Coloring Outside the Lines

| October 2004

Conventional wisdom says antique engines should look either barn fresh or restored, with paint schemes meticulously matching an engine's original colors. Indeed, dressing an engine up to look like its original condition is the modus operandi for most collectors - but not for Peter Gutoski. This Eugene, Ore., hazelnut farmer is blazing his own artistic trail by adding his own personal pinstriping and paint schemes to a hobby that traditionally frowns upon adding a unique flair to old engines.

'Purists say it isn't the right color and that I should try to paint them more historically accurate,' Peter says without a hint of apology. 'This year at Brooks, one younger guy, probably in his mid-30s, kept coming up and taking a long look at my engines and then walking away in obvious disapproval.'

Reactions like that are common from engine purists, Peter says, but sometimes the warmest responses come from women and children who don't have a traditional view of the perfect engine. They fancy the creativity and bright colors that make Peter's engines stand out among the other traditionally painted engines at antique shows. To some collectors, his engines may appear too ostentatious to truly represent the history of antique power, but a closer look reveals that most, if not all, of Peter's engines are inspired by antique pinstriping motifs.

'Older buildings and machinery used to be a delicate balance between form and function, but now it seems most of the emphasis is on function,' the 63-year-old Nebraska native explains. 'Much of the inspiration for my paint jobs and ornate patterns comes from the pinstriping on old courthouses and carriages, greeting cards and older everyday-use items like coffee grinders.'

Mechanics come first

Not content to be just a one-trick pony, Peter is also the mechanical brains behind his painted-up presentations. In fact, his background is mechanical instead of artistic. Peter says he 'dinked' around with engines beginning at age 15 when he restored a 1/2-hp 1936 Briggs & Stratton engine. He progressed from there to Ford Model As and later even larger engines. His first brightly painted and pinstriped engine was an International Harvester Co. LA in 1966, and in 1969 he painted a 5-hp Hercules. Peter jokes that he wasn't a 'hippie' when he painted these engines with an almost-psychedelic style in the mid-to-late 1960s, and his colorful creations don't have anything to with that culture or style.

He's been a self-taught hazelnut farmer since 1983, working by himself on 145 acres and sidestepping additional equipment costs by crafting as many pieces of farm equipment as possible in his home-built machinery shop. In between time spent on his busy 'filbert' farm (as the edible hazelnut is also known), Peter has applied a lifetime of mechanical knowledge to his colorful experiments by conducting immaculate restorations. In fact, Peter's engines regularly win the slow-run or 'tick-over' contests at the Antique Powerland Museum Assn. 34th Annual Great Oregon Steam-Up show in Brooks, Ore. In 2004, he placed first in the 3, 5-and 6_hp engine categories. His exceptional restorations make it considerably difficult for naysayers to criticize his work.