A few weeks ago the widow of a friend came in with a box of photos found in the attic of the family home. Most were studio portraits and snapshots of people, some identified, some not. This is a common occurrence here. We usually do not keep photos we cannot identify as a local person, place, or event.
In this case, one 5” by 7” much faded print showed an example of a gasoline engine of the type common on farms in the first third of the 20th century. This was a relatively large one on its own custom metal wagon. Ordinarily I would have discarded it because of poor condition and unknown location. However, due to my interest in technological history, I had it digitally enhanced and enlarged. Then, helped by the knowledge that the family was from Clymer and included the surname Huntington, we were able to read the tag on the wagon frame: A. HUNTINGTON.
The A. Huntington engine is not even listed, let alone pictured in C. H. Wendel’s American Gasoline Engines. Since 1872, considered the bible or ultimate reference on early engines. However, Bruce Swanson, then of Clymer and former president of the Chautauqua County Antique Equipment Association, wrote a brief typed unpublished history of early engines made in Chautauqua County in 1985. He devoted three pages to the A. Huntington. These engines were made in Ripley by Alfred Huntington starting in 1911 in the same factory building previously used by a different firm to make the very dissimilar Rumsey engine.
Two of the A. Huntington engines were known to exist at the time, pieces of others having since been discovered. All these have been exhibited in 1991 and a few years following at the Chautauqua County Antique Equipment Show, then at Hartfield, now in Stockton. The engines were basic, simple, conventional, and small. The one pictured here is much larger and shows a strong influence from the Rumsey, conspicuously absent from the known examples.
In recent years, Larry Barmore of the Valley Historical Society has uncovered some new information about Alfred Huntington and his engines including that he had previously lived and made engines in Sinclairville from 1908 to 1911 and in Celoron where he made marine engines before that.
The four stroke internal combustion engine was invented by Nicolaus Otto in Germany in 1876. The subsequent development of an electrical ignition system then a carburetor to make use of liquid fuels around 1892 opened the way for small gasoline engines marketed for use on the farm and in small workshops to quickly end steam’s century of dominance and enabled the mechanizing of many more tasks. These early engines were slow with large displacements and heavy flywheels. This gave them good low end torque despite their low power to weight ratio. Just before and after World War II, rural electrification rendered the old farm engines obsolete while modern small high speed gasoline engines took over as mobile and miscellaneous power sources. Eventually collectors, mostly aging farmers and other rural men, took an interest in the old engines that survived in junk yards and barn corners. Annual shows and publications sprang up. When that generation gave way to the next, the shows and the hobby in general swung strongly toward interest in old tractors and away from the engines. But, the old engines still come to life with their scrappy voices and shiny new paint jobs scattered about the show grounds each year.