The love of old farm engines was planted in El Juenke's heart when he was a child. 'We had a couple of old Fairbanks-Morse engines on the farm in a shed that I used to go in and play around on,' recalls the 67-year-old truck driver. 'We never used them, but every once in a while dad would start one up, and we always thought that was great fun.
Those childhood memories never faded. In about 1980, when El spotted a throttle-governed 2 1/4 hp Stover engine, he bought it on the spur of the moment. That debut was followed by a Root & VanDervoort 2 hp engine, and then others, like Fairbanks-Morse, IHC and Monitor. Today, he has more than 30 engines in his collection.
As El began displaying some of his early engines, like the Fairbanks-Morse or Monitor, he noticed that most engines shown were horizontals. Not many upright farm engines were being shown. 'I'm kind of a different person,' he laughs, 'and I like to have things that other people don't have many of, and show something that's a little bit different, so I decided to go into the uprights.'
His collection of uprights includes Stover 2, 3 and 4 hp engines, New Ways from 1 to 6 hp, 2 and 3 hp International engines, a 2 hp Fairbanks-Morse Jack of All Trades, and a 2 hp Fairbanks-Morse made to run an electric generator. These Fairbanks electrics are kind of a collector's item, kind of unusual and scarce,' he says. He also has a 6 hp upright Fairbanks-Morse Jack of All Trades, and a very collectible 2 hp Monitor with a short neck.
El says it's difficult to choose a favorite line of uprights, but he probably has the most New Way engines. When a friend sold all of his New Ways, El bought them. 'They are a very dependable engine, well-balanced and well-made,' he says. The only horizontal New Way he has is a two-cylinder 8 hp model. His only other horizontals are a couple of Root & VanDervoort (R&V) 1 hp and 2 hp models, 'and why I have them I really can't tell you, except that the 2 hp was quite similar and reminded me of the second engine I'd ever bought, that 2 hp R&V horizontal that I'd originally sold. After I got into the uprights, I started letting all of my horizontal engines go. Some of them I sold for less than I actually paid for them.'
If pressed, he'd admit the Root & VanDervoort engines are his favorites, 'probably because they are more collectible,' he says. 'You don't see R&V engines at shows as often as you see other brands.' But a close contender is his One Minute engine made by the One Minute Manufacturing Company of Newton, Iowa. 'They are very hard to find, and very desirable and collectible.'
One advantage of attending shows, especially those dedicated to gas engines (like the R&V Reunion of the Antique Tractor and Engine Association in Atkinson, Ill., which El attended in 2003), is discovering new information from other collectors. So El pulled a trailer with five engines to the R&V show. The five he took were all R&Vs: a 2 hp horizontal, and a 2, 3 and two 4 hp uprights.
Early information on El's upright 4 hp Root & Vandervoort Reindeer engine indicated it was manufactured about 1912, because of its distinctive design with the engine, cylinder base and block all cast in one piece. However, at the R&V show El met collectors with similar engines who dated them to 1903. 'They're just guessing,' El says, 'but it probably means this type of engine was manufactured earlier than 1912 or so.' The upright 4 hp R&V Reindeer engine is El's oldest, he figures, because a person rarely sees an engine with a horizontal igniter, as this one has.
El has a couple of New Way engines on semi-permanent loan in the engine shed at the Hastings, Minn., Little Log House Antique Power Show grounds, a two-cylinder horizontal 8 hp New Way, and an upright 6 hp NewWay. He displays them so visitors to the Little Log House shows can see them, but for other reasons as well.
The horizontal 8 hp New Way generally doesn't run well at shows because it's a throttle-governed engine (throttle-governed engines work better under a load). 'If I'm running the horizontal 8 at a show, it takes a lot of adjustments to keep it running well,' El says. 'I have to play with it all the time, so I don't get a chance to sit back and relax and watch people go by, or whatever. Any throttle-governed engine that runs really nice and slow, somebody has done a lot of work on the carburetion system to get it do that, to make sure the butterfly on the carburetor and the throttle shafts are all really tight and don't leak air, and the timing is right.' On the other hand, a hit-and-miss engine is easy to run slow without a load, he notes, because it just coasts until it slows down, then fires and away it goes once more.
El keeps his 1908 upright New Way 6 hp at Hastings, too, because it's top-heavy and difficult to cart from show to show. He knows because he's tried. 'It's easier to move a horizontal engine than an upright,' he says.
This particular engine is about a 1908 vintage, with the old-style mechanical valve exhaust and intake on top of the engine. The majority of later New Ways have the intake on top of the engine while the exhaust valve is operated from the bottom up. 'When I bought that engine, it was supposed to be one of only two known, but shortly thereafter, a couple more came out of the weeds,' he says. 'But they're a scarce item, with not many of them around.' This upright is probably El's rarest New Way engine.
New Way engines come with their own built-in identification problems, because factory records aren't available. For example, El's 4 1/2 hp New Way can be dated only from about 1910-1918, because El knows of no list of serial numbers. He suspects the serial numbers are not consecutive on all New Way engines, but are on individual models.
For El, an engine doesn't belong in his collection unless it's completely restored. 'Some guys will put a coat of paint on it and never start it up and call it restored,' he says, 'but I like to have my engines running well.' He does the majority of the work himself, and if something happens that he can't figure out, or if he needs machine work, he has friends to help him.
Even though each engine is different in its restoration, in general, the most difficult part of engine restoration is getting fuel pumps to work correctly. 'You've got to have the fuel and the spark at the right time,' he says, 'and an upright fuel pump is a little more touchy because you've got a longer way to pump the fuel.' Uprights were designed for use in close quarters, he notes; they didn't take up much floor space.
El does a couple of things many other collectors don't. First, rather than load and reload different engines on the same trailer, he has many of his engines more or less permanently loaded on 18 different trailers. When he's ready to go to a show, all he needs to do is figure out which trailer to hook up, and he's on his way.
Second, because all his engines actually run, he likes to have them working at shows, hooked up to pump jacks or burr mills or corn shellers. 'I have various mills, different-style water pumps and a couple of different varieties of corn shellers,' he says, 'so the machines are always pumping water or grinding or cracking corn or shelling corn. If they're running, they're doing something. I don't see a lot of other collectors doing that right now.'
El gets a variety of comments about his engines at shows. One most-often heard is 'Boy, when I was a kid we had an engine just like that at home running a pump jack.' El suspects the speaker might be talking about a different engine, not only because the ones he shows are very rare, which means they were produced in small numbers, but also because the person often adds, 'but it was a different color.'
'People like to reminisce, but the majority of people probably can't remember what engines they actually had as kids,' he muses, 'other than flywheels that went around and pumped water, mainly.'
El is turning towards smaller engines now, because the big, heavy flywheels on some of his engines are getting too difficult to turn. He will also look for more model engines to add to his collection of four. 'Plus, I'm always looking for something that I've always wanted. It's hard to say what it is until I see it, but I'm looking at smaller engines.'
'I got involved in the antique tractor-pulling circuit about 25 years ago for about 10 years, but it got so competitive that I decided to collect gasoline farm engines where I could sit back and enjoy them,' he says. 'I accumulated more and more engines.'
For El, the best part of collecting farm engines is acquiring one that's not running, and returning it to working order. 'I think that's one of the highs for me,' he says. But the shows are also fun. He enjoys demonstrating his 'toys' and answering questions and talking with different people. 'About all we go to shows for is to educate the public,' he says.
For more information: El Juenke, 22451 Annette Ave., Farmington, MN 55024; (651) 463-7224.
Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and author of several books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact him at Box 372, 400 Caroline Lane, Rockville, MN 56569; (320) 253-5414; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.