History of The Aultman Co.'s Under-mounted Engine is Still Being Written Despite Obscurity and Failure
Sometimes, owning a particular engine prompts a collector to delve deeper into the history of a particular manufacturer. With nearly 50 engines having come and gone over the years, I've learned a lot about many different companies, but sometimes the information I received was incomplete.
Before I got my under-mounted Star from Bob Lefever, Lancaster, Pa., I thought all under-mounted Stars were 22 HP, but I soon would have reason to doubt that. When I acquired my engine, I pulled the cylinder heads off to inspect the cylinders.
I had two Aultman catalogs at the time: A 1904 Aultman Co. special catalog introducing the under-mounted engines and a 1906 Aultman Engine & Thresher Co. catalog. For no real reason, I had ignored the 1904 catalog and used the 1906 catalog for reference. I had been told (it was even in Jack Norbeck's Encyclopedia of American Steam Traction Engines) that my engine was 22 HP, which I had no reason to question. Using my 1906 catalog as reference for specifications, I set my micrometer to 7-1/8-inch to check the cylinder bores, but the gauge wouldn't fit into the cylinders. Assuming I had made a mistake or miscalculation, I checked the catalog and the gauge again, and it still didn't fit the bores measured 7 inches even.
Confused by this, I checked the engine's other dimensions against the 1906 catalog and found that nothing matched, not even the size of the boiler tubes. I began to wonder, 'What is this engine?' Then I remembered the 1904 catalog. I dug it out of my files, and sure enough, every dimension of my engine matched the specifications listed. My 22 HP engine was suddenly a 20 HP engine.
A letter issued with The Aultman Engine & Thresher Co. 1906 catalog by the Chicago branch house. The Aultman Engine & Thresher Co. was formed to liquidate the assets of The Aultman Co. following its bankruptcy in 1904.
That made my engine older than I thought, as the 20 HP engines preceded the 22 HP engines in Aultman's advertising. I knew that L.E. Mazilly, Starks, La., once owned an under-mounted Aultman with a lower serial number than mine, so I dug out an old photo of Mazilly's engine. On the back, Mazilly had written, '22 HP, 7-inch-by-10-inch bore and stroke,' along with serial no. 6766. I try to avoid assumptions, but I had to conclude that Mazilly's information was as limited as mine. If his engine really had a 7-inch-by-10-inch bore and stroke, and considering its earlier serial number, then it must also be a 20 HP I have not seen that engine or measured it, so I will say at this point it is 'probably' a 20 HP engine.
Although many dimensions are different, the 20 HP and 22 HP engines are similar in size and look very much alike. Further, they are considerably larger and differently proportioned than the 16 HP Double Star shown in the January/February 2003 issue of Steam Traction. The 20 and 22 HP engines are so tall that Dan Gregor, Dayton, Ohio, has shortened the stack on his 22 HP engine so it is not over height on a lowboy trailer.
Many of us can readily spot the differences in sizes of engines built by companies with which we're familiar. With over 40 years of owning, working on and learning about many different engines, one look at the engine featured in Steam Traction told me it was smaller than mine. Further, certain engine features shown in Steam Traction such as the size of the two-speed idler gear behind the crankshaft definitely confirm it as a 16 HP engine. The idler gears on the larger engines are actually smaller than on the 16s.
The under-mounted Double Star that appeared in the January/February 2003 issue of Steam Traction. Alan New contends this is a 16 HP engine. (Photo courtesy of John Spalding)
A postcard view of an Aultman under-mount pulling a plow built by the Lowell Steam Plow Co. of Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo courtesy of Robert T. Rhode)
For most Aultman engines, determining when they were built, in what sizes and under what corporate name generally is not difficult. The double under-mounts, however, present a problem as they were designed, engineered and built in the final days of a dying company.
Compounding the problem, it's unclear whether Aultman's engine serial numbers were consecutive. Russell & Co., which resided in the same county in Ohio, consecutively numbered all its equipment. A number of separators, several hay presses and a tractor might have been finished between two traction engines produced the same afternoon, so two consecutive engines could be a dozen or more numbers apart.
If this were the case with Aultman as well, there is no way to tell how many engines of any kind were built. Consecutively numbered engines would have included top-mounted Stars and Moguls, which were being built at the same time and in greater quantities. Given that only a few are known to exist, the number must have been small.
Judging by the three known remaining engines, it seems as if every one of the surviving under-mounted Aultman engines was more or less a prototype.
The lowest-numbered surviving engine, the former Mazilly engine, has three rows of spokes in the rear wheels, a single flywheel on the right side and long side braces running from the frame to the sides of the smokebox. My engine, only a few numbers newer, has the apparently standard two rows of rear wheel spokes and no braces on the smokebox, but the crankshaft is extended on the left side and has a second flywheel. Dan Gregor's somewhat-later engine also has two sets of drive-wheel spokes, but also differs by sporting a single flywheel and short braces angling to the lower smokebox. The 16 HP engine featured in Steam Traction also has the short smokebox braces, yet no catalog or advertising pictures I have seen show these smokebox braces. The Aultman under-mounted engine was clearly far from perfected. The smokebox bracing on some but not all of the engines indicates possible boiler support problems, and my engine has suffered problems with the stability of the front gooseneck. Flexing of the frame under heavy load, which throws the engine cylinders out of alignment, is also a real problem. Dan Gregor runs his engine with the main bearing caps slightly loose to prevent crankshaft binding when under load. The crankshaft in my engine has been broken and welded back together several times apparently due to flexing of the frame and is currently undergoing major repair.
This advertisement for an under-mounted Avery appeared in the November 1904 issue of Threshermen's Review.
By late May 1905, The Aultman Co. no longer existed. Aultman Engine & Thresher Co. was formed to sell off The Aultman Co. assets, which included assembling what engines it could out of parts stocks but not to build new engines. When Aultman failed in 1904, it had a new engine design, a design no other company could build because Aultman held the patents. But as soon as Aultman failed, that changed.
The Avery Co., Peoria, Ill., advertised a new under-mounted traction engine as early as November 1904, less than two months after Aultman declared bankruptcy. The depicted engine, though definitely of Avery design, lacked some features of later under-mounted Averys and showed a slight hint of its Aultman origins. This may have been a prototype engine that Avery wanted to get into advertisements as soon as possible, or it may have been an engraving of a (as yet uncompleted?) new Avery engine.
During liquidation of The Aultman Co., Avery purchased the patents for the under-mounted engine design from either The Aultman Co. or Aultman Engine & Thresher Co. This blocked anyone else from building under-mounted engines at least until Avery's patents expired several years later. Importantly, it's not clear when Avery bought the Aultman patents. Further, if Avery had an under-mounted engine in development by November 1904, was it designed independently or with assistance from Aultman? If it was built with Aultman's help, then Avery's purchase of the Aultman patents would certainly be explained.
Avery wasn't alone in pursuing an under-mounted engine. According to a catalog from 20th Century Manufacturing Co., Boynton, Pa., the Improved Traction Engine Co., Elk Lick, Pa. (which later became the 20th Century Manufacturing Co.), had an under-mounted engine in the field by early 1905. A.W. Stevens Co., Marinette, Wis., also had a new under-mounted design ready to go by the summer of 1905.
Avery sued Stevens for patent infringement and effectively stopped them from selling their new engine. According to a story told by my dad, A.W. Stevens displayed a new under-mounted engine at the 1905 Indiana State Fair. While the fair was in progress, a court ruling favoring Avery forced Stevens to move the engine out of the machinery display area and cover it with a tarp.
Built from the same patents, Aultman and Avery engines were mechanically similar. The Stevens under-mount was mechanically different, but the final design was very similar to an Aultman or Avery engine. In fact, the under-mounted Stevens looked somewhat like the November 1904 Avery engine.
As to what happened if anything between Avery and 20th Century, I have no information. With the exception of its boiler, the 20th Century engine was mechanically similar to the Aultman and Avery engines. Yet, the finished engine except for the road roller looked very different. I don't know if Avery left them alone because they were a small company in a different area of the country and 20th Century's engine looked different, or if Avery might have tried to sue them and lost. Regardless, after 1905 Avery and 20th Century were the only builders of under-mounted engines in the U.S. That is, of course, with the exception of the Daniel Best Manufacturing Co. of San Leandro, Calif., which actually pre-dated Aultman by several years, but whose engines were very different than Avery's.
20th Century Manufacturing Co., Boynton, Pa., introduced an under-mounted engine in 1905. This 16 HP 1916 engine, perhaps the last year of production, was photographed at the 1988 Farmers and Threshermens Jubilee by Charles Harthy.
Sometime in late 1903 or early 1904, The Aultman Co. issued what it called a 'Special Catalogue 1904.' The catalog described a 'Radical departure in the design of our heavy engines.' With several engravings of the boiler, engine and running gear, the new 'Double Star' was announced, and specifications were listed for two sizes of engines with ratings of 16 HP and 20 HP. The catalog also said the Mogul boiler could be placed on the 20 HP frame, thus creating a Double Mogul of 20 HP. Nowhere does it say this had been done and no engraving of a Double Mogul was shown. Further, no other engine size was mentioned, and the only other equipment advertised in the catalog was the standard top-mounted, single-cylinder Star and Mogul engines, the largest of which were 20 HP.
Later, the company's regular 1904 catalog appeared, advertising Aultman's full line of engines, threshers and other equipment. Using the same engravings as the earlier catalog, it listed a 22 HP Double Star along with the 16 HP. The 20 HP was no longer mentioned, but the Double Mogul was shown and given a horsepower rating of 22.
Of note was a new catalog cover engraving showing a head-on view of a Double Star (no engine size given), but with no cab. Importantly, Aultman tended to use the same engravings over and over, as did many companies at the time. The cuts of the 20 HP Double Star in the early 1904 catalog are used again in the later 1904 catalog, as well as in the 1906 and later catalogs, to describe the 22 HP engine. The head-on view of a 16 or 20 HP Double Star on the cover of the regular 1904 catalog is the same engraving used in the 1908 catalog to illustrate a never-before-mentioned 35 HP Double Star.
It's important to note that engravings are not photos: They are artist's impressions commissioned by the company to advertise its products. I've seen engravings of antique cars, trucks, tractors and many other machines that never existed. Some were simply artist's mistakes that somehow made it into a catalog, some were of proposed but never built machinery and some were placed in advertisements on purpose for one reason or another. Many times, the engravings made for earlier advertised products were simply used over and over again to represent newer versions of the same or similarly sized engines, tractors, etc.
A.W. Stevens Co., Marinette, Wis., introduced its under-mounted engine in 1905. Avery sued Stevens, forcing the company to halt production of this engine.
No engines (or any other Aultman machinery) were supposedly assembled at the Aultman plant in Canton after late 1905. So why do later Aultman Engine & Thresher catalogs exist that show new, larger engine sizes?
I have a 1906 catalog, and I know of a 1907 and 1908 catalog. Aultman Engine & Thresher Co. sold off the remaining stock of The Aultman Co. machinery fairly quickly, but the question is to whom? Most likely, inventory was sold to the old Aultman company branch houses, which were the primary customers of the manufacturing company. Lorin Bixler believed the bankruptcy of one of Aultman's largest branch houses, the Cedar Rapids Supply Co. of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was a major factor that led to the demise of The Aultman Co.
The branch houses were independent companies supplied by the manufacturers. Aultman Engine & Thresher probably unloaded the majority of its machinery to these branch houses, got its money from them and left them to deal with selling it.
Perhaps to help the branch houses, Aultman Engine & Thresher printed catalogs well into future years, knowing it would take the branch houses some time to sell off the machinery, perhaps even longer than Aultman Engine & Thresher Co. might remain in business. My 1906 catalog contains a cover letter from the Chicago branch house. Strangely, the letter makes no mention of the new double under-mounted engines or any new machinery, despite the fact a photo of a Double Star is on its letterhead. The catalog announces the availability of a number of 12 HP and 14 HP engines 'carried over from last season,' and advises customers to consider purchasing used or rebuilt machinery, rather than buying new equipment!
Catalogs issued into the future to help liquidate equipment are one thing, but what of the new engine sizes in later catalogs? My 1906 catalog gives specifications for a new Double Mogul engine of 25 HP, but it fails to mention the cylinder bore in its specifications. The same engine is listed in later catalogs, as well, yet the cylinder bore is never listed, making it doubtful it was ever built, and the 1908 catalog mentions a mammoth 35 HP Double Star.
Most of us are familiar with just how huge 35 HP engines are. This would be an engine much bigger than my 20 HP engine, and one that would tower over the 16 HP engine in the January/February 2003 Steam Traction. A Double Star of this size would be similar in dimensions to the well-known 30 and 40 HP under-mounted Avery.
Could these engines have been built? With Avery's hold on the patents, no new under-mounted engines could have been designed or engineered by anyone connected with Aultman after 1905. If they had been under construction at the time of bankruptcy, however, and the uncompleted engines only needed assembling, then they could have been finished and sold. If that were the case, however, why was nothing mentioned about them in any advertising until three and four years after the plant was abandoned, and even after Aultman Engine & Thresher Co. was dissolved?
Unfortunately, any answers are pure speculation. Maybe the advertisements were ploys to make customers believe the company was still going strong so purchases of remaining products would continue. Maybe the engines had been planned but were never built. It is anyone's guess at this point. Never say never, but unless one of these mammoth engines actually turns up, or a photograph that can positively identify one, I maintain the 25 HP Double Mogul and the 35 HP Double Star were, unfortunately, never built.
No dimensions can be taken from the January/February 2003 photo. However, using the men in the photo for comparison, noting the size of the two-speed idler gears plus other features and comparing the proportions of the engine to the one I own and the one Dan Gregor owns, that could not be a 35 HP
To the best of my knowledge, only three complete under-mounted Aultman engines remain, and all three are Double Stars. One is a 22 HP one is a 20 HP and the third, if my information is correct, is also a 20 HP. I have heard that the incomplete remains of a Double Mogul of unknown size may exist, and I know of a few parts from a 16 HP Double Star that still remain.
I welcome anyone to come and look at my engine and, if you wish, compare it to that pretty little 16 HP in the January/February 2003 issue. The engine really is a gem, and I'd love to actually see one. Though it is known that 16 HP engines were built, but thought unlikely that 35 HP engines were, either size would be just as rare today. Aside from a few parts for a 16 HP neither sized engine is known to exist at this time.
Alan New's research goes a long way toward setting the record straight on Aultman's under-mounted engines. However, one issue not yet settled is the question of who designed the under-mounted engine, and when.
Writing in the May/June 1972 issue of the Iron-Men Album, Leroy Blaker noted that Martin J. Hogan, Canton, Ohio, was awarded patent no. 173846 on Sept. 19, 1903, for his design for an under-mounted engine. Hogan was The Aultman Co.'s plant superintendent from 1894 until the end of operations.
Further, Blaker said the 20th Century under-mounted engine was built under this patent, and that Avery purchased the patent rights in 1906. However, Aultman's patents appear to have been sold in 1904, not 1906.
Unfortunately, Blaker's notes only confuse the issue. An online search at the U.S. Patent Office (www.uspto.gov/patft/index.html) fails to turn up Blaker's referenced patent. In fact, it appears no patents were issued between Sept. 15, 1903 and Sept. 22, 1903. If anyone knows more, we'd like to hear from you. - Editor
Contact steam enthusiast Alan New at: 5389 W. 900 S., Pendleton, IN 46064.