An Engine for Every Engineer

From 1878 through 1914, Gaar-Scott Offered an Impressive Array of Engines

| Fall 2005

During the early winter of 2005, my fiancée, Revonda, and I paid a visit to Joe Graziana's shop in Wood River, Ill. We came to drop off the governor from my 22 HP Gaar-Scott engine for Joe to repair and in the course of visiting with Joe, I asked if he had a Gaar-Scott parts book. I had been hankering for one for a while, as I figured it could help me in the search for parts for my engines. Joe actually had two of them and was kind enough to sell me one.

Upon opening the parts book and examining the vast number of different styles and sizes of engines offered by Gaar-Scott from 1887, I was absolutely amazed. I have a few of the company's yearly catalogs from the early 1900s, and I knew they built quite a few different engines. As the company stated in its 1912 yearly catalog, “You can not look at the many and varied types of engines shown in this catalog without being impressed by our success in supplying power for the widest range of service and to meet the special conditions of different agricultural regions.” The variety was even wider than I had previously known, and I felt compelled to research and write a summary of the different engines produced by Gaar-Scott from 1887 to the end of the company in 1914.

I began researching earlier engines built by Gaar-Scott by contacting other enthusiasts and museums, and came up with at least some information on Gaar-Scott's earlier traction engines. I later found and bought an older parts book, which listed parts for traction engines dating to 1878. I would like to encourage anyone with additional information on the older engines built by Gaar-Scott to provide this information for readers of Steam Traction.

Early Days

Sometime around 1878, Gaar-Scott began building traction engines, in addition to the company's portable engine and threshing machine production. By studying the patents issued to Gaar-Scott's design team of Horatio Land and Howard Campbell in the early to mid-1880s, one can see the evolution of the traction engines that followed.

On July 6, 1880, patent no. 229,715 was assigned to a spiral steering roll, which helped take slack out of the steering chains. On Feb. 28, 1882, patent no. 254,223 was granted for a continuous rear axle, which wrapped around the underside of the firebox. On May 2, 1882, patent no. 257,444 was assigned for Land and Campbell's design of a water tank with braces that mounted to the sides of the smokebox and that attached to the top of the steam dome. On May 12, 1885, patent no. 317,722 was issued for a spring-mounted platform, which helped take the jarring and shaking out of the operator's platform. In addition to the patents issued to Land and Campbell, in 1881, Gaar-Scott obtained re-issue no. 9,819 of an earlier patent (no. 144,467, issued in 1873), assigned to one Nathan M. Mendenhall, for a strange steering system that employed a system of locking differentials and a tiller-type steering wheel. Unless Gaar-Scott intended to use part of the details of the differential, it is unclear which features of this patent they felt were pertinent to the firm's engine design.

By 1885, Gaar-Scott was building engines in sizes including 8, 10, 12 and 15 HP. Gaar-Scott's 1885 catalog referred to “The Great Atlanta Test Trial of Engines” of December 1881, where apparently the company's traction engine made quite a showing by towing an 11-ton load through several different tests. Within a few years, Gaar-Scott added a friction clutch, which landed Gaar-Scott and several other engine builders in a long, drawn-out court battle. (For more information on the lawsuit, see Robert T. Rhode's “The Mystery of the Lehmer Model,” Iron-Men Album, November/December 2002, “Lehmer Update,” Steam Traction, March/April 2003 and “Update on Isaac Lehmer,” Steam Traction, May/June 2003.) Though a few details, such as the axles under the firebox, were later dropped, in place were most features that for many years characterized Gaar-Scott's first style of engines.