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February 2022

Engine Collecting

Then and Now

By Paul Harvey

I have been totally engrossed in gas engine collecting for over 60 years, and have slowly watched its evolution.  Hmmm?  Is it good or bad?  Regardless, the change is here so I decided to write this little essay about it, sharing my thoughts.

Hercules Engine

I was very fortunate to start collecting near its very beginning, for me in 1958.  There was really no hobby of that genre then, it was just personal interest and curiosity.  I soon became acquainted with two early pioneers of engine collecting, John Wilcox and Ellis Wellman.  They already had fine collections and facilities housing them.  A fun day was to go out exploring.  The oil fields were a great source, as were waterworks, grain mills and small factories.  Good finds were easy then.  If they were really nice pieces, after negotiating with the owners, I hauled many away as junk or paid just a small price.  Wow, the stable was getting filled, and there were so many, many more.  But it was still a personal interest venture to have a personal playpen to enjoy and recall the days of seeing the engines in operation.

Model 4 Klein Arriving

Loading 12 hp Reid Engine

In the 1960s, Reverend Elmer Ritzman came out with the Gas Engine Magazine, and the engine collecting hobby began. Early steam shows were now including gas engines and others entered the search and collecting.  The hobby had begun, but no one realized how it would blossom!

Dedicated shows were forming, as did the one in Coolspring, and a myriad of collectors were now roaming about to see what they could find.  That was a very pleasant time as the supply of new finds seemed endless.  Then a small group of enthusiasts began buying and selling from one to another.  It was only a small group and the fellowship among them was great.  What more could one want!

CPM 2013 June 14

I did not recognize the change as it began, but slowly the hobby changed.  The supply of engines to be found was rapidly dwindling, and prices were escalating.  Prices went from single digit to double and then triple.  Buying and selling among the collectors became common.  And so, the atmosphere changed.  The handwriting was on the wall.  Reflecting back, some of the collectors were now into the hobby for personal gain.  Rapidly disappearing were the pristine finds still on location, giving way to a more commercial business.  It was a very slow transition.

It seems to me the hobby has now changed to a buy and sell market, and very few collectors even remember the days of endless exploration.  The Internet has now provided many sites that one might buy or sell an engine without ever knowing its history.  A part of that engine has been lost!  However, many fine collections have been formed and the owners welcome visitors to enjoy their equipment.

But to me, the great old days are just a memory.  It would be so good to return to that time.  So, is the new environment good or bad?  I donít know, but I am thankful to have been part of the old era and I will still totally enjoy the new environment.  My thoughts!


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