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Flywheels galore

Posted July 24, 2013 in Community Featured

Ninety-five gas engines filled the Exline City Park on July 4. These putt-putting, hit-and-miss engines provided the soundtrack to Exline’s 4th of July celebration from 8 a.m. until about 4 p.m.

A display of gas-powered, stationary flywheel engines was on display at Exline’s Fourth of July celebration.

A display of gas-powered, stationary flywheel engines was on display at Exline’s Fourth of July celebration.

Collectors of the engines came from as far away as Arkansas to be part of the show. Several collectors from Missouri joined collectors from all over Iowa to demonstrate these gas-powered, stationary flywheel engines.

Those familiar with these types of motors walked amongst them, listening to them pop and watching the  steam float out of the water hoppers which cool their one cylinder. Many of them are in their original found condition, which is impressive after nearly 100 years. Others had been restored to a glossy shine by their owners. They all provided a chorus powered by gas and oil, magnetos and igniters, their rhythm kept in time by their heavy iron flywheels.

Those unfamiliar with these stand-alone engines said, “I don’t get it. What’s the purpose?” This question has been asked to every engine collector at some point in time. Gas engines were, for the most part, produced from around 1900 through 1930. During this era, automated equipment existed to help the farmer and his wife grind corn, pump water and even wash clothes, but electricity had not made it to the rural areas yet. So the hit-and-miss engine provided the power to operate these new conveniences by a belt that connected a pulley on the engine to a pulley on the piece of equipment. Sadly, most of the engines were scrapped after electricity came to the farm.

Fast-forward to 1977. A group of 18 gas engine collectors from southern Iowa and northern Missouri formed the IA-MO Gas Engine Club. They brought their collections to celebrations in Lemons and Unionville, Mo., and the Elm Grove Thrashers celebration in Centerville during their first year. The group has existed for 36 years now, meeting a couple of times a year to run their engines at various celebrations around the county. The club members now are from all over Iowa and Missouri. The Exline Fourth of July celebration committee invited the club to show their engines back in 2008 and only a few members came, but since then turnout has increased every year. The club also meets the weekend after Pancake Day at the Dave Faris farm for another informal show and potluck. All but one of the group’s original officers has passed on, but it is still going strong with a membership list that has grown to around 40 this past yea. If you’re a gas engine enthusiast and would like to join the club, you can contact me at

Information submitted by Lisa Eddy, curator, Appanoose County Historical Society, 100 West Maple, Centerville, 856-8040,

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