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Stationary Gasoline Engine in Use

July 12, 2011

Not too long ago one of our esteemed Living History Farms collection volunteers, Warren Tanner, spent the afternoon on the 1900 farm with one of his projects.  Warren rebuilt a gasoline powered engine, and brought it to the 1900 farm for everyone to see.  Because we are a museum that believes in active artifacts, Warren fired the engine up that afternoon and visitors were able to see the technology in action.

Video clip: You wouldn’t want to get your fingers caught in that rotation!

It was technology indeed for the 1900 farm.  This motor is a 1 cylinder, 6 horse power gasoline engine made by Fairbanks Morse.  A couple of interesting facts about Fairbanks Morse:

  • The company was founded in 1870 and is still active today based out of Beloit, WI.
  • According to their website, they made the first commercially successful gasoline engine in 1893.
  • The engine uses steam water for coolant.

Warren did make one modification.  The 1921 mag on the engine wouldn’t work, so he modified the ignition system to use a battery.  Still, we get a great idea of what would have been state of the art technology at the turn of the century.

The implement connected to the engine is a Letz Mill.  From what I understand from Warren and some personal research, Letz Manfacturing Company was very popular at the time, and based in Indiana.  There are many advertisements for Letz Mills in publications such as The Country Gentleman, published in 1918.  This mill is a stationary version of our horse drawn burr mill.  The Letz Mill, however, can grind both corn and cob together.  Shelled corn that has been ground is rich for the diet, so the corn is ground, cob and all, for animals like the cows. It also takes a time consuming step away from the process and allows the farmers to utilize all parts of the corn.  But grinding with the Letz Mill and stationary gas engine does require gasoline, and that could get expensive.

Video clip: The ear corn is placed into the top of the mill, the engine spins the belt which in turn spins the engine and grinds the corn.  The ground corn is then shoveled back to the corn crib.

Gasoline in 1900 was around 10-12 cents per gallon, perhaps wishful thinking for us.  If only this were the case today, my little car would fill up for less than 2 dollars instead of the $30 that I have been suffering with.  We must, I suppose, take into account the demand for fuel.  While these engines were becoming more popular, farmers were still primarily using horse for draft power.  Inflation must also be accounted for, that 10-12 cents transposing to around $3.69/gallon by 1900 standards.  That nearly hits the mark of $3.53 per gallon that I paid when I filled up in Des Moines today.  Still, people that had the new technology used it.  I wonder if the farmers imagined that their counterparts in 2011 would have motors to do quite a bit of the farm labor from the tractor or combine in the field to the conveyor to move and dry corn.  The turn of the century definitely saw major changes in the way farming was done, I wonder what the next 100 years will bring.  What do you think?

Video clip: The engine and mill together made a time consuming process quicker, one of the many innovations in agriculture that occurred around the turn of the century.

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