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

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."