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OVER THE HILL

RANSOM OLDS, THE HILL DIESEL ENGINE COMPANY & THE HILL MODEL R

Most of you know the Oldsmobile name. And since you are a diesel enthusiast reading the world’s premier diesel enthusiast magazine, you will naturally connect that brand name to the infamous ’78 Olds 350 diesel (see Diesel World June 2018). You may even know the Oldsmobile car was named after a very talented gent named Ransom E. Olds (1864-1950). Odds are slimmer that you know Mr. Olds was an early pioneer in the manufacture of diesel engines. This is the story of how he went over the Hill. Hill Diesel, that is.

In 1883 Olds began working for his father and older brother at P.F. Olds & Son, a company that dealt mainly with steam power equipment. In 1890 he bought his brother’s share of the company and, seeing external combustion (steam) was on the way out, began pushing his father into a new direction: internal combustion. P.F. Olds & Son soon became the Olds Gasoline Engine Works, producing a variety of innovative engines from 1 to 50 horsepower. Some of them used a hot tube ignition, an idea that translated into the development of the diesel engine, then commonly known as an “oil” engine. Olds began experimenting with motor vehicles in the late 1880s. By 1896 he had some salable ideas for a gasoline-powered automobile. Concurrent with the engine plant, Olds began the Olds Motor Vehicle Company in 1897 but needed cash to bring cars to volume production. Investors came in and though it diluted Olds’ interests and focus somewhat, he was still VP and General Manager of what became Olds Motor Works. The gas engine plant was folded into the business but Olds wasn’t hands-on there any more. By 1910 that part of the company had become the Seager Engine Works under new owners.

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