A Collection of Kansas Classics

A South Dakota collector prizes old iron from the Sunflower State.

| July 2017

  • In the 1920s, Jensen Bros. began building pumping units in Coffeyville, Kan., just 40 miles from Neodesha, Kan., site of one of the earliest (1892) oil fields in the western U.S.
    Photo by Loretta Sorensen
  • Leon Becker's Ottawa log saw rig has a 5-foot blade. The 1923 model was said to "saw as two men would, only many times faster."
    Photo by Loretta Sorensen
  • Leon Becker.
    Photo by Loretta Sorensen
  • A 4-cycle, 5 hp Ottawa engine powers Leon’s Ottawa log saw. Log saw engines like the Ottawa were typically throttle-governed instead of hit-and-miss, a feature that allowed them to react faster to changing loads on the saw and maintain a constant engine speed.
    Photo by Loretta Sorensen
  • Close-up of the Jensen Bros. pump jack.
    Photo by Loretta Sorensen
  • According to an ad in a 1923 issue of Popular Mechanics, the 1923 Ottawa log saw was considered, “The standard by which all log saws are judged.” It was said to be fast and easy to move, and was capable of making 350 saw cuts per minute. The timing was right for the Kansas company: In 1923, a nationwide coal shortage drove sudden growth in woodcutting-related industries.
    Image courtesy Popular Mechanics

Leon Becker has spent the last 35 years hunting for stationary gas engines at auctions, in junk piles and on leads from friends. Today, the Yankton, S.D., man has a 50-piece collection.

Leon’s interest in hit-and-miss engines dates to the 1-3/4 hp Associated engine his father once used to provide power for a cement mixer. After the engine sat abandoned for many years, Leon asked his father for permission to tinker with it and get it running.

Later, after purchasing and restoring a few other hit-and-miss engines, Leon began collecting Delco light plants. They were less costly and, at the time, he was working in the electric power industry. “I started collecting Delco light plants 32 years ago, when I worked for the Nebraska Public Power District,” he says. “The Delco electric generators were really cheap when I started collecting them. Now it could cost as much as $400 to purchase and restore one.”

Leon has enjoyed hearing the personal remembrances of people he encounters who recall how their family used the light plants. “Some people set them up in their basement or an outside building on the farm,” he says. “It’s always fun to hear those stories.”



Interesting finds for a collector

Two of Leon’s prized pieces – an Ottawa 5 hp throttle-governed engine on a 5-foot log saw, and a Jensen Bros. pump jack – were discovered in rather unlikely locations.

“Lucille and Frank Wysuph ran an appliance store on Main Street in Yankton, South Dakota, for many years,” Leon explains. “Frank, a bit of an engine collector, learned that an Ottawa engine was stored at Yankton’s icehouse.” He was told the 4-cycle, water-cooled engine was once used to saw ice on the Missouri River, just a few steps from the icehouse.