History of the Vim Motor Co.
By Will Cummings
A display of 1-1/4 HP portable farm engines built by Vim Motor Co.
The Vim Motor Co. was incorporated in April 1907 with a capital stock of $25,000, and planned to build gas engines in a soon-to-be erected building in Sandusky, Ohio.
C.P. Barber was the “inventor” of the engine and an officer of the new company. Evidently Barber moved to the Sandusky area for the business opportunity as I have not found a previous record of him in local directories. Initially they set up shop in a rented building on the southeast corner of Hancock & Market streets, which was a literal stones-throw from Sandusky Bay on Lake Erie. “The Rudder” of April 1908 mentions a Vim sales presence at the 1908 Detroit Motor Boat Show.
Miller joins the fray
A gentleman named Ed Miller joined the Vim Motor Co. as a machinist early in 1909. A year later he was a sales representative traveling to many boat and motor shows, then he went on to be Vim’s sales manager. A descendant of Ed Miller has shown me a picture of the Vim display at the 1910 New York Motor Boat Show. It includes about 14 shiny new Vim marine engines ranging from 2 to 4 cylinders. Featured was the new “Extreme High Speed Engine” with “Double Three Port System.” At the front of the display was a large 4-cylinder engine equipped with two 5-ball Kingston carburetors. It was direct-connected to some type of mechanical load so that it could be demonstrated under load. That must have received a lot of attention to run a large engine under load in a convention hall setting!
It is interesting to note that Vim had developed a complete line of marine engines in two years or less, including setting up a machine shop and sales organization. Obviously they attracted some key people with good experience.
The Vim Motor Co. had a racing speedboat named VIM, also known locally as “Miller’s Pet.” It had a powerful 4-cylinder high-speed engine and used two propellers on the same shaft to make the most use of the engine’s power. Since both propellers were right-handed the speedboat was known for a propensity to slip to the right.
Changes at Vim
By the time the 1910-11 Sandusky City Directory was published all officers of the Vim Motor Co. had changed. Mr. C.P. Barber doesn’t appear again in the company history or local directories. The capital stock had increased to $45,000.
By September 1911 the Vim Motor Co. had moved into a new building at the corner of Water and Meigs streets in Sandusky. The main building was described as 132-by-80 feet of brick with a sawtooth glass and steel roof for improved lighting. There was also a 40-by-30-foot addition, which was used as a test room for the assembled motors. At this time the Vim Motor Co. employed an average of 25 men. An article in the local newspaper touted the fact that the business “began in a small way without bonuses or grants of any kind” (from the local government). The article further mentioned that “the company is now shipping motors not only to all parts of this country but to all parts of the Old World as well. Within the past three weeks it has shipped motors to Australia, to India, Sweden, Alaska and Panama.”
The product line expands
A Sept. 2, 1911 newspaper article in the Sandusky Register described the product line: “The company now makes 19 different sizes of marine motors, ranging from 3 to 55 horse power. The company manufactures 1, 2, and 3 cylinder slow speed, heavy duty motors, ranging from 3-1/2 to 18 horse power, built especially for fishing, oyster, and working boats where only a moderate speed is required. They are durable and economical and while they are called slow speed they propel boats faster than any other motor of a like standard, besides they are simple in construction and easily operated and taken care of. In what may be called the standard motors for launches, cruisers and runabouts, the company manufactures them up to 36 horse power in 1, 2, 3, and 4 cylinders and also extreme high speed motors, of an entirely original and exclusive pattern and of the very highest type of construction, up to 55 horse power. The latter are quipped with aluminum base and fuel pipe in addition to the standard equipment and the Bosch dual system magneto and the Delco or Uni-sparker, which is considered the best battery ignition known in the operation of motors.”
A 1912 trade magazine article notes that the export trade for Vim had increased with engines shipped to Austria, England, Finland, Java, Alaska, Africa, Australia and Mexico. Vim reported 1912 business in the US and Canada to have increased more than 100 percent from the previous year. During the month of April alone Vim sold twenty-four units to Lake Erie fishermen described as “2-cylinder heavy-duty 12 HP equipped with double ignition consisting of Bosch magneto and battery system, also Paragon gear, all mounted on one base in a unit power plant.”
Vim’s portable farm engines
Obviously Vim concentrated on manufacturing marine engines but they also built small 1-1/4 HP flywheel-type engines. They were 2-cycle with bore-and-stroke measurements of 2-1/2-by-2-1/2 inches. The engines were capable of running in either direction, and weighed 75 pounds including the skids. According to C. H. Wendel in American Gasoline Engines Since 1872 the 1-1/4 HP Vim first appeared in late 1913. Unlike the Vim marine engines, the smaller 1-1/4 HP engines do not appear to have been assigned a serial number.
In the artist’s representation of the portable farm engine, the flywheel-side of the cooling hopper reads “VIM.” In reality this was cast into the opposite side of the cooling hopper. Of the two original Vim 1-1/4 HP engines that I have seen there is no hint that the letters “VIM” were painted on the flywheel side.
According to a Vim 1-1/4 HP sales brochure, every Vim motor was thoroughly tested before leaving the factory and was guaranteed for one year against defects in material or workmanship.
So far I have not seen any Vim advertisements that included both marine engines and the 1-1/4 HP model in the same advertisement – apparently they were treated as different markets.
Vim had a significant sales organization; their advertisements sometimes list distributors in various areas. Most of distributor’s names are unfamiliar to me but I did notice one name that I recognized: “The Otto Gas Engine Works, 136 – 138 Liberty St., New York.” Although it seems unlikely, perhaps there is still a Vim out there somewhere with an Otto nameplate on it!
Beginning of the end
It seems that the time period from 1911 to 1916 was prosperous as the company ranks had swelled to 125 workers at the time of an August 1916 strike. However, local newspaper articles indicate that most of the Vim Motor Company’s manufacturing capability had been utilized in manufacturing shrapnel heads for some time. In August 1916, minority stockholders petitioned the local court contending “that the company had violated its charter when it quit making motors and began turning out shrapnel heads. They asked for an injunction and a receiver.” The majority stockholders responded: “Our energies have been directed to complete our munitions contracts. We have no other work on hand. If we are restrained from making the munitions, there will be nothing more to do. We will have to close shop.” The majority stockholders won the court judgment but there is no indication whether they resolved the strike and continued the munitions manufacture.
According to Wendel, production ended during late 1917 when the company merged with Sandusky Drop Forge Co. I have not been able to find a local reference to this merger but it seems very probable. By October 1921 another firm bought the vacant (former) Vim Motor Co. building from the estate of a former majority stockholder. So we have some indication that the (consistent) manufacture of motors ceased sometime prior to August 1916.
To the best of my observance all of the Vim marine engines with a nameplate also had the serial number of the engine stamped into the brass spark plug bushings (and probably elsewhere on the engine as well). Yet through the years I have seen a number of marine engines that were obviously built with Vim castings but there is no indication that they ever had a nameplate. Neither do these engines without a nameplate have serial numbers stamped into the brass spark plug bushings or other major engine parts. I haven’t found anything to document it, but I suspect that these engines without name identification were built up from existing castings on hand and sold “under the counter.” Likely this happened near the end of the company’s life around 1916-17. Many manufacturers that stopped building engines arranged for service and parts availability for their former customers, often by selling their on-hand parts inventory to a former employee. However, one owner of a Vim that never had a nametag told me that the name VIM is cast into the connecting rod.
Having presented an overview of the corporate history, let’s turn to other questions:
• How many Vim’s were built? There are no remaining records, but I have seen marine engine serial numbers from 323 to 1,868. It seems likely that they were numbered consecutively across the breadth of their marine engine offering.
• How many Vim’s are left? I have seen or seen pictures of 17 marine engines including two single-cylinder examples that were obviously built by Vim but were not equipped with a nameplate. It is more difficult to keep track of the 1-1/4 HP models because they are all virtually identical. Also, being popular with collectors, they trade owners fairly often. I’m sure that I have seen at least eight 1-1/4 HP units but maybe significantly more. I invite Vim owners to identify themselves to me and send me pictures of their engines. If you request privacy I will respect your request.
• How to date when a Vim marine engine was manufactured? Probably the assumption of consecutive serial numbering and the years that the company was in business is your best estimate. I have tried in vain to determine by serial number that a particular style cylinder casting was newer or older than another. Seemingly the differences in major castings are differentiated more by engine classification (Standard, Heavy Duty or Extreme High Speed) than by date of manufacture.
• What color scheme did Vim use? There are no records but I have a 1-1/4 HP with some original dark green paint on the engine, skids and battery box. It is comparable to Rustoleum Hunter Green. There is also a black 1-1/4 HP that the owner believes has original paint. Among the marine engines it seems that red was a popular color with black flywheels seeming to be a recurring theme.
I also wonder what the original muffler looked like on the 1-1/4 HP. Obviously it was about 4 inches round and threaded into the cylinder, but so far I have not seen an original Vim with a muffler that convinces me that the muffler is original. If you think that your Vim has an original muffler please let me know.
At this point I will leave the realm of careful research behind and present some unanswered questions. First, where did C.P. Barber come from and where did he go after leaving Vim? Did he have any ties to the Barber Bros. firm that built marine engines in Syracuse, N.Y.?
Second, was the Magnet engine a deliberate near-copy of the 1-1/4 HP Vim, was the striking resemblance simply a coincidence, did Magnet buy the rights to the Vim design when Vim closed or did the Magnet design actually precede the Vim engine?
If you have any further information on the Vim Motor Co. and their products I invite you to respond in GEM.
Contact Will Cummings at 8710 Vickery Rd., Castalia, Ohio 44824 • email@example.com.