Leon Cox loved old iron. The North Carolina engine collector showed his spit-shined engines for decades at the Southeast Old Threshers Reunion held at the Denton Farm Park, Denton, N.C., each year since 1970. Sadly, Leon passed away October 2002 at 69 years old, but he certainly hasn't been forgotten.
In fact, Leon's memory lives on at the well-known farm equipment show thanks to fellow old-iron aficionado, Jimmy Yow, who proudly displayed Leon's favorite 1911 Novo stationary gasoline engine as a memorial to his friend at the 33rd reunion during the Fourth of July weekend 2003.
'He can't be here,' Jimmy explains as he sits near the Novo while it steadily pumps water as effectively as the day it was built. 'But at least a part of him can be.'
The 4-hp engine, which Leon bought and restored years ago, was originally used by farmers in North Carolina, Jimmy says. Leon always showed the slick, black engine at the reunion. When he died, Jimmy bought the engine and continued the annual tradition.
Jimmy's no stranger to the world of vintage gas engines. The 51-year-old collector owns a I NAPA auto parts store, j was the president of the I Antique Exposure Farm \ Equipment Collector's Club based in Asheboro, N.C., and has collected International Harvester engines as well as sausage stuffers for more than a decade. That's why he takes special delight in taking care of the engine Leon loved.
The Novo's striking paint job - red pinstripes highlight the black iron - as well as its unique sound when pumping water with an attached Barnes-made Hercules 225-psi water pump, attracted curious onlookers like a magnet as they filed past Jimmy's display. Or perhaps it was the simple wooden sign erected near the engine that carries Leon's name. Regardless, the beautifully restored engine turned heads, which made Jimmy proud because, he says, Leon would've loved the attention.
The engine maker's history is as interesting as the engine's pedigree. It was built in 1911, Jimmy says, although the engine's serial number, 83782, suggests it could've been produced a decade later. Nevertheless, the Novo Engine Co., Lansing, Mich., began building similar engines in 1911 when Hildreth Mfg. Co. first organized the firm.
According to a November-December 1983 Gas Engine Magazine article written by Phil Goetz, who worked at the Novo Engine Co. for 28 years, Hildreth Mfg. Co. began as the Cady & North Co. in 1890 and was based in a small repair shop in North Lansing. The company first produced picket sawmills, and then introduced a line of two-cycle, horizontal marine engines and small farm pumps along with a new company name, Hildreth & Son Co.
In 1906, the company's name changed to Hildreth Mfg. Co., and the business moved into a larger building once occupied by the Shultz Stave Mill in Lansing. The firm continued to build two-cycle and marine engines until 1908, when the Type S engine was introduced, the forerunner of the engine that Jimmy owns.
The first Type S was a vertical, four-cycle engine that was hopper-cooled and produced 2-2 1/2 hp. The small engine was designed and marketed to power cement and mortar mixers. Ned E. Hildreth designed the engine, as shown from an April 1904 patent. By 1910, the factory that began as a humble repair shop employed 25 men and produced 6 tons of equipment per day.
The company introduced larger, two-cycle engines by 1909, and added sprayer outfits and hoists to its industrial equipment line after 1910. The Novo moniker was emblazoned on the company's engines by 1911, which was derived from the Latin 'novus' or new. The company's slogan for the machines was 'No tank, no fan, no freezing.' Despite the company's claim, noted engine expert C.H. Wendel points out that the majority of Novo engines that still exist bear cracked water jackets as evidence that winter's icy grip definitely affected the Novo-built engines
Besides stationary farm engines, Novo also marketed pressure pumps, saw rigs, centrifugal pumps, deep well pumps, small air compressors and other devices that were sold with its 10 engine models by 1914, ranging from 1 1/2 to 15 hp.
Although the company sold many products through the years, the Type S engine was its mainstay. More than 100,000 were produced from 1908 to 1928, although Goetz claims the company essentially discontinued the design in 1921 when multi-cylinder engines became popular for farm and industrial power plants.
Although farm engine production essentially ceased after World War II when material shortages plagued America's heavy industries, the Novo name survives to this day as a subsidiary of American Marsh Pumps Inc., of Lansing.
Even though Jimmy's fascinated by the Novo engine's history, that's not why he continues to show the engine year after year at the Southeast Reunion. 'I love this place,' Jimmy says about the show itself, which is attended by more than 50,000 visitors each year. As long as the show is held, Jimmy declares, he'll be there with Leon's beloved Novo engine -keeping his memory alive with every turn of the flywheel. FC
Novo at a glance
1911 Novo Type S engine produced by the Novo Engine Co., Lansing, Mich.
Serial No. 83782
More than 100,000 produced between 1908-1928