Granddad’s Gas Engine Legacy Endures
Dan Holicky with his nicely detailed 1914 Victor engine. Along with his brother and cousin, he learned about stationary gas engines from his grandfather. Photo by Bill Vossler
When it comes to antique gas engines, Dan Holicky doesn’t have to look very far to find a kindred spirit. His brother, Dean, and his cousin, Kevin Kriha, are avid engine enthusiasts. And he got his start in the hobby from his grandfather, the late Bob Riebel, a well-known engine collector.
“As kids and into our teens, in the mid-1990s, we were always at my granddad’s,” he says. “He would go around and purchase engines and show them at the nearby Le Sueur (Minnesota) County Pioneer Power Assn. for years.”
Dan, a trucker from Le Center, Minnesota, stayed involved in the hobby as he grew older. “Kevin and I have a lot of my granddad’s original engines, like Fairbanks-Morse and John Deere. About 10 years ago, I started collecting some of my own stuff. It was all because of my grandpa.”
Dan’s 1914 20hp International Harvester Victor engine. Photo by Nikki Rajala
Learning from an old hand
In those early years, starting when Dan was about 12, the cousins began restoring Maytag engines in their grandfather’s shop. “He collected anything he could get his hands on, so Dean and I would tear down engines, clean them up and get them running,” he recalls. “Maytags were easy to work on, and were a fun engine when I was a kid. I worked there every day of summer break, nonstop, with the Maytags. But when I graduated, I took a few years off and started life in general. Later, I got back into the hobby.”
Dan says he learned basically everything in his granddad’s shop: how engines work, how to rebuild them, set the timing, work on magnetos. He draws the line at highly detailed machining. “I hire that done,” he says.
Even the flywheel is finished in fine form. Photo by Nikki Rajala
As he got older, Dan outgrew the Maytags. ”I moved on to the flywheel engines,” he says, “and there are a lot of them.” Among his favorites is a 1913 4hp Lauson-Lawton, built in De Pere, Wisconsin, and a 1927 10hp McCormick-Deering on its original cart. “It’s hard to find the cart,” he says.
Dan’s first engine purchase was an International Harvester LB 3-5hp. “It was just a common engine,” he says. “I liked everything Grandpa had. When he was growing up on the farm, he had International tractors and machinery, so I got into the IH brand too. As a young kid, I didn’t have a big budget, but the LB engines sold for reasonable prices.”
Paint on the Victor engine looks as though it’s still drying. Photo by Bill Vossler
The 20hp Victor: a big addition
Dan’s largest engine is a 1914 International Harvester Co. 20hp Victor. He found it advertised on a website. “When I saw that one for sale, I decided to purchase it,” he says. “My biggest one before that was a 10hp. I’ve had smaller ones than that, too.”
The Victor was designed for general farm work. It could be used on a sawmill, feed mill or on a corn sheller. “It didn’t have a specific use,” he says. “It would work on about anything that just required pulley power.”
With the added cart, an option from International, the engine could have been pulled out to a threshing machine, used to chop silage, or moved around for various applications. Dan opted to get a correct International cart for the engine as an easy way to move it around. “My engine wasn’t originally mounted on a cart,” he says, “but the cart it has now was designed for that engine.”
The Victor was designed to run very efficiently, Dan says, starting on gasoline but made to run on kerosene or other cheap oil. “It’s a fairly simple engine and easy to run, with no unusual features,” he says.
A half-side view of Dan’s Victor engine. Photo by Bill Vossler
Overcoming half a century of neglect
Because of heavy pitting on the engine’s flywheels, Dan believes the Victor had spent at least half of its life outside. “I would imagine it was left outside after its usefulness was finished, and was bought by a collector in the 1960s or ’70s,” he says. “It probably spent half a century outside.”
The engine was in running condition when he got it, though he did have some machine work done, having the cylinder bored and sleeved, along with new rings. He also had the gas tank and water cooler tank remade. The engine had an older paint job, so he stripped and polished it, applied a powder coating on the cart, worked on the wood and painted everything.
The most difficult part of the restoration was the timing and trying to get the engine to start. “That meant getting the gas adjustments right, setting the valves and making sure the bearings weren’t too tight,” he says. “I’d never personally started an engine that big, and didn’t know what to expect. That was the scariest part for me.”
Before Dan takes engines to shows, he does a complete clean-up. “We clean them out, and take rust off, remove oil, cleaning them up as best as possible to put on a quality display.” Photo by Bill Vossler
So he played it smart, oiling it before belting it to a tractor and letting it roll over for half an hour. “After that, I had to fine-tune everything,” he says.
At first, it took him four hours to get the Victor to fire on its own, and another few days before he could get it started by rolling it over one time. The engine eventually loosened up in a week. “It had to be oiled up properly,” he says, “because it had been dry and not run for several years.”
The tune-up requires listening to the engine as it runs, and knowledge of how other engines of that type are adjusted and set. “I had a good idea how everything had to be adjusted,” he says, “but every engine does have its own personality, especially after it’s been rebuilt.” Today, Dan can turn it over by hand one time and the engine usually fires every time.
Most of Dan’s engines have come from swap meets. “I get a kick out of seeing engines at display shops or flea markets,” he says. “I don’t go looking for engines in barns or places like that.” Shown here: Dan’s Victor 20hp engine. Photo by Bill Vossler
Popular attraction at shows
The Victor is a crowd pleaser at shows. “Most people are impressed by it because it is a large piece, and it runs very well,” he says. “I’m happy with the way it runs. It does make some noise. Some people enjoy watching water going through the cooling tank and water pump, and a lot of people ask what that’s for. I’m very pleased with how people react to it. That was kind of my goal, to get a bigger engine and have people who come to the shows be able to see the history of a big engine like that in action.”
Dan takes a lot of pride in having been able to put the Victor back into condition. “It was a big project with a lot of heavy iron, so you don’t just take the pulley off and paint it,” he says. “You have to move everything around to paint different pieces. It was a very neat undertaking and a fun project.”
The well-restored Victor 20hp engine is a crowd-pleaser at shows. Photo by Nikki Rajala
Bringing in a new generation
In restoration, Dan’s goal is to make the engine look nice and well detailed. “I enjoy making them show quality, a good finished product,” he says. “I try to make them look nice in the end, with correct paint colors.” He also works to make the engine as complete as possible. “That draws the spectators and makes it worth their time to come to these shows,” he says.
But he’s not sure he’ll tackle another project of that magnitude. “It just takes too much time from my family,” he says. “In one sense, it did bring us together because they all helped, cleaning up pieces, organizing parts, helping put bolts in and small stuff like that.”
A display of Dan’s engines showcases the care he puts into restoration and detailing. Photos courtesy Dan Holicky
Dan’s kids have grown interested in stationary engines. “Our son told us he was telling his teachers about the old engines,” he says, “and they didn’t understand what he was talking about.” The kids regularly hang around the shop and watch him work. They also love attending shows throughout the summer, and have even been known to skip school while the entire family takes in a swap meet.
The enduring family connection
A member of the Le Sueur County Pioneer Power Assn., Dan is grateful to live so close to a major show. “I might not be so involved with engines if not for that club,” he says. “That connection means a lot to me. I really appreciate all the hard work they do.”
His hobby always comes back to family. Dan credits his cousin, Kevin Kriha, for his involvement. “He enjoys the hobby, too, maybe in remembrance of our grandfather,” he says. “He was there too when we were kids, working on the Maytags, back in the day. I maybe took up collecting more than he did, but he’s always here to help. He’s my go-to guy.”
Just as it was for his granddad, one of Dan’s greatest joys in the hobby is getting an engine running for the first time. “That was one of the things I remember most about my grandpa,” he says. “He was so pleased to get an engine running. I am too, hearing one run after decades of being silent.” FC
Until Dan got his IHC 20hp Victor, this 10hp McCormick-Deering engine was his largest. Photo courtesy Dan Holicky
For more information: Dan Holicky, 21357 360th St., Le Center, MN 56057; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; phone: (507) 317-2170.
Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and author of several books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact him at Box 372, 400 Caroline Ln., Rockville, MN 56369; email: email@example.com.
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