Oddball Collection of Old Engines
The seasoned collector of old engines wears many hats: mechanic, body man, historian and sleuth. Dan Cook discovered that when he found an old engine in New Mexico.
His Kelly Hotball engine is one of just three known to exist. When he bought it, and for some time after, Dan (who lives in Las Cruces, N.M.) had no idea what he gotten.
“I looked in every book I had,” he said, “but I couldn’t find anything.”
The pattern on the flywheel, though, suggested an oddball Fairbanks-Morse. Later, at a show in Hart, Texas, he heard an engine making an unusual sound.
“I heard this unique sound, and it got my attention,” he recalled. “Then I saw it: and I thought, ‘Man, there’s my engine!'”
The engine’s owner, Robert Johnson, Canyon, Texas, filled in the gaps for Dan. Their engines were made by the Kelly Brothers Company, Dalhart, Texas, in the early part of the century.
“They made bits and spurs,” Dan said, “and they were so good, every cowboy worth his salt had Kelly spurs.”
When the company began manufacturing engines, they bought the Fairbanks-Morse flywheel, took the name off it, and started making engines designed for use in the southwest.
“That sent me down a dead end for 18 months, thinking it was a Fairbanks-Morse,” he said.
In 1929, the company was wooed by Mexican officials with the promise of a major contract for a large irrigation project near Mexico City. When the Kellys arrived, however, their company was nationalized, and they lost control over all their forms and patterns.
There’s much he doesn’t know about the engine: it has no name plate and no serial number (“It’s never even been drilled for a plate,” he said), and he can only guess at a manufacture date (1920-21). He thinks it’s a 5 hp model. “I think possibly it was a prototype,” he said, “probably designed for use in a mining or ranching environment.”
The semi-diesel engine has a Madison-Kipp oiler. The governor is very similar to those used on semi-diesels made by Fairbanks-Morse, as are the engine’s spokes and wheels.
The Kelly is the prize in a collection that includes 30 some engines (Fairbanks-Morse to Stover, International, John Deere, Monitor and Sattley, and a 1914 Witte 6 hp headless); vintage tractors, corn shellers, sickle bar grinders, a belt lacer, and an egg carton maker.
“It was just stuff I couldn’t turn down,” Dan said with a smile.
Retired from a career in education (he taught farm machinery and mechanics at New Mexico State University, and earlier was the farm supervisor for the experimental farm station at NMSU), Dan is an old hand with antique mechanics, capable of rebuilding just about any carburetor or mag around. He’s also a licensed steam operator.
Another of his treasures is his 1952 Ford 8N Funk V8.
“The V8’s probably my favorite tractor,” he said. “It’s just so neat, and there’s just so few of them – probably only 12 or 13.”
“In 1949, they came out with a new V8. Funk made 225 to 250 V8 kits, but they tore out the rear end because it was too much power,” he said. “Then they made the 6 cylinder, with lower rpm and torque.”
The V8 was a “fixer-upper” when he got hold of it.
“It didn’t run when I got it,” he said. “The carburetor and generator were all full of mud daubers.”
While the mechanical restoration was a challenge, the real horror came during the final stages of restoration. Dan spent an entire day painting, quitting only when he ran out of daylight.
“When I got up the next morning, and saw it in daylight, it was AC orange,” he said. “I was just sick. But it darkened up.”
And tucked away in a corner, waiting for a “rainy day”, Dan also has the 29th (of 29 produced) conversion kit made by Delbert Huesinkveld.
His oldest tractor is a 1930 Fordson.
“Anything from the thirties is considered pretty old down here,” he said. “The heavy agricultural development was just slower here.”
He also has a John Deere D, a BF Avery ’47 Model B, and three Allis Chalmers G tractors (one for parts).
Vintage tractors get most of the collector’s attention in the southwest. “They’re easier to find than engines, and it’s easier to get parts,” he said.
Engines that turn up were likely used as pump jacks on ranches. “When the wind didn’t blow, they needed engines to pump water,” he said.
But engines are harder to find.
“A lot went to Mexico, and some are still running there,” he said. “Or they were shot back at Japan in the war.”
The glossy paint jobs – on both tractors and engines – seen in other parts of the country are less common in the southwest.
“We don’t put paint on these things as much, because the sun kills us,” he said. “Even if you cover it with a tarp, the tarps blow in the wind, and that wears off the paint.” The other side of the coin is that, in southern New Mexico, there’s almost no “off season” for restoration work.
“We don’t have the snow that you all do up north,” he said. “We can keep working all winter.” Dan’s been involved with the New Mexico Vintage Iron Show at the Southern New Mexico State Fair since it started. He demonstrates rope braiding there (his great-grandfather was a ropemaker in Germany). He also gets involved with parades and school presentations. And he keeps his eyes open for new additions to his collection.
“I do a little trading, but don’t sell much,” he said. “In this game, nothing’s impossible. You’ll always find something.” FC
For more information: Dan Cook, 4806 Grider Road, Las Cruces, NM 88005; (505) 524-2984.
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