An FM C-O From P-Ville

After a Hard Life and a 31-year Coma, this 200 HP Fairbanks-Morse C-O is revived


The old Fairbanks as it sat for over 60 years.

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Last month's issue of Gas Engine Magazine included an article titled "Salute to a Dream," in which several large Fairbanks-Morse engines were featured. Within that article, another large Fairbanks engine was mentioned, one belonging to the American Thresherman Assn. in Pinckneyville, Ill.

That engine is a model C-O 200 HP 4-cylinder reversible marine engine, recently started for the first time in 17 years at the association's 46th Annual Steam, Gas and Threshing Show in Pinckneyville this past August. Dennis "Junkyard" Fust, John Hidy, Gary Bahre, and Harold and Paul Kurtz are the men responsible for getting the engine running again, working about 18 hours over the course of just a couple of days. But before the ATA got their hands on it, the old Fairbanks had already faithfully served its previous owners for many years.

The C-O's Working Years

The big Fairbanks diesel left the Beloit, Wis., plant with another, identical engine on June 19, 1925, and headed for Nashville, Tenn., to be used to power the M/V North Star, a riverboat owned by the Dillman Egg Case Co.

After 10 years of service, in an unfortunate turn of events while heading down the Upper Mississippi River in November 1935, the North Star somehow sank, thankfully in fairly shallow water. However, the vessel was ruptured, and ice in the river prevented any rescue efforts for 69 days. During those 69 days, the poor Fairbanks sat in a pool of water and mud, some of which made its way to the engine's internals.

Once pulled from the water, the North Star was taken to Paducah, Tenn., and the pair of 200 HP engines was removed and replaced with a pair of much larger, 400 HP Fairbanks diesels.

The old steam engines used at the Fairbanks Ranch pump house in Eldred, Ill., owned by Henry Cohn, had seen better days and were in need of replacement. Henry made the decision to replace them with one of the 200 HP Fairbanks engines pulled from the North Star. Once the deal was made with Dillman Egg Case Co., he had it shipped via train to Eldred and loaded on a lowboy trailer owned by Kirbach Trucking Service. Kirbach then delivered the engine to the pump house very late one night, only to find the road too soft. A crawler tractor was then called in to help pull the truck to its destination.

Once off-loaded, the engine was disassembled, cleaned and reassembled. It was then put to work powering a 36-inch double-suction centrifugal pump that pumped 35,000 gallons of water per minute (under normal operating conditions). The engine served pumping duty for the station until George Varble, station commander at the time, retired the Fairbanks in 1974.

Between 1974 and 1997, when the ATA bought it, the old Fairbanks did nothing but collect dust. However, during its dust-collecting days, all the air and fuel lines were left intact, for reasons unknown. Maybe just in case the station was to need it again, like when a massive flood occurred nearby on the Mississippi River in 1983. It is believed the engine was possibly called into duty for a short time during that period, but that hasn't been confirmed.

New Owners

After the ATA purchased and transported the engine to their show grounds, it served only as a static display for seven years, despite several attempts by several different people to get it running. Then, at this year's 2005 Lathrop, Mo., Antique Car, Tractor & Engine Show, Gary met John Hidy and they began talking. One thing led to another, and next thing you know, John and Dennis were at Pinckneyville wrenching on the ATA's engine.

Among other problems, the issue at hand was fixing the injectors. This was accomplished using one of John's rare test stands that are required for such a repair, and Dennis' knowledge of how it's done.

While these five men diligently worked on the Fairbanks for two solid days, anywhere from 50 to 150 people were always there watching them work, as if they were a NASCAR pit crew. According to the association's vice president, Gary Bahre, everyone was so intrigued by what was going on, and so anxious to watch the engine start and run again, that when the crew would break for lunch, people waited there for close to an hour until they got back. He said two men even brought lawn chairs and watched the crew work for several hours!

Then, on the Thursday afternoon before the show, the crew turned it over and heard the old C-O fire up. It was immediately moved to the "center ring" of the show grounds and ran the rest of the day Thursday and all day Friday and Sunday of the show.

Although they did get the engine running again, the old Fairbanks is still in need of some attention. It needs a new head gasket, the air start valves need to be sealed better, the air and coolant lines have to be re-plumbed, an oil line needs repaired and several other odds and ends need to be attended to. Some of the repairs are already underway, and will most likely be finished by the time you're reading this. Since the tag was not with the engine when the ATA purchased it, a new reproduction tag is also being made.

A very dedicated crew constructed a trailer on which to run and transport the giant engine. It was built in the winter of 1999-2000, two years after the club purchased the engine. The 200 HP engine weighs in at a whopping 30 tons, so you can bet countless hours were spent welding on the trailer. However, the guys who repaired the engine and got it running found out the hard way that it needs to be permanently anchored down - it bounced itself right off the blocks it was resting on while it was running at the show.

The association is also currently working on a plan to house, or at least cover, the engine, as it is anything but watertight. In addition to protection from the elements, the 40-gallon fuel tank currently being used will be installed more permanently.

Gary says there have been many people to help with the engine over the years: The crew that moved it to the Pinckneyville show grounds from the pump house, the crew that built the trailer and mounted the engine, and the most recent crew that got the old powerhouse running again. The ATA extends its gratitude to all that have helped over the years.

Gary also wanted us to put the word out that the ATA is in serious need of a C-O manual. If anyone has one or access to one, the ATA would appreciate a copy, a loan, or even the chance to purchase one.

Contact engine enthusiast Gary Bahre at: P.O. Box 40, Sparta, IL 62286;