Slow But Steady: Gade Engine Collection Flourishes

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Until he retired, Gilbert Fox had a big ranch and commercial hay operation. But he kept his priorities clear: "When I'd see an engine I really wanted, I'd manage to get out of the hay field long enough to get it," he said with a chuckle.
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The full line-up, on display at the Clay Center, Neb., show.
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The full line-up, on display at the Clay Center, Neb., show.

If Gilbert Fox wasn’t a patient man before he started collecting Gade engines, he must surely be now. Gilbert, after all, saw several years pass between the time he decided to collect Gades, and his first opportunity to buy one.

“They’re really hard to come by,” he said, “and they’re getting real expensive.”

Gilbert, who lives near O’Neill, Neb., has 16 Gades. To put that number into perspective, consider this: Gilbert, one of the top three collectors of Gades in the U.S., has been assembling a registry of all known Gade engines. His total so far? About 120 engines in 10 states.

The best place – really, the only place – to find Gades, he said, is at estate auctions.

“That’s where the collector was, and when he dies, the engines are there,” he said. “I looked for a 6 hp Gade for 20 years. I finally located two or three, but they weren’t for sale. Nobody ever sells them from their private collections.”

Gilbert’s been collecting engines for more than 30 years. When a friend got a Gade, Gilbert liked it so well, he started looking for one. Fifteen years later, he has assembled two complete sets.

His interest in the Gade is simple:

“Well, they all run very good,” he said, “and there’s not too many of them.”

A Gade’s age can be hard to identify.

“You don’t know the year of a Gade,” he said. “There’s no indication of it on the engine.”

The all-important tag, identifying year of manufacture, model and other data, is typically put on the engine.

“But Gade put the tag on the box, and it rotted off,” he said.

One way to guess at the age of a Gade is through color. Before 1912, Gades were painted dark green. After 1912, the color was changed to red.

The Gade Company operated from Iowa Falls, Iowa. The company started in 1904, when founder Carl Gade bought patent rights from the designers of the Hawkeye engine.

“There were very few Hawkeyes,” Gilbert said. “I’ve only located four.”

Gade made an early fortune in land investments. But a second investment, during World War I, proved disastrous when the market collapsed.

The Gades held on to the company until about 1923, Gilbert said, when the employees bought the parts inventory. For a brief time, they assembled a 1 1/2 hp engine. Those efforts subsequently failed, “and the company just kind of disappeared,” he said.

More than 60 years later, Gilbert is attempting to put the pieces back together again.

“I’ve been taking pictures and registering all the Gades I can find out about,” he said. “I have friends who’ll let me know when they find one, or they’ll take a picture for me.”

It is the first formal registry of Gades, he said. No other registry or records are known to exist. And although Gilbert collects Gade memorabilia, in all his hunting, he hasn’t found so much as a single shipping tag.

Tracking down original carts was a particular challenge.

“It wasn’t until about 10 years ago that I got my first original cart,” he said. Gade carts were always red, and Gilbert’s kept his authentic, He builds new tool boxes to replace those that are badly deteriorated, and makes sure the sizes match those of the originals.

Gilbert’s not alone in his interest in Gade engines.

“My family’s all taken great interest in this,” he said. At a recent show in Clay Center, Neb., he exhibited 12 Gades –including a full set. For a brief time, nearly all of his immediate family members (three daughters, six grandchildren and a great-grandchild – his wife resides in a care facility) were also on hand. He and his family have already agreed that, after he dies, his Gades will stay in good hands.

“We’re going to divide them among the children,” he said.

For now, though, he continues in the thick of it – collecting, researching, registering and corresponding.

“People call me and write me with questions, and I’ll send them copies of literature or pictures, or just try to answer their questions,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed that as much as anything. This is just a real nice hobby.” FC

For more information: Gilbert Fox, HC 63 Box 38, O’Neill, Neb., 68763; (402) 336-3085.

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