CASTAWAY


| November 2003



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Cast-iron flywheel and PTO pulley

Nestled in the middle of the Susquehanna River south of Harrisburg, Pa., Hill Island is only accessible by boat. The folks who live there prefer it that way. A few roads and vehicles are now scattered across the island where electricity wasn't available until the mid-1960s. Prior to electrification, stationary engines and gasoline-powered appliances performed essential tasks on Hill Island. From mowing grass, pumping water to washing clothes, internal-combustion engines pulled their weight on the island.

Many of those power units were retired to the proverbial back shed when electricity finally reached the island, while others were sold or scrapped. Luckily, more than 70 engines were discovered in a shed in the late 1990s by an island resident who at the time was a machinist for the Bethlehem Steel Co.

The machinist told co-worker Dave Bush of Dillsburg, Pa., about the newfound engines on the island and initially offered them all as a gift to him. Dave, who prefers antique tractors, declined the offer. 'I had no idea what to do with that many engines,' he admits. Within a couple weeks, the machinist scrapped all the engines except one, which he placed in the bed of Dave's pickup truck. 'I really didn't know if I wanted the engine, but it was unusual, so I bought it because I couldn't just accept it as a gift,' Dave recalls.

He identified the engine as a Briggs & Stratton FE series, but the old engine wasn't like any other Dave had seen. The engine sports a large cast-iron fuel tank base, larger than on most FE engines. A brass priming cup is plumbed into the intake port of the head - another unusual feature. The engine isn't an orphan like many odd, turn-of-the-century engines because the parent company still exists. Yet, it's a model unlike anything the old-iron collector had seen - and it can't be traced to any known Briggs & Stratton product line.

When Dave brought it home to Dillsburg, the engine wasn't stuck, but it had no compression. He oiled the motor and put it on a shelf where it sat for a year. 'I brought it home, but really I had other projects going, so I forgot about it,' he remembers. In July 2001, Dave noticed that the Gratz Area Antique Machinery Association show in Gratz, Pa., was featuring Briggs & Stratton engines.

'That was all of the motivation that I needed to take a closer look at that unusual engine,' he says.