A Fairfield First

52 John Deere MT

Content Tools

3437 Blue Ball Road North East, Maryland 21901

I have admired old iron most of my life, but it wasn't until the last five years that I finally was able to get busy and start into the hobby. A move by my wife and me from California to a more rural Maryland gave us enough room for me to indulge my lifelong interest. I started out with a 52 John Deere MT which was at a farm where my wife was working on some horses at the time. She traded out some work for the tractor and one day announced to me that I could go pick it up that's when the old iron bug bit me.

I fixed up the MT and traded the MT for an English Fordson and sold the Fordson to buy a JD B and sold the JD B to buy a 23 Fordsonall the while taking in basket cases and progressively turning out better and better restorations. Some of you may question the rationale for the transactions, i.e. trading a JD for a Fordson, but then again some of you may think that I got a pretty good deal!

I came to realize that to work on these tractors, one needed (preferably) a garage or barn to keep them while dissected. Since my wife has horses in her barn, and in the interest of domestic tranquility, I opted the buy, fix up, sell route to keep my iron craving satisfied, while minimizing space requirements. Eventually I settled on the 23 Fordson as a 'keeper,' which left me looking for another project. I started going to some tractor shows and soon realized that with the gas engines, I could lug them down the steps of the 'Auntie Em' door, work on them all winter while it is too cold to do much else, and then emerge in Spring with something which did not take up a lot of room. Sounded like a plan

I became acquainted with the local collectors through buying tractor parts and asking them for engine advice. About two years ago I was thinking about working on a one-lunger and saw one which looked interesting; a Fair-field 4.5 HP. It was in a shed, kind of covered with some other parts. It looked like it needed a good home, just about the right size. At the time I had no idea it was a fairly rare engine I was a rookie at the engines. We agreed on a price. I told him 'soon as I had the money' I'd pick it up. About a year and a half passes and it was now getting close to Christmas 1995. The wife is starting to ask me what I wanted the engine of course! Christmas Day we pick up the engine. We lug the Fairfield down the cellar steps. I remain in the basement for most of the next week.

The fellow I bought the Fairfield from gave me the name of a Don Kahn who lives near Fairfield, Iowa. I called him to find out what I could about the Fairfield. Turns out the company used to make hayloft equipment and such and, at one point, had foundry and a lot of cash. This was about 1913-14. In 1915 they came out with a small binder engine to help satisfy the rage of pulling self-powered implements with a team of horses. Lots of companies sold a lot of engines to meet this demand; Fairfield was no exception, albeit to a local market. By the early 1920s, the Fairfield Company was one of those obscure one-engine companies so prolific during this period which quietly faded into history. Wendel's book documents literally hundreds of such similar companies. Judging from what Don told me and the #7009 serial number on the engine, we dated it at about 1918.

Don said he had a sales/instruction manual describing the innards of the Fairfield. He graciously sent me a clean copy, which I copied and sent back to him, so as to keep the original from further wear and tear. Later I sent him some photos of my completed engine as another 'thank you.' I really needed the manual since the engine was missing the carburetor and manifold. The engine was stuck when I got it; originally it came from an old fellow in the Princeton, New Jersey, area who had it for many years.

At first, I thought this was going to be a major restoration since the engine was stuck. I quickly removed the doodads like the valves, timer and governor. The flywheel was next. I was able to pull the key out and remove the flywheel with a three-arm puller. As for the main bearings, I used a mixture of automatic transmission fluid and brake fluid squirted in the oiling holes. I then gently heated the bearing body with a small propane torch until I saw wisps of smoke, being ever so careful not to over-heat the babbitt bearings. Then I stopped, let it cool and tried to break it loose. After about 3-4 heating/coolings, all the main bearings were loose.

This is a 'headless' design engine and, of course, the piston was locked up in nearly the top of the stroke. Also, the connecting rod was in a position where I could not get to one of the bolts. So I bolted the head from the block and used an old Indian trick I once read in GEM about filling the head volume with a grease/oil and using a grease gun to force the piston out. I reinserted the valves and spread a little RTV over the seats to insure a good seal, capped off the spark plug hole, put a zerk fitting on the primer hole and started pumping. About a quart of gear oil and five big tubes of grease later, the crankcase fell into a catch pan with a sound similar to that heard near a cow pasture. Now I was in the homestretch; with the cylinder off, I could get at that elusive rod bolt and disassemble the rest of the engine. My only regret was and is that my enthusiasm of a new project usually prevents me from taking 'before' pictures.

The reason the engine was so hard to take apart was not the amount of rust found but rather how close the clearances were at the time the engine was retired. Most likely, the Fairfield saw light service, possibly broke down and simply sat in somebody's barn where it eventually stuck, I was actually able to reuse the two piston rings I did not break. There was about 2-3 thousandths side clearance measured here. I honed the bore to remove spots from the stuck rings and finished up the cleaning process. The replacement ring was the same 9/32' size as on the Cushman C binder engine. A light cut on the valves got them into shape and I lapped them into their seats. Most of the shafts which fit in the bearings were simply polished on a lathe using fine emery cloth. A new water pump shaft was made from some half inch rod stock. What looked like a major project turned out to be a diamond in the rough mechanically speaking. I painted the engine with Rustoleum Hunter Green based on what paint was left on the bottom of the engine.

The manifold was made from angle iron and a one-inch street elbow. About a pound of welding rod was needed to seal it off with repeated grinding and welding. It was as close a match as I could achieve without casting one. The exhaust heats the intake elbow which in turn preheats the intake air and allows the Fairfield to burn kerosene. The carb flange was made from a flange used for mounting pipe legs to a table. The fuel tank was fabricated from welded 1/8' aluminum with brass caps. The Fairfield was an 'all-fuel' engine hence the two compartments for gas and kerosene. The carburetor is a Holley model K. The pictures show a Johnson carb I used to get the engine running (from an R.E.O. car/truck from what I'm told). The Holleys came later quite by surprise when I had pretty much given up on ever finding one (thanks, Dave). The Holley model K was also used on the two cylinder New Way engines and maybe some others. It's a lot of carb for a small, single cylinder engine. The' model K has a fixed idle jet which I converted to an adjustable one for fine tuning. I work with a woman who is related to the former VP of Holley Company during the '50s and '60s, and was able to get his name and phone number. Several calls later I was able to track down the head of Engineering R and D during the '50s. Holley is now part of Colt Industries. Suffice to say there is no historical info on Holley available from the company or some of its former management. Both gentlemen were, however, very pleasant and interesting to talk to. As so often happens, new management comes into an older company and feels that historical records just waste space. Perhaps some of you readers have some info on the Holley Company from the early years to share with us. Holley Company also built a car about 1905, but when faced with the competition of an up-and-coming Henry Ford, opted to just make the carburetors for Ford and others.

The Fairfield uses a cam-driven timer ignition with a battery and Model 'T' type coil. The timer is able to pivot about the camshaft to advance and retard the spark. I first used a weak Model 'T' coil left over from my Fordson restoration, but later bought one of those 6-volt coils from the back of GEM. What a difference! Definitely worth the money. The 'T' coil was designed for about 18 volts AC from the flywheel-mounted alternator of the T and Ford-son. You'll spend about the same dollars for a T coil when this other coil is the right part for the job of running this type of ignition. It also has the wire screws already on it. A Dixie magneto was also available for the Fairfield as shown in the brochure figures.

As I took the engine to the shows, many people remarked how the Fair-field resembled a Cushman C, so this past summer I also bought a Cushman 4 HP model C from about 1915. The Cushman looked related to the Fairfield and the, price was right. Lots of people at the shows mistake the Fairfield for the Cushman, but there are several major differences. In my opinion, the Fairfield is a superior engine, as far as workmanship and design; how the prices compare, I do not know. The Fairfield used spiral cut timing gears. The Cushman had straight gears and tends to whine. The Fairfield has cam-driven intake and exhaust valves and produces a bit more power than the Cushman for similar displacement. Both engines are throttle-governed and produce a nice mellow sound like a half of a John Deere running. I do, however, like the Schebler carb on the Cushman, probably because I have not gotten the float set right on the Holley to give a correct idle on the Fairfield. Other than those differences, the two engines are remarkably similar.

I made the cart shown from some old oak pallets. The wheels were from an old McCormick planter which was pretty far gone. I cut the spokes down and rolled some rims which were welded to the spokes. The cooler is from a five gallon pail with a screen cone. I like to use clear tubing for all the water hoses; more things to watch while it is running. I will probably build a different cart in the future which is closer to the one pictured with the four smaller cast wheels. The current two-wheeled cart has a habit of going into resonance at medium RPMs and hopping around. If I step on the axle while this is happening, the hopping stops. Lengthening the cart, widening the axles, moving the engine forward and placing it on four wheels should minimize the hopping. I have heard these binder engines are notorious for wanting to hop like a bunny unless they are firmly mounted.

I finished the Fairfield in the spring of 1995 and took it to Wilhelm's show. I learned about rings seating, as our umbrella and beach chairs all have these curious little black spots on them. Then by magic, at Tuckahoe, it stopped and is a fine running engine. It usually starts on 1-2 turns after priming and idles at about 400 RPM. The Fairfield and other similar 'binder' engines were weighing in at about 50 pounds per horsepower when 100-200 was the norm for similar power hit-and-miss designs. The smallish flywheel is light and thus the engine is pretty responsive on the throttle. I can move this engine around by myself with no trouble and it fits easily into the back of my Toyota pickup. I guess that if I had a large hit-and-miss engine, I'd get a larger truck. You all probably know how that works probably the winter doldrums, which makes us think of warmer weather and the melodic chorus of the old iron the smell of exhaust but I digress

I would like to hear from any other Fairfield owners. There is probably not much more on the history of the company, but perhaps we can share info or stories. The great thing about this hobby is that many of us often are in the same boat when it comes to information; usually scarce and hard to find. Luckily there is no shortage of help out there may be not the first person you contact, but someone eventually knows someone who can help. I have been on the receiving end of the info food chain for a few years, but am beginning to be able to help out others with what I have learned. That in itself is rewarding, and in my opinion, a cycle well worth perpetuating.