Maker of the legendary Cushman "binder" engine featured at Mt. Pleasant show.
Galen Perron has been fascinated by Cushman engines since he was a boy of 9 or 10. Initially, he was like the kid in the candy shop, bedazzled by the variety. “There were so many different models and types,” he says. “And they were on everything, from lawnmowers to scooters.”
Eventually though, it was the line’s innovation that reeled him in. “Cushman was way ahead of their time,” he says. “Their competitors’ engines were much heavier. Cushman used lighter castings. They were innovative in a lot of ways. They were always making changes to the engines to make them better. Like the way the valves were configured: Cushman had them in line with each other. Normally you only see that on really high-price engines.”
Hooked, Galen began building a collection at age 12. His first engine: a 4 hp Cushman Cub. Today, the Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, man’s 50-piece collection is limited to Cushman pieces.
Cushman was the featured engine line at the 2015 Midwest Old Threshers Reunion in Mt. Pleasant. As a hometown boy, Galen was there with a selection of his engines, including a couple of 4 hp Model C engines and a 5 hp Model 1B2. The older of the Model C engines is a rare piece predating 1911. “This one has an embossed head,” he says. “The embossed head engines were only built for about 18 months, from 1909 to 1911.”
The 4 hp vertical Cushman was commonly referred to as a “binder engine.” The engine was equipped with a combination cone clutch and belt pulley, notes C.H. Wendel in American Gasoline Engines Since 1872. “A chain sprocket mounted behind the pulley was intended for operating grain binders, thus the term ‘binder engine,’” Wendel explains.
Galen’s pre-1911 Model C was already restored when he bought it at an auction. He believes it to have been a local engine. “It was probably used on farm equipment like a binder or a potato digger,” he says. “It’ll run at 850 hp.”
The other 4 hp Model C he showed at Mt. Pleasant dates to about 1914. A variation of the older engine, this one is cooled by a radiator. “It’s basically the same,” he says, “but it has a magneto instead of a battery and coil.” When he got the engine, the magneto was missing and the engine was not in running condition.
The Model C Cushman is not typically a rare engine, he says. “You see these all over,” Galen says. “It’s very affordable and very easy to figure out, and that makes it a great starter engine.”
Galen’s 5 hp vertical Cushman Model 1B2 is part of the company’s entry into the Hardie sprayer line. “Supposedly Cushman built about 600 1B2 engines — vertical and horizontal — in the 1930s,” Galen says. “The horizontal model was probably produced first, in about late 1927. The vertical engine was probably built in the early 1930s.”
His 1B2 vertical came from Oregon, where it was likely used in an orchard, paired with its original Hardie sprayer pump.
An 8 hp Model 44 Cushman engine owned by Marvin Overton made a one-of-a-kind display at the Mt. Pleasant Cushman display. At Marvin’s request, Galen and his dad, Keith, and friend Tim Reynolds removed the engine from a line shaft base in an old blacksmith’s shop in July 2015. The engine had not been operated for more than 60 years.
“Marvin occasionally oiled and rotated the engine,” Keith says, “but he never attempted to start and run it.” In the process of bringing the engine back to life, the crew agreed that keeping the Cushman in its original condition and appearance was a top priority.
The Model 44 is thought to have been purchased as a used engine in the 1920s by Marvin’s grandfather Schrepfer to drive the line shaft in his blacksmith shop in Mt. Hamill, Iowa. The engine was used to turn the line shaft with 4- and 5-inch flat belts driving a drill press, saw table, disc sharpener, sickle sharpener and an air compressor. It ran off battery and coil and had a makeshift generator.
“We think the building was built in 1912,” Keith says. “It housed the blacksmith and repair shops in the back, and office and general store in front. Marvin remembers hearing the Cushman engine start and run during the day while he attended grade school a block away.”
The Cushman made its post-restoration debut at the 2015 Mt. Pleasant show, arriving on a slab of the floor it sat on for decades. Basic repairs — just enough to get it running — had been made. Nearby engines gleamed under coats of fresh paint. The old line shaft Cushman, though, was a gnarly survivor. A multitude of primitive but serviceable repairs was apparent. “You have to appreciate the ingenuity of farmer repairs,” Keith says. “This engine has suffered catastrophic failures, including bending of a rod, head replacement and overheating.”
At Mt. Pleasant, though, the Cushman was a pup again. The crew did a spark check; the engine fired and ran for the first time in more than six decades. “Marvin about dropped to his knees and cried,” Keith recalls. “Every time after that, we just pulled the flywheel over the first contact and it kicked to the second and started.”
For more information: Galen Perron, (319) 931-9035; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Leslie McManus is the senior editor of Farm Collector. Contact her at Lmcmanus@ogdenpubs.com.