Country Place Apartments, Apt. 602,3902 College Main, Bryan, Texas 77801
Although there were times of despair, disappointments, and bruised knuckles, Don Frei never gave up on his hobby. This native of Westphalia, Texas, is infatuated with restoring old, single cylinder, gasoline-powered engines.
'I virtually fell in love,' Frei said, recalling the first time he saw a 'one lunger design' five years ago. Frei was at a neighbor's house when he first encountered a 'one lunger design.'
'Having been raised on a farm and having worked on engines, naturally I became mechanically inclined,' Frei said.
In May of 1977, Frei and his brother-in-law saw an engine at a deer lease at Fredericksburg, Texas. The nameplate showed that the engine was a Fuller and Johnson, patented in 1909.
Frei bought the engine. On inspecting it, he found the engine was complete, but entirely rusted together. The timing gears were chipped and had to be replaced, and a duplicate was made of the rusted gas tank.
Using the rust solvent WD 40 to disassemble the engine, Frei took each piece and sanded it with sandpaper or emory cloth. On some of the larger pieces he used an electric sander.
Frei used no guidelines but his mechanical intuition to remember how each piece was to be put back together.
Frei said the Fuller and Johnson was an air-cooled, three horsepower engine, which weighed 480 pounds. It was used as a substitute for wind power on windmills. Rebuilding the engine took Frei 14 months to complete. He still remembers when the engine first began running.
'There were times of despair, lost knuckles and a feeling of if it was worth it, but I'll never forget when the engine began running,' Frei said. I had a baseball cap on, and when that engine first began sputtering and then runningthat (baseball) cap hit the ceiling.'
Frei is a senior at Texas A & M University majoring in management. His major complaint about going to school is that he doesn't have time, except on weekends, to spend on his hobby.
Frei has recently completed work on another engine in his spare time at home. It is an Ottawa brand engine. Frei estimates that it is from the early to mid 1920s, but he has been unable to pinpoint the exact date.
Frei found the Ottawa engine about two years ago while at a neighbor's house. He spied its flywheel sticking out of a pile of rubbish.
'This engine is special because it was used as a saw,' Frei said. 'This was the first attempt by man to saw other than by means of human or steam power. It is the predecessor of the modern chain saw.'
Although the engine is now running, the flywheel, pitman arm, crank shaft and guide mechanism, that are all essential to the sawing mechanism, are missing. But Frei has located the two seven foot saw blades.
Frei' s most recent acquisition, the Bull Pup engine, was used as a cornmeal grinder. This was also in use in the early to mid 1920s.
Frei said this engine will be the hardest to rebuild because the timing device is missing. He said he can't begin work until he can find the part.
'The engine is in limbo right now.' Frei said, 'Hopefully I can read or hear of an article that will solve my problem and I can begin work.'
This past summer, Frei put his two restored engines on display and the Fuller and Johnson won a second place in the engine division at the Westphalia Centennial celebration. He put the engine on 4' x 4' redwood skids for easy transportation.
'Most people were fascinated because the Fuller and Johnson was an upright rather than the usual flat design.' Frei said, 'Also a lot of people were amazed because the engine ran for three hours on ten ounces of gas from a Coke bottle.'
Frei estimates that he has spent about $300 on his engine. They have a net worth of more than $1,500.
'I had a guy offer me $500 for the Fuller and Johnson engine, but I refused.' Frei said. He added that he'll probably never give his engines up because of their sentimental value.
'It is a feeling of pride and accomplishment to come home and start the Fuller and Johnson, and the Ottawa,' Frei said.
Frei said his father told him when he began working on his first engine that he would never get it to run.
'Now he is just as proud of it as I am,' Frei said. 'Whenever a friend comes over he always asks if they have seen my engine run.'