Tag Archives: engine

Red Power Roundup – 2017 Hit-or-Miss Corn Sheller

Teardrop Trail Log: June 16, 2017

I always look forward to seeing the “latest” in really old technology at the ‘Roundup, and this year encountered a great display of International Harvester model LA “hit-or-miss” engines shelling and grinding corn, as well as pumping water. I’ve mentioned them on the blog before, but this was unique. Over a half-dozen beautifully restored engines, all running, and many connected to applications with canvas belts like a McCormick/Deering Corn Sheller, a small grain mill, cob mill and a well-pump.

In order to show the entire workflow, small, functional elevators lifted the corn kernels from application to application. Best of all, a supply of dried corn — complete with cob and husk — was provided so observers could try it out. Passing children at the ‘Roundup were fascinated as they fed shucked corn into the sheller via a pipe and could watch the result. Several club members were running the exhibit; keeping the machines serviced with water and fuel and answering questions.

These small engines were common back in the day, and provided vital extra power before rural electrification. They could pump water, grind corn and lift grain into bins and cribs — saving farm families from much difficult work. I still remember the well pump on my grandparents farm, electrified by the time I came along, but no doubt once powered by one of these versatile engines.

Victor Horizontal Hit-Or-Miss Engine

Continuing my stroll through the machinery exhibits, I encountered a Victor Horizontal Gasoline Engine. You see “hit-or-miss” engines at every Red Power Roundup, but this was the largest model I had ever seen. Judging by the size of the fly wheel, this beautifully-restored single-cylinder engine must have been rated at about 20 horsepower. With the integrated wagon, it was considered portable and was even equipped with the optional cooling tank and muffler.

Photo of The Victor Horizontal Engine

The Victor Horizontal Engine

According to Dun’s Review, International Edition (Vol. XX, September, 1912), the Victor was “A reliable, economical and convenient source of power for various purposes around the farm, shop or mill” and was “built in eight sizes, ranging from 4 to 25 horsepower”. The “make-and-break” ignition on the four-cycle engine used a “hit-or-miss style governor” to control the speed. It could run on natural or artificial gas (a mixture of hydrogen, methane and carbon monoxide), alcohol, kerosene or gasoline. “A catalogue giving full details and illustrations of these engines” could be requested from International Harvester by mail. It was high-tech in 1912.

As I watched the machine operate, it was fun to see how people reacted to it. We take compact, portable and inexpensive power for granted today (think: lithium-ion battery powered tools, bicycles or automobiles for example) but such an engine would have been special in its day and represented major labor savings when pumping water, milling grain, cutting wood, or running anything that required rotary power on farms that wouldn’t have electricity for some decades. A marvel of the age indeed.


Hit or Miss Engines

Jim, September 15:

You never know what you’ll find on the Teardrop Trail, and the Red Power Roundup in Sedalia, Missouri was no exception. While looking at the expected tractors and other IH memorabilia, I discovered a assortment of “hit or miss” engines. They were first available around 1890 from various manufacturers including International Harvester (after 1902) for use in pumping water, generating electricity and cutting firewood. The video shows models spanning several decades and demonstrates the “hit or miss” behavior and resulting name.

They fire every few cycles and rely on a large flywheel to maintain a relatively constant speed. Producing a small amount of horsepower relative to their weight and size, they were displaced by newer internal combustion engines by the mid-20th century, although they are still desirable for some low-speed (250 rpm or so) applications like oil-field pump jacks. International Harvester produced a variety of hit or miss engines, and the video shows three well preserved and and functioning models.

This display of engines was a surprise to me — I hadn’t seen this many working hit or miss engines in one place before. The engine owners were on hand to answer questions and I learned a lot about this part of our Harvester Heritage. Fun!