Farmer City man builds engines from scratch

FARMER CITY — There are people who build model planes, trains and ships in a bottle, and there are those with slightly more extensive hobbies.

Jim Hammer of Farmer City builds engines.

To Hammer, the engines don't serve much of a purpose in terms of utility, but the process of engine construction is what makes the hobby worthwhile.

"The first question everyone asks is what do I do with them," he said. "They eventually just sit on display. The hobby is the construction."

His engines are built from scratch in his family farm shed that itself was built from scratch by Hammer a little over a decade ago. They are also on display in the house he built from scratch in 1979, where he lives with his wife Mary Kay.

The hobby is not particularly uncommon, as Hammer is preparing to make a trip to Detroit later in the year for a convention of like-minded tinkerers who will be showing off their engines. But there is something quite unique about the intricacies of Hammer's engines.

"A lot of other people make these from kits. Mine are not made from kits. I make all of the parts here in the shop," he said.

Hammer orders materials online, and crafts the engines into working order in the family shed. Some run on air, some electricity and others on white gas.

The actual construction of the engines began in the early 2000s, but in many ways the hobby began in 1956, when Hammer began an internship at Caterpillar in Peoria.

"I don't know how many people still take part in that internship, but more of them should," Hammer said, remembering fondly his stint at the company from 1956-61.

There were many activities that occupied the time of the lifelong Farmer City man in the years between the end of his stint at Caterpillar and his retirement in 1998, and almost all of them included handiwork.

He ran Hammer's heating and cooling and built homes and several other buildings in Farmer City. The electric plant, the Laundromat and several other Farmer City institutions have Hammer's fingerprints on them.

He spent 50 years as a firefighter in Farmer City, and even served on the council for more than 10 years.

"It is quite a change when you go from working to being retired," he said.

To this day, Hammer says he owes much of his ability of craftsmanship to Caterpillar.

"Anything I know about running machines, I learned (at Caterpillar)," he said. "When I retired, I wanted to see if I had forgotten everything I had once learned."

The woodwork, metal work and assembly of the pieces are all done on machines in the shed where Hammer spends most of his days.

"I go here like I am going to work," Hammer said. "We can do pretty much any project we want right here."

Jerry Nowicki is editor of the LeRoy Farmer City Press, a News-Gazette community newspaper. For more, visit

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