Struck by Lightning: The Kansas City Hay Press Co.

Vintage Iron Find of the Month


| April 1999



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Nameplate for one of the smallest Lightning Balanced Engines, manufactured by the Kansas City (Mo.) Hay Press Co., known to exist.

G. Wayne Walker Jr.

The Kansas City (Mo.) Hay Press Co. has built, by far, some of the most interesting engines and equipment manufactured at the turn of the century.

The company got its start in the early 1880s, building hay presses. In about 1901, they got into the gas engine market, with the introduction of the KC Lightning Balanced Gas and Gasoline Engines. From an October 1905 ad in Gas Power Magazine: “Stationary or portable, 4 to 25 horsepower inclusive. Containing many new scientific features. No cylinder head, but two pistons operating simultaneously in opposite directions in one cylinder. Perfect governor ... .”

The 1906 line listed a 4 hp model for $450; 5 hp, $500; 6 hp, $600; 8 hp, $800; 10 hp, $900; 12 hp, $1,000; 15 hp, $1,100; 18 hp, $1,300; and 22 hp, $1,500. For a portable, you'd add an average of $300 to the price.

The three photos of Lightning Engines show some of the different models they built. The factory portable is owned by a Wisconsin collector. It is complete, and in good condition. This model used the frame rails for the base of the engine. The cylinder bolted to one end, and the main bearings and flywheels were at the other end. Even the trucks that this company used are different than those found on other makes of engines. The collector who owns this engine said he has had lots of offers to sell, but is keeping it in his collection.

One of the smallest Lightnings known to exist, No. 253, was sold at auction in Iowa several years ago and is now owned by a collector in North Dakota. It has been displayed at the Crosby, N.D., show for several years. This engine has the original cast brass nameplate, which is in perfect condition. It also has the original Lunkheimer multi-feed oiler and is a very good running engine.

The third Lightning, one of the larger models, is owned by a collector in Michigan. It was photographed running at the Portland, Ind., show a few years ago. Harold Ottaway, Wichita, Kan., the former owner, said he traded for the engine near Richmond, Va., many years ago. A fellow collector had found the engine and told Harold about it. Harold contacted the owner, who had acquired the engine along with a section of land he’d purchased. It had been abandoned on the back 40 along with a small wood thresher. The owner, an IH dealer, said he would like to have one of those old McCormick-Deering Model M engines. Harold restored a 1-1/2 hp M, and traded it for the KC engine.