Preserving Pump Jacks

An Iowa man has collection of 60 unique pump jacks, including a walking beam pump jack.

| August 2010

  • Kuhlman Pump Jack is Rare
    The Kuhlman pump jack is rare: Owner Don Hahn says he knows of just 11 or 12 others. The unique design makes it a crowd pleaser at shows. "It’s just fun to watch it run," he says.
  • Kuhlman Pump Jack
    The Kuhlman pump jack has no markings or casting numbers. Don Hahn had new shafts put in about four years ago. "It was starting to show some wear," he says.
  • Walking Beam
    This walking beam pump jack, dating to about 1900, tells a little-known chapter of a company later famous for its tractor. Letters at the top of the beam reveal the manufacturer, Waterloo Gasoline Engine Co. The unit is powered by a Beats ’em All gas engine.

  • Kuhlman Pump Jack is Rare
  • Kuhlman Pump Jack
  • Walking Beam

Like football’s defensive line, the lowly pump jack gets little acclaim. But it would be a mistake to overlook the device that kept the water flowing on calm days when windmills became little more than yard art. Teamed with a stationary gas engine, the pump jack kept farms and rural homes in business.

Collector Don Hahn, Keota, Iowa, got interested in pump jacks when he saw one with a John Deere gas engine at an auction. “You don’t see too many engines with pump jacks at shows,” he reasoned. “So I decided I’d collect pump jack engines.”

He’s since gathered up 60 unique pump jack engines – any one of which would have brightened his day as a youth. “We never had a pump jack until I was in high school,” he recalls. Water for livestock was pumped by wind power, and the house had a well – but no gas engine to lighten the load. “It would have been nice if we’d had a milking machine,” he admits. “We had about 10 cows.”

One of his most unusual pump jacks displays particular ingenuity. Henry J. Kuhlman, Colesburg, Iowa, developed the innovative pump jack for a well 200 feet deep. Patented in 1922, the Kuhlman unit works through a novel succession of gears to deliver tremendous lift at 34 strokes per minute.

“Fairbanks-Morse had a little 1 hp Eclipse pump engine with a great big wheel,” Don explains, “and it runs at 800 rpm. For this gear ratio you’d need a wheel much bigger than that.” The Kuhlman gets the same result with a smaller wheel, running off a slower engine. “It only needs power to go up,” Don says. “It doesn’t take any power at all to go down; it’ll drop itself.”

Another unique piece in Don’s collection comes from an Iowa company with a rich heritage: the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Co. The pump jack with walking beam was found nearly buried along a creek. Don dates it to about 1900.


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