100-year-old engine built in Mitchell, S.D., on display at DakotafestFrom deep inside the South Dakota State University tent at the Dakotafest grounds near Mitchell comes a pop, a clank and a hum — the sounds of a 100-year-old engine cranking to life.
By: Chris Huber, The Daily Republic
From deep inside the South Dakota State University tent at the Dakotafest grounds near Mitchell comes a pop, a clank and a hum — the sounds of a 100-year-old engine cranking to life.
The Semm-Blair Engine Co. stationary motor was built in Mitchell in either 1910 or 1911 and was brought this week to Dakotafest by the SDSU Agricultural Heritage Museum in Brookings. The engine is on display through Thursday, the last day of the annual farm-and-ranch trade show. The show’s hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday.
There are thought to be only two other motors from the same company remaining in the world. The fivehorsepower engine could have been used for a variety of tasks on a turnof-the-century farm, said Paul Johnson, the SDSU Extension educator stationed at the booth.
“You would use it anywhere you needed power to get things done — could be a grain elevator, could be a mill,” Johnson said.
The engine was available with or without wheels to be pushed or hauled from place to place.
The gasoline-powered motor has been restored to running condition.
“It runs on a hit-and-miss system. That means it only fires when the rpms get down below a certain level,” said Johnson, noting how efficient that system made the motor.
Another interesting aspect of the motor is that the flywheels — what would now be called rotors — rotate forward instead of backward like most engines.
“That really gave the collector who had this piece a hard time in trying to get it to run,” Johnson said. “All along, he was trying to turn it the wrong way.”
Because of the motor’s efficiency, it would have the torque of a modern 10 to 15 horsepower motor, even though it is rated for five horsepower, Johnson said.
“To my knowledge, it is also the first closed crankshaft motor of its kind,” said Greg Carlson, another SDSU Extension educator at the booth.
“It is really amazing when you think about it,” Carlson said. “It is innovators like the people who made this engine that really make America great.
“These people were inventors, they were innovators, they are the people we have to thank for the technology we have today.”
The Semm-Blair Engine Company moved to Mitchell from Charles City, Iowa, in November 1910.
The company produced stationary engines ranging from two to 15 horsepower and traction engines from 10 to 20 horsepower.
Because of quantity of inventory, and manufacturing and material costs, the prices of the engines often changed by the day, and an advertisement for the engine asked customers to write in for prices.
The Semm-Blair Engine Co. only operated in Mitchell for a little over a year.
C.H. Semm, founder and president of the company, moved the company to Sioux Falls under the named Sioux Gas Engine Co. in early 1912.