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Preserving Antique Gas Engines: A Family Affair

Author Photo
By James N. Boblenz

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Wayne's 7 hp Reeves Bros. vertical engine was made in Columbus, Ohio.
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Wayne Hawkins' 5 hp Scott-Ewing vertical gas engine. The engine was built in Bluffton, Ohio.
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The ADCO engine's rod and gear lever for rotating its "core" valve.
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Wayne's 8 hp ADCO gas engine. Built in Columbus, Ohio, the engine uses a "core" valve for air intake and exhaust.
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David Hawkins' 35 hp Columbus. Built by the Columbus Machine Co., Columbus, Ohio, the engine may be the last surviving large engine of its line.
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David hawkins' 25 hp Foos gas engine. Built in Springfield, Ohio, the engine was in California when David found it.
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David Hawkins with two of his large engines. Note the difference in width of the flywheels of the 35 hp Columbus (left) and the 25 hp Foos.

Preservation of vintage farm equipment is often a family affair, especially in the Hawkins family. Both Wayne Hawkins and his son, David, collect, restore and exhibit antique gas engines. Wayne started his collection when he bought his first gas engine in 1961. He no longer has that 1-1/2 hp Stover, but he fondly remembers taking it to shows and visiting with other collectors.

After a few years of collecting and restoring, Wayne decided to concentrate on Ohio-built engines. He further limited his collection to the smaller engines, those from 1 to 15 hp. David, on the other hand, decided to collect the bigger engines, those rated 25 hp and larger.

By invitation only

Wayne is retired from a career as a maintenance man at the Kaiser Aluminum plant in Heath, Ohio; David is a retired trucker. Several years ago, David purchased a small acreage where he erected a shop where he could work on his engines. Fortunately, he built it big enough to display many of the engines he and his dad had collected.

A number of years ago they started an invitational show at David’s shop. Friends and serious collectors were invited to bring their best displays. The group spends three days running and comparing engines, helping each other find parts for their prized possessions and talking about old iron. On Saturday evening, a big dinner gives them a chance to gather with friends who share their passion for gas engines and compare notes on their hobby.

This year, we were invited to the show too. As we drove to the show site, we were surprised that there was no big sign along the road directing us to the show or even announcing the show.

Instead, we saw a small wood sign simply listing the house number. We turned in the driveway and saw a house way down a long, curved lane. There was no sign of great activity. However, as we drove down the lane toward the house and rounded the curve, we saw a large building and a group of men standing around, talking. Canopies were set up with gas engines underneath; the adjacent field was full of trucks (some with campers) and trailers loaded with gas engines. We knew we had arrived at the right place.

In the past, Wayne set up and exhibited at six to 10 shows a year, but he says gas prices and time have forced him to cut back. He set up displays at six shows this year. His favorites include the Coolspring (Pa.) Power Museum show, the Greenville, Ohio, show, and the Tri-State Gas Engine & Tractor Assn. show in Portland, Ind. (He’s missed only two Portland shows in 40 years.) The shows don’t change much from year to year, he says, but more people exhibit now than when he first started. “And many more people come to see the gas engines now,” he says, “because somebody always has one running.”

Hired hand of the farm

Wayne likes the sound of hit-and-miss engines and the simplicity of their design.

Considered the “hired hands” of days gone by, engines simplified operation of fanning mills, corn shellers, corn grinders and other small devices. They could be belted to a pump jack to pump water, and after a few years of engineering perfection they were a reliable, efficient power source on the farm. But they were heavy, too; a 2 hp engine could weigh as much as 2,000 pounds. Consequently, they were not very mobile. Most farmers built a small “wagon” upon which they placed the gas engine so it could be moved from place to place.

Numerous manufacturers produced gas engines, and competition for customers was fierce. One ad for Root & Vandervoort Engineering Co., East Moline, Ill., shows a small engine belted to a cream separator: “No more back-breaking work,” the ad reads. “Here’s the engine you want for those many back-breaking jobs on the farm, in the home and in the shop. You’ll find it just about the handy dandiest thing you ever bought because it fits in and relieves both you and the women-folk of so much hard work doing those many tedious, tiresome jobs in a jiffy. It is simply fun to hitch to a pump, cream separator, grindstone, washing machine, corn sheller, fanning mill, wood saw, etc., then sit by and see it ‘eat up the work.'”

Gas engines were offered with either a vertical cylinder or horizontal cylinder, and could be cooled by air or water. Although the vertical engine was more compact, the horizontal cylinder engine became more popular. Some say this is because it had a more efficient method of cylinder lubrication, which resulted in a longer life. Air-cooling avoided the problem of water freezing in cold weather, but it was practical only on small engines. When crisp, fall days approached, it was time to drain water from the engine after every use.

The hit-and-miss system of governing means the absence of one or more explosions when the engine’s speed exceeds a certain point. A governor held the speed of the engine regular and allowed successive explosions only when the engine load required them. Thus, the engine fired irregularly under a light load and became regular under full load.

Display marked by variety

David showed a rare 25 hp Foos engine made in Springfield, Ohio, by Foos Gas Engine Co. A “special electric” model, it has extra wide flywheels. The engine was originally used in California. David purchased the engine during a period of time when he lived in the West; he moved it back to Ohio when he retired.

Wayne displayed an ADCO engine in its final state of repair. Built by ADCO Mfg. Co., Columbus, Ohio, the 8 hp engine was originally used with an ADCO baler. The baler is long since gone, but the durable engine remains. Wayne has all the parts, has made new connecting rod bearings and is ready to assemble the unit. This particular engine uses a “core” valve instead of the more common poppet valve. It also uses a rod-and-tooth “paddle” to ratchet and a pawl to rotate the core 90 degrees to open and close the exhaust and air intake. A valve in the center of the core opens to release gases during the non-power stroke.

John Burns, New Carlyle, Ohio, displayed a 1/4-scale operational model of a 10 hp Bessemer gas engine. The hot tube ignition gas engine is a model of one built by Bessemer Gas Engine Co., Bessemer, Pa. John has his own machine shop where he does his own work. He says he took lots of photos and measurements before he started the project. He completed the engine in the 1990s and has shown it often since.

Wayne’s pride and joy is a Star gas engine made in New Lexington, Ohio; it is the only Star he knows of. It is assembled and on display but is not yet complete: The engine is missing its crank, flywheel and mainframe (including the crankshaft). When he bought the engine, Wayne got a basket case, completely disassembled. The seller had bought it in that condition from a man who may have been from Marion, Ohio; the pieces were mixed up in a pile of other disassembled engines. That man thought had gathered up all the parts, but when reassembly got underway, he realized he did not have a complete engine. When it comes to old iron, patience is an essential quality. Wayne has been searching for the parts needed to complete his project for more than 15 years. FC

For more information: Wayne Hawkins, P.O. Box 148, Thurston, OH 43157; (740) 404-8292.

James N. Boblenz grew up on a farm near New Bloomington, Ohio. He now lives in Marion, Ohio, and is interested in vintage farm equipment, particularly rare and lesser-known tractors and related items. Email him at jboblenz@aol.com.

Published on Dec 20, 2011

Farm Collector Magazine

Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment