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

  • This 10 hp Kansas City Lightning engine and hay press it once powered have both been restored and are used in occasional show demonstrations by owner/restorer Marv Hedberg.
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • A 1904 ad for the Kansas City Hay Press Lightning line.
    Image courtesy Dennis McGrew
  • Left to right: Lightning engine owners Mike Paich, Ed Laginess, Marv Hedberg and Tommy Turner.
    Photo by Leslie McManus
  • Now part of the Butterfield (Minn.) Steam & Gas Engine Club collection, this 8 hp Kansas City Lightning engine was rescued from a fence row by Ole Lundberg (since deceased).
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • Marv Hedberg set his sights on building a scale model Kansas City Hay Press Lightning engine long before he actually owned a full-sized engine. To build the model, he took measurements from an engine owned by his friend, Morris Blomgren. Shown here: Marv's 1/4-scale model of a 10 hp Kansas City Lightning engine.
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • This 1913 ad shows a Kansas City Lightning press and 6 hp engine.
    Image courtesy Dennis McGrew
  • "These engines truly were balanced in the way they were made," Tommy Turner says. "You could stand a nickel on one while it was running. That was unusual in that day and time." Shown here: Tommy's 6 hp Kansas City Lightning engine.
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • When Mike Paich displayed this 4 hp Kansas City Lightning engine at the Coolspring (Pa.) Power Museum exposition, he met a receptive audience. "I was there with the engine for three 14-hour days," he says.
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • When Ed Laginess got his hands on this 8 hp Kansas City Lightning engine, it hadn't been run in more than 70 years.
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • A banana-shaped flyweight governor bolted to the crankshaft is an unusual feature of Ed's 8 hp Kansas City Lightning engine.
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus

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.