The Rough and Tumble Antique Gas Engine Collection

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Nate Lillibridge's Miller gas engine.
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A Crown Non-Compression engine.
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Two Improved Rider Compression hot air pumping engines.
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Drawing of the Otto & Langen free piston atmospheric gas engine from original documentation.
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New Era 5 hp engine.
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The Otto & Langen free piston atmospheric gas engine is known as the "Lamp Post Engine."
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Nate Lillibridge's 90 HP Three Ball Klein.
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Roger Kriebel's Reid gas engine. 

You can see some pretty unusual antique gas engines at the Rough and Tumble Threshermen’s Reunion, Kinzers, Penn. … and that’s before you even set foot inside the club’s museum.

“We have a pretty good range of engines,” says Rough and Tumble Engineers Historical Association board member Roger Kriebel as he considers the museum’s offering. “And a lot of them are unique.”

Most of the pieces in this antique gas engine collection are the property of individual club members who display a piece or two (or more, in some cases) at the museum.

“It’s a pretty stable collection,” Roger says. “More comes in than goes out.”

The antique gas engine collection includes everything from the Otto-Langen (one of the oldest operating antique gas engines in the world) to several diesel engines, a three-cylinder vertical Fairbanks-Morse, and a 1923 Otto diesel.

“There’s some people who say they come just to see the big engines,” Roger says. “One guy said this was the best-kept secret on the east coast.”

The beginning
The Rough and Tumble antique gas engine collection started in 1967 when A.D. Mast and Clyde Burkholder put their “Three Ball Klein” on display there. Weighing in at 15 tons, the 90 hp engine clearly needed a place where it could put down roots. Originally used by the Buckeye Pipeline Company in southern Ohio, the twin-cylinder engine was produced by the National Transit Shops in Oil City, Penn.

Over the next 30 years, the Rough and Tumble engine collection grew steadily. Today, two buildings house more than 50 gas engines. An elaborate infrastructure has been created to support operation of the engines (Rough and Tumble members put a priority on having machinery in operation at shows). A 1913 6 HP Otto (belted to a Rumsey Triplex pump) pumps the water needed for the engines’ cooling systems, as much as 4,000-5,000 gallons of water per hour. An air compressor built by Bovaird & Seyfang Manufacturing Co., Bradford, Penn., is used to provide starting air for the big engines. A centralized propane gas system runs underground, providing fuel for the engines.

The museum’s most recent major acquisition is a 1913 485 HP Cooper. The Cooper was used to compress natural gas for pumping through a pipeline. The tandem double-acting engine is so large (the flywheel alone is 14 feet in diameter) that one of the museum’s buildings must be reconfigured to accomodate it. As is typical in the club’s undertakings, at least part of that work will be performed by volunteers.

“You can’t imagine how many hours some people have spent working out here,” Roger says. “Some people are just dedicated to it.”

That dedication shows in many ways. Acquisition of the Cooper, for instance, was the result of a 10-year quest.

“We just had to save it,” he says. “It was significant enough.”

Renovation of the Cooper will be a long, slow process. But the Rough and Tumble Museum has plenty to offer in the meantime.

Take the Otto-Langen free piston atmospheric gas engine, for instance. Nikolaus Otto and Eugen Langen introduced their free piston engine at the Paris Exposition of 1867. Dating to about 1869, it’s one of the oldest operating antique gas engines in the world.

Though the free piston engine was more efficient than other engines of the day, it was never produced in the U.S.

The engine is believed to have been brought to the U.S. by John A. Roebling, chief engineer on the East River Bridge in New York City. It came permanently to Rough and Tumble in 1988 from the collection of William Willock, Chestertown, Md.

That’s just one of dozens of engines on display in the museum. You’ll also want to check out some early generators, and a handsome display of carbon arc and gas lights more than 100 years old. And then there’s the other collections: steamers, harvest equipment, gas tractors, models, stationary steam engines and automobiles!

For more information: The museum is open Friday and Saturday from Memorial Day to Labor Day, during shows and special events. Rough and Tumble Engineers Historical Association, 13 miles east of Lancaster on US 30, Kinzers, Penn., (717) 442-4249.

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