Down by the Old Mill

A Venerable 20 HP Fairbanks-Morse Type Y Comes Back to Life after a 40-Year Slumber

Old Abbott's Mill

The old Abbott's Mill where it was found are both survivors of another era.

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Last fall while visiting our daughters in Delaware, we took our granddaughter to a fall festival at Abbott's Mill Nature Center (part of the Delaware Nature Society) in Milford, Del. Our 4-year old granddaughter had her face painted, mixed colored sand and did all the fun things little kids should do.

We decided to take a little walk along a nice, cool stream rounding through the woods and back to the historic gristmill building that's part of the Nature Center. The mill was not open to the public that day because some beams were being replaced in the building, and insurance did not allow people in during work.

At the mill I met an employee of the Center, Robert St. John, who described the workings of the old mill. He also told me about and an old engine inside, a backup for when the water supply was low and the mill's turbine did not have enough water to run the mill. I asked Robert if I could peek into the door and see the engine, which he allowed, and when he noticed my interest in the engine he became more interested, too. He had only worked with the society for a while, and he was amazed by the old engine. A minute later he said, 'Aw heck, come on inside. This is not where the repair work is being done in the building. Let's go in.' In we went, and there stood the nicest 20 HP Type Y Style H Fairbanks-Morse semi-diesel 1 had ever seen.


According to information Robert had, the engine had not run in about 40 years, yet everything on the engine was in absolutely perfect condition. The piston was free and most moving parts only needed a little tap to get them going. I could see Bob (we're old buddies by now) was just as anxious as I was to see this old fellow run, but I didn't know anything about diesels, so 1 didn't want to offer to start it. 1 have a 15 HP Reed engine, which is nothing like an FM Type Y, so 1 couldn't really speak intelligently about it.

Driving home the next day the engine was hot on my mind - I just couldn't think of much else. My good friend Rodger Kriebel came to mind - I knew this master of engines could start the FM if anybody could. Would he be willing to go 150 miles to start this engine? Well, all it took was a phone call and we were planning a trip.

I called Bob, and he was very happy for the news and very willing to leave all the details and date up to us. Roger asked his friend, Bill Hazzard, if he would like to go along, and I asked my friend, Pete Peterson, if he was interested - both of them were ready for the challenge. I figured I better not ask anyone else or we would need a bus before this was over. We decided we would go the week between Christmas and New Year's.

Well, the day finally came for the big start. We picked a Sunday as the best day for all of us. We packed some tools and a good torch to heat the hot bulb, and Rodger and his wife, Bill and his wife, Pete, Ed Schwartz and I headed off for the three-hour drive to Milford.

When we got to the mill the wind was whipping and it was cold. Robert was kind enough to supply us with a torpedo heater, which pleased us all. When we arrived, Bill and Rodger were all over the engine. Everything seemed to be in great shape on the FM. They got the oilers working and checked the governor. The underground fuel tank was disconnected, but there is a little starting tank on the engine. We used kerosene for our fuel. The rest of the boys started heating the hot bulb, and this is where Pete and I came in. We were the designated flywheel turners, and Roger told us to rock the flywheels back and forth to gain momentum, but not to use our feet or we might just end up going through the ceiling.

It didn't take long to get her running, and after a few minor adjustments the old engine was running like a fine watch. The exhaust is piped outside, and you could hear her popping away while it was nice and quiet inside the engine shed. With a 23-acre pond supplying the mill, the old Type Y saw very little use, which must explain why it survived so well. We suddenly remembered we had left our wives freezing in the car, so they came in to see the engine and Bob gave us a grand tour of the mill.

The mill is absolutely fabulous, and the equipment is in mint condition. There is a water turbine in the race, but it was under water when we were there. Bob has since pulled it out, and he thinks it's in very restorable condition. Bob intends to get everything belted up, and wants run the machinery to grind corn, wheat, etc., for the fall festival - 1 hope I can make it to help run the engine.

Contact engine enthusiast Ed Schwartz at: Box 611, Hollow Horn Road, Ottsville, PA 18942; e-mail:

Contact Abbott's Mill at: 15411 Abbott's Pond Road, Milford, DE 19963; e-mail: or on the Internet at: