The Z That Stands Tall

Fairbanks-Morse

Content Tools

12234 Harris, Carleton, Michigan, 48117

My interest in antique farm equipment started a couple of years ago. I had just finished putting up a windmill in the backyard. I thought it would be fun to find and restore a small stationary steam engine. I soon found out that they were not cheap and are hard to come by.

A co-worker and I were invited to an engine show in Ohio by his uncle and a friend. After that show, I think I was hooked. I wanted to have one of those old engines. Several months passed and I was cleaning up behind the garage. While taking a load of junk to the scrap yard, there on the side of the path sat an 1HC LB 1? 2? HP-not real old and certainly not rare. The next day I went back, bought it and took it home. But I really had my heart set on an engine with spoke flywheels and an open crankcase.

At that time I was borrowing GEM from a friend. Every month when the new one would arrive, he would call. I would go pick it up and go through the ads. There were a lot of engines I would have liked and they were priced right too, but they were all two or three states away-just too far to go in a weekend. I had gone to a couple of engine auctions without much luck.

I had talked to a lot of people at shows and they gave me some advice. For my first engine I should get one from a private owner where I could get the history of what type work it may need. If possible, get one that ran or close to it. Stay away from those with parts missing that may be hard to find or tough to make. I felt this was good advice for a newcomer to the hobby.

The summer was over and winter was here. The December '86 issue of GEM had just arrived. I went through it and found some engines for sale near Pontiac, Michigan-a couple of hours north from where I live. I called and set a time to see the engines.

That Friday after work found me at the home of John Rasmussen. John has a nice collection of antique cars, trucks, tractors and engines. He had three that I looked at. I decided on the Fairbanks Morse. It was a 1923 1? HP Z. The engine was pretty much complete, only missing the muffler, cylinder oiler and crank handle. The mag was shot, but the valves were stuck and it had no compression. We loaded it up and off I went. I strained my neck to catch a look at it in the back of the truck under every bright street light. I arrived home at about 10:00 p.m. I backed the truck into the garage, turned on all the lights and used the tailgate for a temporary work bench. I took out a can of penetrating oil and gave everything that moved a good squirt. I started work on the valves, tapping them open with an old rawhide hammer then pulling them closed by hand. After a few minutes, they would close under their own spring tension. It was getting late and time to head for the house. I reached over and gave the flywheels one last spin before heading in. To my surprise, it had compression-good compression, too! Compression, spark, fuel-it should run! All I needed was a good spark plug. Needless to say, I didn't get much sleep thinking about being able to get it running the next day.

The next morning I went over to my brother's house to tell him what I had brought home and showed him the old spark plug. We drank coffee and waited for the tractor shop in town to open. They didn't have a half inch pipe thread spark plug, but told us of a couple of places that might. We found one, headed home and started to work. The intake valve gave us more trouble. By that afternoon, it was running. We were both surprised at what a loud voice it had with a straight pipe and no muffler.

I attend shows in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana. At these shows, the large engines get a great deal of attention as well as the rare ones. The rare ones always seem to have those professional quality restoration jobs. The castings and paint are smooth and shiny like glass, they have elegant pin striping and the brass parts shine like new gold. Those engines are always parked right up front next to the safety rope for all to see and appreciate-and they do. They are truly a work of art. But away from the safety rope, or at the other end of the display trailer, there always seems to be a little Fairbanks Morse Z. Most of the time it still has the original paint, is still on the factory skids with the corners dry rotted off and the big brass engine tag is not as shiny as it could be.

With all that in mind when restoration started on my Z. I took a little more time sanding, gave it a couple extra coats of primer and used some of that spot putty on the real rough spots. I tried to keep the engine as original as possible, keeping all the old nuts and bolts, even the drive nails that held the engine tag on. The only thing that I changed was the grease cups. I used brass ones to dress it up a little.

I had some help from some show-goer friends of mine, Skip and Swim and Dave Carr. Skip is one of those kind of guys that has the knack to come up with those hard to find things, like 12 inch cast wheels for the engine truck or a #2 engine oiler and an antique oil can. Dave has a machine shop set up in his garage. He helped me with the truck axles and mounts as well as with any other parts that needed to be fixed or made up. I know when that engine was new and picked up at the railroad depot, taken home, uncrated and put to work with its new coat of dark green paint and that big brass Z engine tag, that the owner must have thought that Z stood pretty tall for the work it was doing for him. Well, with the coming of the 1988 show year, I am going to put my Z up there right next to the safety rope with all the other rare engines. And it will be standing tall again!