Old Iron Heritage

Minnesota man uses old iron to bring the past to life.

| November 2014

Ray Smith has a clear understanding of antique gas engines. He knows what makes them run, he knows how to get parts made and he knows how to coax them back to life. He also knows how much the antiquated relics mean to an old timer.

And that’s what prompted him to load up a pair of engines he’d just restored and pay a social call on an elderly friend. But before he went to the door, he unloaded the engines onto his friend’s driveway and started them. Then he rang the doorbell and helped his friend out to the driveway, where the other man could see and hear engines that had once been his, running again.

“He was getting up in years, and wasn’t able to get around too much,” Ray says. “So he really appreciated what I’d done.”

A Harley as a starter project

Ray, who lives in Nicollet, Minnesota, has been around old iron much of his life. His uncle used an International Harvester Model M to pump water and his dad had an IH LA on an elevator.

But his first restoration project was a battered and burned Harley-Davidson motorcycle. At 15, Ray spotted the frame of a Harley leaning against a corncrib. The motorcycle — a 1935 Harley-Davidson 74 — had caught on fire and burned, but it looked like a prospect to Ray, who bought it and took it home.

When he began working on the Harley, all he had available was a 1912 Harley-Davidson single-cylinder engine. But it didn’t have enough power, so Ray gave the motorcycle’s original engine a second look. “The fire had melted the solder out of the gas tank,” he says, “but it didn’t destroy the engine, so I put that in.”