Golden Gate Gas Engine

Washington man’s $200,000 bid ensures rare Golden Gate gas engine stays put.

| October 2013

What makes an antique gas engine sell for $200,000? The answer is invariably linked to the piece’s rarity. But for John Merry of Walla Walla, Wash., rarity was only one of the factors involved in his decision to pay tens of thousands of dollars for a very early Golden Gate gas engine at an estate auction in June.

“The fact is, this is a historical treasure for Walla Walla,” he says. “Really, it’s a hidden treasure, because most people don’t understand the history of the internal combustion engine; they think the car came first. This could be Walla Walla’s first internal combustion engine.”

That aside, the Golden Gate — built before 1895 by Adam Schilling & Sons, San Francisco — is an admittedly rare engine. Production numbers are lost to time but fewer than 10 Golden Gates are known to exist today. Factor in unusually advanced design and original paint, and it’s no surprise that the engine drew uncommon interest.

And then there’s the backstory. Two lifelong friends, both avid engine collectors. A rare engine slips through one’s fingers into the other’s hands. A tag-along nephew who grows up chasing engines with his uncle. A nurse’s name badge; an 11th hour financial backer. Who shot J.R.? Who cares?!?

Two friends; one engine

Gilbert Merry, John’s uncle, farmed for years near Walla Walla. A collector with diverse interests, he gathered up antique tractors, engines and motorcycles as well as Indian artifacts, rocks and antique bottles. A self-taught machinist, he was known for his uncanny ability to coax old engines back to life.

“My uncle Gilbert and Ted Small were close friends and early engine collectors in the Walla Walla Valley in the early 1960s,” John recalls. “They collected engines, tractors, whatever they could find.” In the late 1970s, a local family offered an antique engine to Gilbert. Being common, the engine held no particular appeal; Gilbert passed on it.

11/6/2013 11:43:31 PM

Why wasn't this article published in GEM too? The little blurb was disappointing. The magazine didn't have much content to begin with anyway. I apologize for whining.