One man's junk, another man's treasure
A 1913 Empire 1-1/2 hp gas engine (no. 43628) manufactured by Alamo: “The Engine of Quality,” the engine’s decal states.
His 1913 Empire came out of a junkyard, as did a pair of what appear to be experimental Maytag engines and another “no name” engine with a funnel-shaped hopper. But those treasures may be the end of the line. “I still go to the junkyard,” Bill says, “but I don’t find anything there anymore.”
If his show display is any indication, he can afford to rest on his laurels. His trailer boasts a 1909 Deyo, a 1914 St. Marys, a 1911 Rawleigh-Schryer, a 1913 Gade, a 1913 Empire, a 1913 Root & Vandervoort and the aforementioned mystery engine.
Bill’s had uncommonly good luck hunting for engines in junkyards. His 1-1/2 hp Empire is a classic example of that. Built by Alamo Mfg. Co., Bill’s find was missing the hopper and the main bearing caps when it turned up like a diamond in the rough. Now fully restored, the Empire is a fine addition to his show display.
Bill’s “no name” engine, another junkyard find, is a real mystery. When a sleeve rotates, it opens ports that take the charge to the spark plug and then to the exhaust. The engine has no castings or numbers of any kind. “I’ve had it running,” he says, “but it doesn’t run well. Somebody was trying to come up with something, but they gave up.” Bill’s best guess is that the engine dates to the 1930s or ’40s.
A pair of Maytags in Bill’s collection may be experimental models. He’s guessing that they were cast aside at the factory but were smuggled out by a worker.
The 1-cylinder engine has a cast iron flywheel and has a magneto similar to that used on a Johnson engine. Wicks from the main bearings to the gas tank were apparently intended to provide lubrication (the 2-stroke engine runs on a mixture of oil and gas), “but that evidently didn’t help much,” he says.
The 2-cylinder engine features a smaller gas tank and a solid kick pedal. The engine’s cover is made of aluminum, and the parts number is preceded by the letter “Y.”
The gearless 1-1/2 hp Deyo (no. 682) and 1 hp St. Marys share common features: neither has a camshaft or timing gear to work the valves. Both engines use an eccentric on the crankshaft to operate the valves. “It’s a different design, and it’s kind of weird,” Bill admits. “But it must not have been too good, because it didn’t catch on.”
The Deyo has a little gear that rotates every other time, so it misses the pushrod on the exhaust valve until it fires. The St. Marys has a pushrod on the eccentric that opens the valve by the port. “It comes down and pushes the plunger so the valve will open,” he explains, “using the port from the combustion chamber. The next time it misses, and the engine fires.”
A governor pendulum is another unusual feature of the Deyo. “It’s just a heavy weight on a pushrod. When the engine fires, it moves faster and the weight swings out. When it slows down, it activates the pushrod,” Bill says. “(Early designers) were just trying to come up with a better way. They had new ideas all the time but most proved out wrong.” Some of those unique designs, he speculates, were the result of inventors trying to avoid patent infringement suits.
Manufacture of the Deyo, he notes, probably required extensive machine work. “It’s kind of complicated,” he says, “kind of similar to an Olds engine.” A 1909 model, Bill’s Deyo was built just before Massey-Harris Co., Toronto, Ontario, Canada, bought out the Deyo-Macey line in 1910.
Gearless engines like the Deyo and St. Marys fascinate Bill. “They’re not very good,” he says, “but they’re different.” The St. Marys’ unique design (when it coasts, it fires under compression) allowed the manufacturer to make an unusual claim. “They said that you wouldn’t have to wait two revolutions for the engine to fire if it misfires,” he says. A complicated design, it stumped even the company’s writer, who could not fully explain the engine’s operation, according to C.H. Wendel in American Gasoline Engines.
A 1913 Gade 1-1/2 hp Model C offers a twist. In addition to a standard exhaust valve, the air-cooled 4-stroke engine also uses a port to exhaust spent gases. “It’s almost like a 2-cycle engine,” Bill says. The Gade has a Lunkenheimer mixer and spark plug ignition, making for lower operating costs, the manufacturer boasted.
Bill’s 1-1/2 hp Rawleigh-Schryer is reminiscent of a Stover engine, and with good reason. Rawleigh-Schryer designers got their start at the Stover Engine Co. Company founder W.T. Rawleigh was famous not only for gas engines, but also a thriving business in home remedies, salves and lotions. His engine business ended after a devastating fire destroyed the plant in 1916.
Tinkering with engines comes naturally for Bill, who began collecting engines in 1975. “I’ve worked with mechanical things all my life,” he says. “When I was a kid on the farm, my dad had a machine shop and I was always in there bothering him.” Bill’s dad bought the youth a Rock Island engine, and Bill tore into it. “I couldn’t get it to run, but he did.”
Later, the two joined forces on a beat-up Maytag they bought at the Midwest Old Threshers Reunion in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. “We went back to the campground where we were staying during the show and worked on that engine on the tailgate of a station wagon,” he recalls. “We finally got it running at midnight. I’ll bet the other people camping there had a fit.”
Bill’s show display is just the tip of the iceberg. He admits to a collection of about 70 engines, and he expects to hold it at that. “I have more now than I’ll ever get running,” he says with a smile. “My wife says the engines have to go before I do.”
After nearly 35 years in the hobby, he remains fascinated by early engine design. “The way it started out, it was all hand work,” Bill says, “but they still came up with a way to build an engine.” FC