Accidental Hobbyist Acquires Antique Gas Engine Collection

David Harder’s antique gas engine collection evolved by chance.

| November 2012

  • David Harder
    David with his 1926 Fairbanks-Morse 15 hp Model Z. The engine’s over-sized flywheel is about a foot larger in diameter than the usual 44 inches. David is also very involved with the Butterfield Steam & Gas Engine Show’s Power House, which features stationary steam engines. 
    Photo By Bill Vossler
  • 1926 Fairbanks-Morse Model Z
    David Harder’s 1926 Fairbanks-Morse Model Z, belted to the 125-volt DC generator it was long used with. 
    Photo By Bill Vossler
  • 1926 Fairbanks
    David’s 1926 Fairbanks-Morse Model Z engine. 
    Photo By Bill Vossler
  • David Harder's Hercules 3 HP Engine
    This 1923 Hercules 3 hp engine was found burned beyond recognition in a California pasture. Now restored, it is used to power ice cream freezers at the Butterfield (Minn.) Steam & Gas Engine Show. The engine was manufactured by Hercules Gas Engine Co., Evansville, Ind. 
    Photo Courtesy David Harder
  • Oilers
    Oilers on David’s Kansas City Lightning engine. 
    Photo By Bill Vossler
  • Ice Cream
    This sign at the Butterfield show invites show visitors to write “ice cream” in their native tongue. The muffler on the Hercules engine was replaced with a quieter one from a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. The stand came from David’s grandmother’s New Home sewing machine. 
    Photo Courtesy David Harder
  • Flywheels
    The Kansas City Lightning’s cylinder, governor, fuel pump and mixer.
    Photo By Bill Vossler
  • Lister Model N
    David’s 1914 7 hp Lister Model N was once used by a well driller in western Canada. 
    Photo By Bill Vossler
  • 1913 9 HP Waterloo Boy
    David’s 1913 9 hp Waterloo Boy uses a Webster magneto.
    Photo By Bill Vossler
  • Waterloo Boy Engine
    David’s 1913 9 hp Waterloo Boy engine was in fine condition when he found it.
    Photo By Bill Vossler

  • David Harder
  • 1926 Fairbanks-Morse Model Z
  • 1926 Fairbanks
  • David Harder's Hercules 3 HP Engine
  • Oilers
  • Ice Cream
  • Flywheels
  • Lister Model N
  • 1913 9 HP Waterloo Boy
  • Waterloo Boy Engine

David Harder credits a buddy for his love of farm antique gas engines. “We were on a motorcycle trip when we passed a place in southern Manitoba that had a lot of engines just standing there,” he recalls. “We stopped in and each of us ended up buying McCormick-Deering 3 hp engines.”

A few weeks later, the friends returned with a pickup to retrieve the engines. At the time, David — who lives in Butterfield, Minn. — wasn’t especially interested in antique gas engines. Although he’d grown up on a Minnesota farm, he’d had no exposure to the old hit-and-miss engines. “So I’m not sure why I got interested in engines,” he says with a laugh. “Mostly because of the mechanical part, I guess. I’ve always been interested in mechanical things. When something is broken, I like to fix it so it will work again.”

That first McCormick-Deering gave him plenty of opportunity to tinker. The old engine was stuck and needed a lot of work. David took it apart, got it running and gave it a cosmetic restoration — and he was hooked.

Chance pasture find

While visiting California in 1981, David took a walk into the hills near San Bernardino. In a pasture there, he spotted an unfamiliar antique gas engine. “A fire had gone through the area,” he says, “and the paint was burned off the engine, which was lying on its side. Obviously nobody wanted it.”



He went to the nearest house and asked the homeowner about the old relic. Abandoned for years, the engine had long been used to pump water for cattle. “The homeowner said that small amounts of gasoline and oil would be put in and the engine was started and left unattended,” David says. “By the time the fuel ran out, the stock tank was full. Later, a bulldozer hit the engine, apparently breaking its flywheel.”

David made an offer of $50 for the engine. “The man scratched his head and said the guys from a local engine club had offered him more than that,” David recalls. “About that time, his wife, who was standing behind the screen door where I hadn’t noticed her, said, ‘You better take that. One night that engine could be gone and you’ll be left with nothing.’”