Rt. 2, Box 87, Rochester, Michigan
I came on your fine magazine through Robert Nelson of Lapeer, whom I met at the State Fair last fall, where he was displaying his working model Case. He was kind enough to give me a ride on it. I can still hear the whistle as it reminded me of the ones used on the engines that ran on the Denver & Southern Railroad when it was a narrow gauge.
At one time I was sure I was off my trolley at least my friends did, for collecting of all things, old wagons and fly wheel engines. Now I know there are many steam men who think fly wheel engines aren't cricket. But like steam, they came in the horse age, and where the use of the horse has died, so has the use of steam and the flywheel.
I came to live on the farm 14 years ago, then though the area was dotted with them, there was but one fly wheel engine in use. There was one new John Deere 'A'. Everyone had and used horses and wooden wagons. During World War II I saw the change it came slowly. First, the high wooden wagons were converted to low rubber tired jobs, then, it seemed everyone had a John Deere, and in less than five years one by one the horses had gone. I could have had all the engines just for the asking. At the close of the war, the engines were all scrapped, and all that remained was a memory.
So, I was delighted to see in a Washington, Michigan, junk yard, in the winter of '52 one last reminder of the golden age. It was a typical one-cylinder, overhead valve, horizontal hopper cooled open crank case fly wheel portable engine, and it set me back $50.00. It had at one time been green, which I later found to be an almost standard color with the fly wheel's, striped in red and yellow trade marks on each side of the hopper. The engine ran as was though. Why, I now can't say the spark was so advanced. Anyway, I got busy and cleaned off some six bushel baskets full of oil-soaked dirt and repainted and striped my find. I guess the shock must have been too great for the old engine, as all I could get out of it was a couple of backfires thereafter.
To my horror I found nobody knew anything about these old timers, even the people who were using one didn't know, their's had been a hand-me-down from ages long forgot.
Further, I didn't know the maker of the engine as the name had appeared on the trade marks and all that was readable was the city and state where it had been made. So I sent an inquiry to the Chamber of Commerce and found I had a Hercules, made by the Hercules Products, of Evansville, Indiana. They in turn rushed me an instruction book and informed me that though they still stocked parts for the engines, they hadn't made any for over thirty years. The last carried a spark plug and a WICO magneto.
My engine is a 7hp., 375 rpm., Ser. No. 194962, bore stroke 6'x9', ignition a Webster (old style brass mounted) make and break oscillating magneto. It is a kerosene engine and had had a water injector (broken off) which until I received my instruction book, left me wondering what once filled those holes.
As internal combustion engines go, fly wheel engines belong to their own class. I used to, before making the new gas tank, run the engine off the priming pan in the carburetor. Just as the engine would start sucking air, I'd shut off the fuel jet, swing open the cover on the priming pan and take the cap off the gas can. Now remember the engine is rolling over all this time. I fill the priming pan, close the cover, put the cap on the can, open the fuel jet, and stick two fingers over the air intake port . . BAM . . BAM . . BAM and away she goes again, all without cranking. Try that out some time on a modern engine, your car, tractor, or power mower. They say here that there is so much energy stored in the fly wheels that one can cut a cord of wood after the engine has run out of gas. I had the governor stick once, scared me half to death I pushed the throttle closed and closed the fuel jet, never did think that darn engine would stop. Those fly wheels you know are rather out of plumb. It jumped the rear wheels of the truck it was mounted on up and down like a pile driver. As it is, running normally, it dances up and down on its all steel truck like a little girl skipping rope. Can't see how a pair of eight inch channel irons could have so much, spring in them. Though I suppose two unbalanced tons of iron could make a difference.
I have since latched on to a 1 hp. little brother for my prize, as well as a number of other makes, but no more big engines. I always figure they make nice hitching posts and the little woman can always plant geraniums in the open jacket. Now there's a real idea for the antique dealer. We've been growing vines out of coffee mills for years, and here all the time there is a made-to-order flower pot right under our noses. I recommend for such funny business, to pack wadded aluminum foil down around the cylinder, followed by coarse gravel, fine gravel, dirt, flowers, and more dirt, and of course you leave the drain valve open. The aluminum foil serves a dual role, it makes it easier to clean the engine up for use, as dirt under the cylinder can be a real problem, then too, the dirt can clog the drain valve. I predict that the small variations of the hopper cooled engines will find their way into the picture windows and kitchens of the modern homes, sprouting flowers and thus be the new and plentiful sale attraction for the antique dealers, who are fast running out of the supply of antiques.
Speaking of engines for the home, my mother can recall when she was a little girl on a farm in southeast Kansas of a (what they then called rich) farming family that had an engine in their kitchen taking the work out of the word 'work'. I have an International Harvester 1 hp. Moguel No. Y6845 kerosene engine 20' fly wheels in A-1 shape that was used in a kitchen by a farmer's wife (lucky girl) for washing and churning. The engine had been stored in a tool shed for thirty years when I got it. They took the line shaft down last year when they modernized the kitchen. My father came from western Kansas and he can remember the days before fences when there were still a few Long Horns left. He once saw a horse-sweep-power a thresher, as well as many steamers. There were, of course those interlopers, the Oil Pulls and Fly Wheel Engines, the threshers powered with, a Fly Wheel Engine sounded like a modern hay baler, the thresher picking up speed with every loud report from the exhaust of the engine.
I see there are those who would like to see steamers manufactured again. Unfortunately there has to be a need before such could happen. Further, the steamer would be competing on a market against light, fast, handy, small easy-to-operate tractors of today. The best alternative I can think of is converting a modern machine, where parts would be always available. John Deere's 'H', 'B', 'A', 'G', and Standard Treads, are best as they are easiest to re-work. The engine requires only the heads and valves be replaced with steam gear. The radiator, gas tanks, and hood give way to the boiler, and there you are, a modern undermounted steamer. Easy, wasn't it! I wonder who will be rolling these out?
I think since our love's occurred during the horse age, it would be fitting if we gave 'O Dobbin' a page in the ALBUM, and add his present breeder's name as well as those of manufacturers who still make wooden wagons, harness, and parts thereof, to the list in the Steam Directory. For we need 'Ole Dobbin' to drag our portables about, as well as making the re-living of the Golden Age real.
Here's telling you that you are doing a fine job.