Rural Albany–Jeremy Withers likes fixing things. It might be food as the head cook at Diamond Point Steakhouse, north of Sauk Centre. It might be old engines he has restored, a hobby sparked by his grandpa, Jim Withers. 

Inside a shed on the Albany Pioneer Days grounds, north of Albany, are antique engines Jeremy or members of his family refurbished. This 39-year-old Freeport resident rattles off names of the engines and what they ran, as he stands inside that shed on Sept. 5. 

“This Ruston and Hornsby engine ran a grain elevator in Canada. The one-horse power Alamo engine was probably used on a farm to pump water, churn butter or do laundry if you could get it to the washtub. The 15-horse power Reid engine was used to drill oil wells or pump oil out east,” said Jeremy. 

His 12-horse power International Harvester Mogul was built in 1916, and a 7-horse power Parkersburg Machine Company engine is one of only 10 known to exist. 

Then there’s the Lockwood Ash marine engine that ran a boat motor. Jeremy smiles when saying he’s been working on this engine since he was 11 years old. 

“Finally, after 28 years I’ve been able to locate parts to finish this project,” he said, laughing as he adds, “It will be a good feeling to have it working.”

That won’t happen for this year’s Pioneer Days, Sept. 13 to 15, but he’s hopeful it will be running for next year’s show. 

Like his grandpa, Jeremy has a fondness for collecting old engines--well, for collecting items in general. Surrounding his engines in the shelf are antique items like old jars and cigar boxes. 

“My grandfather started collecting antique engines in the early ‘60s, like little International Harvester and John Deere farm engines. And when I say engines, I mean one-cylinder, two flywheel engines that make a lot of racket,” said Jeremy, son of  Therese Finken of Melrose and Jeff Withers of Fargo, N.D.  

Jeremy estimates, over the years, his grandpa had close to 1,000 engines, picking up many at auctions—some pretty cheap. Most are rare, including one-of-a-kinds. 

His grandpa traveled all over the country and Canada with his sons, bringing home engines with missing parts, “just wrecks,” Jeremy said. Some engine parts were impossible to find so his grandpa would make parts.  

“Grandpa would take an (engine) advertisement, blow it up on a projector and scale it back to size and make that part,” said Jeremy, adding, “I’m not that skilled.” 

Jim Withers liked the challenge of making engines work again. 

“My grandpa liked bigger engines because they could miss a beat and continue running. Smaller engines don’t recover as well because they have less momentum in the travel of their fly wheels,” said Jeremy.  

His grandfather’s engine collection is in Rollag, Minn., displayed during the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion, held the last weekend in August.  

Jeremy first attended this event when he was around 10 and now is a lifetime member. 

“Grandpa had adopted this little engine from that show and tried to spark an interest in me in engines. I always kinda liked working on small engines growing up,” said Jeremy. 

While a spark was ignited, life got in the way and Jeremy said he didn’t attend the Rollag show for years. 

“I made poor life decisions and wasn’t part of anything out there. I’m an alcoholic and drug addict. I’ve been sober eight-and-a-half years, and without my sobriety I wouldn’t be doing any of this. It’s part of my sobriety and a way for me to be of service to the public and to my family,” he said. 

Seven or eight years ago Jeremy went to the Rollag reunion again and “that little engine was still sitting there and I got it going and my grandpa felt good about that,” said Jeremy. 

His grandpa passed away about seven-and-a-half years ago, hopeful--and happy--Jeremy would carry on his legacy. 

It opened a whole can of worms Jeremy wasn’t really expecting. He started buying his own engines, trying to get them going, along with his uncle, Kevin Withers, and with advice from his father. 

“You buy something that needs work and spend time and money to get it back together,” said Jeremy. 

His only book and hands-on learning comes from high school automotive, small engines and welding classes. 

In the back of his mind Jeremy remembers his grandpa, who was very direct, saying, “keep these (engines) running,” and that’s what he tries to do.    

“Engines need three things to run--a source of ignition, compression and fuel. Problems all come down to those three things. You have to check for a spark, make sure there is fuel and air into the engine and there has to be some way to compress that charge,” he explained. 

Jeremy admits old engines can be “cantankerous” to work on, but “You take a break before you hit it with a hammer,” he said laughing.  

More laid back, Jeremy doesn’t get too excited when he gets an old engine running again, but he did call it “amazing.”

There’s lots of research and an educational process in restoring old engines. 

Like his grandpa, Jeremy likes the challenge, but there is another reason he enjoys his “expensive hobby.”   

“It’s another part of history to share with the public,” he said. 

That’s why he’s involved in shows like the steam threshing reunion and Pioneer Days; the latter which he is also a lifetime member of. 

“To have some kid walk in and be amazed at what he’s seeing or that curmudgeon remembering how hard engines were to work with,” he said, adding “Some (engines) can be very temperamental.”  

This Friday morning and all day Saturday and Sunday Jeremy will be at Pioneer Days in a shed near his family’s old engines. That spark ignited by his Grandpa Jim still shines bright.

“It’s in my blood,” said Jeremy. “Grandpa would be proud.”