a while, and it was half in pieces.
But Jerry – with more than 40 years’ experience in welding – knew the Witte could be restored. “I’ve gotten into a lot worse projects,” he said. “This turned out to be pretty simple.”
And so began what would become a 20-year process of rebuilding parts for the vintage engine. Actual shop time was backed up by extensive research. Harold, for instance, used 4 hp, 6 hp and 9 hp Wittes from his collection to determine the engine’s stroke, and then set out to find the crankshaft meeting that specification. He found a close match in a 25 hp Superior crankshaft owned by Bill Hey, Baldwin, Kan. Harmon Machine Shop, Wichita, machined it to fit the Witte.
Using a 15 hp Witte in his collection, Jim Withers, Osakis, Minn., scaled up bearings for the engine. Withers also crafted the connecting rod and brass rod bearings. Meanwhile, Jerry was at work on a new intake valve and exhaust elbow. The part of the head where the exhaust elbow and fuel metering valve were was broken off and gone, so, working from illustrations in decades-old manuals, and scaling smaller Witte parts from his collection, Jerry refabricated that entire area. The cylinder bolts had been torched off in the scrapping process, so Harold made new cap screws from one-inch stock.