Clarke Gas Engine Co.
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Decal produced using logo from original letterhead.
Twin-cylinder 12 H.P. Marine
Two Cylinder early
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John Norris Clarke
|3 H.P. Clarke
Keith & Curtis Kinney
CLARKE GAS ENGINE COMPANY
Brothers, Clarence Clear Clarke and John Norris Clarke founded the Clarke Gas Engine Company in 1901. Located in Evansville, Indiana at the intersection of Canal Street, Morton Street, and Walnut Street.
The address was 1503-1505-1507 Canal Street. They set up business in what had been a grocery store. Their father, John Norris Clarke Sr. was an Irish blacksmith who owned and worked in several blacksmith shops in Cincinnati, Ohio. With this background and experience gained in working in railroad repair shops it was natural that they became machinists and woodworkers.
In about 1905 they built a foundry of poured concrete behind the existing wooden shop buildings. The foundry had a cupola approximately 48" in diameter to melt iron. They also had four small bronze furnaces. Engine blocks, heads, flywheels. and crankshafts were cast of iron. An almost infinite variety of marine propellers were cast of brass and bronze for their own use and for sale to other boat builders. Both of the brothers were fine mechanics, seldom if ever encountering a manufacturing or mechanical problem which could not be solved. John concentrated on pattern making and boat building while Clarence was the machinist. They attracted a number of competent machinists over the years.
The shop was of wooden construction, two stories tall. The front half of the building on the first floor was the machine shop. It contained a wide variety of lathes, drill presses, and other tools. All of the tools were powered by overhead line shafts and flat leather belts. A large single cylinder Clarke Gas engine, fueled by city gas powered the entire shop. It had double flywheels about 36" in diameter. It had a hit and miss governor and was water-cooled using a hopper tank.
One of the lathes was large enough to machine a side-wheeler steamboat crankshaft. John Clarke's son, Beresford, remembers as a small boy being allowed to see how far the continuous chip from a steam boat shaft could be stretched and was delighted when he got the end outside the building into the street before it broke. He remembers the lathe operator walking back and forth the length of the lathe on wooden duck boards as he applied oil from large oil can to the lathe tool.
The castings from the foundry were machined in the downstairs machine shop. Marine engines were by far the most common products they manufactured. These engines were almost all of four-cycle design. The brothers believed that large displacement, low compression ratio, relatively low speed engines were more reliable than the two cycle engines of the day. An experimental two cycle was built with forward and reverse ports, which could be selected by the position of a lever. It was a marvel for a few days, going from forward to reverse without stopping. It was considered for use in a boat but one two many reverses caused it to shed too many parts to be practical!
Early engines were of an L head design with the valves in the block. Later engines had the valves in the head. The intake valve operated from the negative pressure during the intake stroke and the exhaust valves were push rod operated from a cam on the crankshaft. Single cylinder hopper cooled engines were manufactured with hit and miss governors. They had "Clarke Gas Engine Co." cast in the flywheels.
One, two, four, and eight cylinder engines were manufactured. Adding additional cylinders to an extended base crankcase casting created multiple cylinder engines There were two basic displacements per cylinder. One was 2.5 HP per cylinder and the other was 6 HP per cylinder. Very early engines used a hot sleeve ignition. Others used a coil with a contact on the exhaust valve cam. Larger engines used a Bosch magneto. Schebler carburetors were used. The magnetos, spark plugs, and carburetors were among the few parts not manufactured by the Clarkes. It is estimated that approximately 300 engines of various sizes and types were manufactured during their 40 years in business.
On the second floor over the machine shop was the mold loft where complete boat designs were laid out full size on the floor and then cut to size on band saws, table saws. routers and other woodworking tools. The boat frames were then assembled in the mold loft and moved by overhead traveling hoists out through large doors into the back half of the shop where they were lowered to the ground floor and finished. engines installed, painted, and detail finished. Oak frames and cypress planking were common construction materials. After completion they were loaded on to horse drawn wagons and hauled to the Ohio River some fifteen blocks away. Many of their two cylinder engines were sold to be used in ferry boats operating up and down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. Their bronze propellers were sold through their catalog to many users. They were categorized as to pitch, diameter, and number of blades.
The largest boat they built was the "Henry Mann", a 53 foot pleasure craft. A number of 15-17' very stable fishing boats using the small four cylinder engine were built. They were taken to Michigan and rented out as fishing boats. They used a rope steering system in which a rope ran completely around the inside of the gunnels of the boat, and was attached to the rudder lever at the rear. The boat could be steered from any position in the boat and the engine controls were mounted on the midships engine box. Clarence Clear Clarke suffered severely from hay fever and spent every summer on Marquette Island near Cedarville, Michigan. Each spring he would put one of the fishing boats on top of his very large Studebaker touring car and take it to Cedarville, and then to Half Moon bay near his cabin on Marquette Island. Some dozen or so boats thus became part of his rental fleet and in waters teeming with yellow perch, Muskies, and Northerns, provided many hours of safe fun for a generation of fishermen. At least one engine has been found in the Michigan area.
After the 1929 crash very few engines were sold and boats became unneeded luxuries. By 1941 the founders were getting old and little work was available. The last few years were devoted mainly to filling orders for replacement parts and propellers.
One of the last running engines was one which John Norris Clarke, (one of the founders), used to power a 32 volt generating system at his home in McCutchanvilIe, Indiana. It was a small bore hit and miss engine which ran almost continuously from about 1932 until about 1937 when REMC power became available. It required gasoline, water in the hopper, and occasional lubrication in those many years. When his son returned from Europe in 1945 it was destroyed for scrap, (much to his son's regret in 1998).
The information in this article was obtained by interviewing the grandson (J. Norris Clarke) and the son (Beresford Newman Clarke) of John N. Clarke, one of the founders of the company.. They were able to provide original 8" x 10" photos of Clarke Marine engines that must have been used for advertising literature. We know a complete catalog was published, but have been unable to locate a copy. Some information was gleaned from Evansville city directories. To date their have been about a dozen engines located. If you have additional knowledge of any additional engines or information please contact:
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