1897 Weber Gas Engine Beats the Odds

Jordan Meeker shows off his rare 1897 Weber gas engine at the Great Oregon Steam-Up at Antique Powerland in Brooks, Ore.

| May 2012

Jordan Meeker’s 1897 5 hp Weber pushrod engine made its U.S. debut in July 2011 at the Great Oregon Steam-Up at Antique Powerland, Brooks, Ore. Manufactured by Weber Gas Engine Co., Kansas City, Mo., Weber was the featured engine line at the display put on by Branch 15, Early Day Gas Engine & Tractor Assn., at Brooks. Jordan’s was one of many fine engines seen there.

Jordan found the complete engine partially buried at the site of a mining camp at about 6,000 feet elevation in the Kootenay region. “The camp burned down and they never reopened it,” he says. “The engine was abandoned no later than 1904.” A relic of an 1890s silver boom, the engine was likely used to pump water or run a blower used to get fresh air into a mine.

Jordan and a friend dug out the engine, disassembled it and hand-transported the pieces to an old logging road about one-quarter mile away. As backcountry retrievals go, the 2,200-pound Weber gas engine (with 428-pound flywheels) was a particular challenge. “It was heavy and unruly,” he says. “We had to work bloody hard.”

But it was well worth it. One of three of that model known to exist and found in relatively good condition, Jordan’s engine is the only one that runs. “The Weber is kind of simple, really,” he says. “It’s a big, beautiful pushrod engine but what makes it interesting is that it’s a very early engine by a big manufacturer and not many survived. Weber rivaled Fairbanks-Morse in the early days. They built a lot of engines, but for some reason they have a low survival rate.”

Reflecting technology of the day, the engine’s only form of ignition was hot tube. “It’s a very early mentality, governed on the intake valve,” Jordan says. “It has a fully enclosed cam gear and nobody did that back then. It’s very crude, very heavy — overdone really, but it runs well.”

The Weber is a rare engine, no question. But for Jordan, it’s a very solid link to the past. “This engine was built about 20 years after Custer was killed,” he marvels. “It’s all about history for me; I’ve always been interested in old things. Finding an early engine is a highlight; to bring an engine back to life, that’s even better.” FC