Farm Collector


Economy engine proves economical for gas engine enthusiast

Gary Bahre owns many different gasoline engines, but this bright-red ‘Sparta’ Economy engine manufactured by the Holm’s Machine Co. of Sparta, Mich., is particularly special. The firm was purchased by Sears, Roebuck & Co. in 1912 and then sold to the Hercules Gas Engine Co. of Evansville, Ind. Holms’ assets were delivered by train to Evansville in October 1913, and then sold through Sears outlets. It continued to produce engines right until the relocation, however, and Gary’s 4-hp, Model CX (serial no. 35318) was among the last to roll off the production line in the early fall of 1913 before the big move.

‘I had been looking to buy a large engine for a couple of years,’ he recalls. Gary wanted an obscure engine brand in the 6- to 15-hp range, so his friends pointed him toward an Economy. ‘I found out that the ‘Sparta’ Economy was built in Sparta, Mich., and I live in Sparta, Ill., so it sounded like a good idea – if the price didn’t go too high.’ The price was just right, in fact, and Gary ‘dropped the hammer’ on a ‘Sparta’ Economy, purchased in October 2002 at the American Thresherman Show in Pinckneyville, Ill., for $600.

Restoration followed, beginning with engine research in November 2002. Gary contacted Glenn Karch, author of ‘Sparta’ Economy Gasoline Engines, to learn details about the engine’s exact red color and manufacture date. A trip to a parts supplier secured a set of decals, muffler and some small springs – and then he was ready to begin.

A mild March brought Gary good weather and the impetus to tackle the job. In short order, the entire engine was disassembled into its various components. ‘I tried to save the original paint that was under the mess with no luck,’ he admits. The engine was previously used in commercial paint applications and had splashes of orange, blue, brown and black paint streaked on the top of the original factory-painted red. With hopes of salvaging the old paint gone, Gary used paint stripper and a wire brush to strip all parts down to the bare metal.

The tiresome job proved successful, and he began to reassemble the old engine. Gary removed some of the shims around the main bearings, but kept the old shims for future restorations. ‘You try not to throw parts like that away if you plan on repairing any other engines,’ he advises. The wrist pin needed a little machine work and then a good polish. Gary discovered that the rod bearing was loose in the bearing cap, so he rebuilt it from the backside with JB Weld, and then scraped the bearing to size. ‘The bearings in this engine are cast babbitt, and most parts for the Sparta Economy are hard to find,’ he explains.

Next he sanded and primed the bare metal, which took almost an entire day. Then he painted it red. ‘I had parts hanging everywhere in my garage it seemed,’ Gary says. ‘By the time it was painted, most of a gallon of red was sprayed onto the engine.’ After a week of dry-time, he put the engine back together, adjusting and fine-tuning as he went. Thanks to advice from a collector Gary contacted on the Internet, the engine’s pin striping was applied using a paint pencil, turning out very nicely, he says. When the paint job was complete, engine decals finished the restoration.

The resuscitated engine made its first public appearance at the 4th Annual Purchase Area Antique Tractor Club Show in Mayfield, Ky. Collectors were awed by the superb restoration, he says. Now he plans to show it and other engines in his collection at one engine show a month through October, ‘time permitting,’ Gary adds. See his ‘Sparta’ Economy Model CX engine and others at the annual American Thresherman Association Show in Pinckneyville, Ill., Aug. 14-17, and at the Paducah, Ky., Lone Oak Lions Club Engine show the third weekend in September.

– For more information about Gary Bahre’s ‘Sparta’ Economy, contact him at P.O. Box 40, Sparta, IL 62286; e-mail:

  • Published on Aug 1, 2003
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