A Return From the Past

Dan Ehlerding

All parts loaded, ready for tie down. Dan Ehlerding checking things over.

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13 W. Plum Street Tipp City, Ohio 45371

I have read many stories in GEM about retrieving big gas engines from old grain elevators, from basements of old theaters, from under garage floors, out of creeks, and what have you. All these stories I enjoyed very much, but little did I realize that some day I would be writing about an engine that I helped to retrieve from an old grain elevator right here in my home town.

To begin with, this old grain elevator was built in 1885. I was told that in its early stages it was powered by a steam engine which was on an outside wall made up of brick and stone. How long this steam power was used, I do not know, but it did succumb to a 22 HP Fairbanks-Morse gas engine which was run on natural gas with the exhaust piped to the outside.

The engine sat in the basement, which was about six or seven feet below ground level, and just opposite where the steam engine sat on ground level on the outside wall. It, too, met its demise when electricity came into being, for then electric motors, vie belts, vie pulleys and such took over. Electric motors of all sizes were used depending on the job they had to do.

Electricity remained the supreme power until the grain elevator was shut down for good; there it stood as silent sentinel with concrete silos high overlooking the town.

My dad, who was born and raised in town, knew about this engine being in the basement, and had told me about it a good many years ago. The subject of when it was installed never came up. I wish now I had asked him. In fact, not too many people in town knew that the engine was in the basement of the old elevator.

Now I'll back up a few months so I can bring my story up to date. Last September, I attended the Clinton County Corn Festival, which is held in Wilmington, Ohio, at the fairgrounds. There, two of my friends, Maynard Peterson and Dan Ehlerding, were operating the big 200 HP, 1924, Fairbanks-Morse Type 'Y', vertical, four cylinder, semi-diesel, two cycle engine. After shutdown, I called Maynard over and told him that I knew of a pretty good size Fairbanks-Morse engine that we might be able to get, and it was right here in my own hometown. He was interested and I told him that I would keep in touch.

Several weeks later back home, rumors were going around that they were going to tear down the old grain elevator. That signaled me to get in touch with Maynard right away.

On the following Saturday, he and his friend Glen Murphy came to my house and we went over to the grain elevator. There were a couple of men working there removing some of the old equipment. They knew me, as I had been there so many times before looking the engine over and taking pictures. We walked on down the stairs that led to the basement, and there, just a few steps ahead sat the engine.

Well, I had known that the engine had some parts missing; namely, the head, hot tube, top bearings on the crankshaft, and rod bearing and cap, and one of the most important of all nameplate.

All this I had told Maynard before. We tried to determine why these parts were missing, and came to the conclusion that at one time someone else wanted this engine, but was unable to remove it. A wall would have had to be removed and then replaced, as the grain elevator was still in operation.

After we looked the engine over real good, taking into account the missing parts, we came to a halfway conclusion to pass it up. I told one of the workers that we were going to let it be--if we changed our minds I would get in touch with the owner right away.

As the rest of the day passed on, I kept thinking about this engine, and I could not bring myself to think of that part of the elevator history, especially the gas engine, being destroyed. My friend must have been thinking the same thing, as he called me that night and said, 'Let's take it.' Was I ever glad to hear that!

After several phone calls to the owner, he agreed to meet me at the elevator the following Monday morning, and we came to a fair and reasonable price for the engine. We had just a couple of weeks in which to remove the engine, as the wrecking crew was scheduled to tear the building down very soon. I called my friend back to let him know the situation. His response was that he would have a crew there Saturday morning to begin work.

Saturday arrived, so did the crew, and so did the January cold. Anyone who has been around an elevator knows they are one of the coldest places to be in the winter, and one of the hottest places to be in the summer.

The crew were all members of the Antique Power Club of Clinton County, Inc. They came fully equipped to handle the job on hand, snatch blocks, jacks, come-a-longs (manual and powered), chains, portable generator, cutting torch, fire extinguisher and you name it. This crew had done this kind of job before, so they were prepared. Since the old elevator was going to be torn down anyway, this was a plus for us. We were free to do almost anything we had to in order to get the engine out. (Except hurt ourselves.)

We started in the cold basement, stringing lights from the portable generator so we could see what we were doing. Then a decision had to be made as to the best way to get the engine out. It was decided to take the flywheels out first. No attempt was made to remove them from the crankshaft. Next would be the cylinder, rod and piston; the piston was stuck in the cylinder. Then the sub-base and finally the main base.

With that settled, the next step was to go upstairs and cut a ten foot square hole in the floor to bring parts up though. Next, up to the second floor to cut another hole somewhat smaller so we could wrap the chain around several beams to secure a snatch block. Next, a part of the wall made up of corrugated sheet metal and wood was knocked out and the flatbed truck backed into position. Incidentally, the bed of the truck was almost even with the floor from which we were working.

The necessary hookups were made and we were ready to start retrieving. First, up came the flywheels, then heavy beams were placed to let the flywheels roll onto the bed of the truck, which were then turned and rolled to the front of the truck and secured. Next up were the cylinder, piston and rod. The subcontractor of the wrecking crew, who was watching us all the time, graciously offered his help with his backhoe to retrieve the other parts. (Our many thanks to him.) All the parts were lifted out, put on the flatbed truck, and tied down. All this went on without a hitch, thanks to the working of a good crew. The engine was then transported to a place near where my friend lives and put under cover, where it now awaits restoration.

Well, at this writing, the old elevator is now gone and it becomes only a memory in the minds of those who knew it. But the one-time heart of the operations has been saved the 22 HP Fairbanks-Morse engine.

In all fairness to the crew, I would like to thank them for their great help in removing the engine. They are: (left to right in the crew picture) Ronnie Kendall, Grant Beam, Paul Clark, Josh Beam, Mark Beam, Dan Ehlerding, Alfred Kendall, Glen Murphy, David Johnson, and Maynard Peterson.