West Coast Fairbanks Morse

Fairbanks Morse Z

Bob Mellin, 11 Library Place, San Anselmo, California 94960 put most of his restoration time on this Fairbanks Morse Z engine into the custom trucks it rests on. Look inside for his story.

Content Tools

Branch 3l EDGE&TA 11 Library Place San Anselmo, California 94960

I first saw this 1 HP Fairbanks-Morse Z-Type engine at one of our Branch 31 Gas-ups in California. I fell in love with its slow hit-and-miss chugging sound. Years later I managed to talk its owner, Joe Olsen of Ukiah, California, into a trade my money for his engine.

I wanted to do something special in restoring this engine, but since the engine was already in good shape, I decided to focus on building a special truck to put it on. I began by looking at the hundreds of truck examples in Wendel's American Gas Engines book. I noticed that most trucks were very plain, but a few had some unusual design features that I liked. I especially liked Jacobson Machine Manufacturing's 'Mascot' (pg. 254), which featured 'fancy striping and the unique undercut.' This became a guide for my truck.

I decided to put the name and type of engine on the truck so people at shows would know what it was without asking. I used vinyl press-on lettering. A survey of Wendel's book also shows that very few companies put their names on the trucks, but Fairbanks was one of the few that did on its Type H (pg. 163) which was later replaced by the Z Type engine.

I found some old 8' wheels and axles in a junkyard at Ken Holloman's (Branch 13) house. The rails are solid oak, 6' x 3', with about a dozen coats of marine varnish over the striping and lettering. The rails are mortised to accept the cross beams. The metal guard above the undercut is polished copper set with brass screws. The engine also has an in-line spark indicator light (from a motorcycle) that is very handy to show when a spark is being sent to the plug. The battery box has a solar recharger on its lid.

Even though most of the hard work had already been done when I got this engine, I enjoyed making it 'special' by designing and building an unusual truck to mount it on. I am especially happy with the undercut feature of the truck which allows turning the engine around within a radius equal to the length of the truck. I will be happy to provide rough plans and dimensions to GEM readers.