Kansas City Lightning Engines Light Up Portland Show

Display of five Kansas City Lightning engines at the Tri-State Gas Engine & Tractor Assn. show offers rare opportunity.

| March 2017

If you stumble onto a Kansas City Lightning engine at a show, you’ve found something unusual. Collectors are aware of just nine surviving engines. To discover a display of five at one show is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Acting on little more than a whim, four collectors and one club made that happen in August at the Tri-State Gas Engine & Tractor Assn. show in Portland, Indiana. “We thought it’d be interesting to get them all together,” says Marv Hedberg, Rush City, Minnesota. “That way people could see their differences and similarities.”

On many engine lines, such an exercise might generate little excitement. But the Kansas City Lightning line is in a class by itself. Unique design – the hallmark of the Kansas City line – is showcased in each of the engines displayed.

The Lightning balanced engine

The Kansas City Lightning line of gas engines was produced by Kansas City Hay Press Co., Kansas City, Mo., beginning in about 1900. The line’s single-cylinder, opposed two-piston mechanism – pistons in a common cylinder move toward each other, creating a common combustion chamber – contributes to uncommonly smooth, balanced engine operation.

Kansas City Lightning engines were among the few to employ steam cooling, notes C.H. Wendel in American Gasoline Engines Since 1872. “A steam-tight water jacket was arranged so that steam generated within was carried to the engine intake and aspirated with the air-fuel mixture,” Wendel says. “The steam vapor promoted a cooling effect, retarded preignition and served to keep the cylinder free of carbon.”

Another unique feature? The Lightning engine was gearless. “A three-sided lobe, acted upon by a timed pick, spins,” explains Editor Richard Backus in a 2004 article in Gas Engine Magazine. “When a lobe is up, the exhaust pushrod actuates the exhaust valve, and when the mechanism is flat, the pushrod misses its mark. On the portable engines, the belt-driven flyball governor latches the timing mechanism so a lobe is up to lock the exhaust valve open during overrun. This action simultaneously locks out the igniter.” On stationary engines, a pendulum governor is used.