Rare Witte Engine Saved from A Salvage Yard

Before and After: Rare Witte Engine, circa-1915, was rescued from a salvage yard in Oklahoma.

| August 1998

In its prime, this circa-1915 Witte 30 hp “sideshaft” portable gas engine was used to power a thresher.

But by the time Harold Ottaway, Wichita, Kan., got hold of it, the engine had fallen on hard times indeed.

The engine had spent much of its life on a small farm in southwestern Oklahoma. The owner, though, wouldn’t part with it. A friend of Harold’s kept an eye on the engine as he passed through that area each year. In 1961, the call came: The owner had died, and the engine had been sold to a salvage yard, where it was being scrapped. Harold immediately contacted Harold Jones, owner of the Duncan, Okla., salvage yard. His source was right: Jones said that the engine had been cut up, and much of it had already been loaded onto a rail car. But Ottaway could have what was there, for 3 cents a pound (about $180). The vintage engine was in sorry shape.

The engine’s steel parts had already been removed from the cast iron: the portable truck wheels, crankshaft, sideshaft and connecting rod had all been torched off and shipped out. The brass had been stripped off and was long gone. To most, it looked like an uphill battle. Even Harold’s brother – an accomplished machinist and welder – scowled at the prospect of restoration. “I don’t know why he’s messing with that,” he said. “He’ll never put it together anyway.”

That was all the challenge Jerry Abplanalp needed. Harold had asked Jerry, owner of Jerry’s Welding and Machine, Wichita, for his help in rebuilding the Witte.

“It did look kind of impossible when we first looked at it,” Jerry said. “It had been laying out in the open for a while, and it was half in pieces.