A Rare and Unusual Engine Collection

An impressive collection started with a 1928 John Deere gas engine.

| April 2015

When it comes to gas engines, if it’s rare and unusual, Morrie Robinson’s radar is up. The Sedro-Woolley, Washington, man has built a collection of very rare and exceptionally unusual engines. And it all started with an old clunker abandoned in a barn.

As a high school student in the 1970s, Morrie bought rural acreage in the community of Day Creek, Skagit County, Washington. When neighbors sold their farm, Morrie discovered a 1928 1-1/2 hp John Deere gas engine tucked away in the back of the barn. Once used to run a milking machine, the engine had not been used for years. Morrie was fascinated by the old relic and the neighbors were happy to find a good home for it. “That was the one that got me started,” he says.

At about the same time, he and a cousin started hunting for engines in the Edmonton area. “Suddenly you are hooked and it becomes a disease,” he says with a laugh. “Somehow the number of engines you have seems to multiply.”

Morrie and his wife, Charlene, joined the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers’ Reunion in Rollag, Minnesota, as lifetime members in 1987. When he mentioned his interest in engines, he was shuttled along to the West Engine Building on the WMSTR grounds. “They asked if I would run the 12 hp 1917 Western winch engine and 1898 National Transit (Klein) engine,” he says. “That was a useful way for me to get to know everybody, too.”

Noteworthy collector

Among the engines Morrie began operating at WMSTR was an 1893 2 hp Crossley-Otto. An exceptionally rare engine, the Crossley-Otto has only one single S-spoke flywheel (measuring 5 feet with a 4-inch face). Its air intake, located on the bottom of the engine, is constructed of baffles rather than valves. Its sideshaft runs on the center of the crankshaft (most are next to a flywheel), the belt pulley is also in the center of its crankshaft, and the crank throw and rod are on the outer end of the crankshaft opposite the flywheel.

Another feature setting the Crossley-Otto apart is its “piano” base. The engine sits on a vertical, one-piece casting that flares out to form a base. “It’s quite a beautiful engine,” Morrie says, “when you see how that base flares out.” That assessment was shared by a collector noteworthy in his own right: Henry Ford. The famed American industrialist added the Crossley-Otto to his personal collection in the 1920s.