Challenge Engine Line a Lesser-Known Classic

Challenge gas engines are a highly collectible but lesser-known product from a company best recognized for its windmills.

| January 2008

  • Challengeengine.jpg
     Steve Barr with his 8-10 hp Challenge engine. The engine has a 7-by-11-inch bore and stroke. Steve says the engine is somewhere between an 8 hp and a 10 hp because the bore and stroke are equivalent to those on an 8 hp engine, but the flywheel is what would typically be found on a 10 hp engine. “And the crank is somewhere in between,” he says with a laugh. The engine was built between 1910 and 1915.
  • 11_2hpChallengeType.jpg
    A 1-1/2 hp Challenge Type H owned by Mike and Janet Healy, Fulton, Mo.
  • 2-3hphourglass.jpg
    A 3 hp Challenge gas engine made in 1919, owned by Allan Hasselbusch, Clarence, Iowa. “It’s unique,” he says. “It’s just a well designed engine.”
  • JimandCeciliaNass.jpg
    Jim and Cecilia Nass with “her” 4 hp hourglass Challenge. “We went to an auction and this one was for sale,” Jim recalls. “I thought it was going too high, but she told me to keep bidding.”
  • 2-3hphourglass1.jpg
     A 2-3 hp hourglass Challenge engine made between 1915 and 1920, and owned by Steve Barr, Downers Grove, Ill.
  • A3hpChallengeengine.jpg
    A 3 hp Challenge engine with hoist owned by Doug, Mary, Daniel and Michael Dickey, Batavia, Ill.
  • A5hpChallengeengine.jpg
    A 5 hp Challenge engine and buzz saw owned by Jim Nass, Batavia, Ill.
  • A1hpheadlessChallenge.jpg
    A 1 hp headless Challenge engine owned by Jim Nass Jr.
  • 11_2hpChallengeengine.jpg
    A 1-1/2 hp Challenge engine owned by Kevin and Mary Hembrough, Jacksonville, Ill.

  • Challengeengine.jpg
  • 11_2hpChallengeType.jpg
  • 2-3hphourglass.jpg
  • JimandCeciliaNass.jpg
  • 2-3hphourglass1.jpg
  • A3hpChallengeengine.jpg
  • A5hpChallengeengine.jpg
  • A1hpheadlessChallenge.jpg
  • 11_2hpChallengeengine.jpg

When you're talking farm collectibles, the Challenge name is most familiar in the context of windmills. Founded in 1868 as the Challenge Windmill & Feed Co. in Batavia, Ill., the company was long one of the largest manufacturers of windmills in the U.S., with production continuing into the 1940s.

That proud tradition also extended to gas engines: Challenge began manufacturing gas engines for farm use in about 1900, and was a leader in progressive design. Some Challenge engines (horizontal tank-cooled engines bigger than 6 hp) used a ported exhaust, with exhaust gasses exiting from the side of the cylinder instead of through the cylinder head, and the company introduced the option of Wizard magnetos on larger hourglass models, eliminating the need for batteries. The earliest Challenge engines featured both torch (hot tube) and igniter ignitions.

The Challenge engine's most distinctive feature is its uniquely shaped "hourglass" hopper. By the 1920s, though, the hourglass design had been phased out and replaced by a flattop hopper. Both styles (and a dishpan flywheel model) were seen in the featured engine display at the Midwest Old Threshers Reunion, Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, in late August 2007.

Steve Barr, Downers Grove, Ill., started collecting engines in 1998 with a Nelson Bros. Little Jumbo but soon delved into the Challenge line from nearby Batavia. "Challenge is just a little different," he says. "I do like the hourglass design and the later flattop. There's a lot of variety. The earliest vertical and horizontal designs had the push drive on the opposite side, as opposed to later flattop models, where it was on the standard side."



Steve's smallest Challenge is a 1-1/2 hp gas engine; his biggest is the 8-10 hp hourglass. The big engine is some kind of hybrid. "It has the bore and stroke of an 8 hp engine, and the flywheel from a 10 hp," he says. "And the crank is in between."

Challenge engines are not always easy to find. "Sometimes it rains and pours," Steve says, "and sometimes it's dry." Challenge implements, though, are almost always harder to find than the engines. "Corn shellers and mills you don't find so often," Steve says. "Pump jacks are more common."