An Appreciation for Gas and Steam Engines

Mel Cameron shares his appreciation for gas and steam engines with Gas Magazine readers.

Fairbanks Morse 50 H.P

Photo courtesy of Mel Cameron, Windsor, Illinois.


Content Tools

A reader talks about his appreciation for gas and steam engines. 

I can remember my Dad having an old gas hit and miss engine when I was just a small boy. I have found out since I'm grown that it was a 11/2 hp "McCormick Deering" I. H. I have acquired an engine identical to it, with the exception that mine is a throttling governor type.

I bought a real nice 3 hp hit and miss "Fairbanks Morse" engine from my brother-in-law's father a few years ago. The engine ran real sweet after I cleaned and set the mag and made a gasket for the carburetor. I kept the engine for a year and then sold it for not too good a reason (I think now) and for not much money, $8.00 to be exact. I know I couldn't replace that beautiful old engine for that small sum now.

I've really got "side flywheel fever" now. I've been sorry since I sold my "Fairbanks Morse" and have wanted another ever since.

About a year and a half ago, I located an old engine. I just went to get it this spring. It is a 11/2 hp throttling governor "McCormick Deering I. H." purchased new in about 1925. I made the deal for the engine as soon as I found out the gentlemen had it. I also found out from him that he had it on a line shaft in a shed and that he had a washing machine, pump jack, cream separator and floor mounted grinder he run off it. I went out to look at the engine soon after I located it. It was not stuck and it hadn't been run in 15 years. The gentleman gave me a Briggs and Stratton 5/8 hp Model Y engine when I went out to look at the McCormick Deering this spring as I told the man I wouldn't get the engine until I felt I could spare the money. It was over a year, but the wait was worth it. I got the engine (on a fine set of trucks), the floor pedestal grinder, the line shaft and 3 line shaft hangar and bearing assemblies and the little Briggs thrown in free. The "McCormick" had never spent a night outside until the day I got it and it set out in the rain one night before we unloaded it from the truck the next day.

John Bean Spray Rig — Engine is a 3 hp vertical cylinder Novo. The pump is a 3 cycle brass with grease cups on all bearings. As you can see it is in 50/50 condition.

Large Green Sleeping Giant — How I'd love to hear this run again. I'm short on cash but long on dreams. This is another shot of the Fairbanks Morse 50 hp

Fairbanks Morse Diesel, single cylinder, single flywheel, Model Y, 40 hp, 300 R.P.M. Approximate, measurements — 7 foot tall base 48 feet by 44 feet: Flywheel 6 foot diameter 5 foot thick: Belt pulley 3 foot diameter: 13 foot wide belt: 9 feet wide. The exhaust stack on this is something to see. It is about a big piece of plumbing.

The throttle link was crystallized on the engine so in the course of conversation with an uncle, he suggested I try and get the part at Arthur, a Dutch Amish settlement not far from here. I went up there to the local I. H. dealer and found he had a parts book and that the part was still on the available list from the factory. This engine is shown in the parts book as model "L" made from 1923 to 1933. A friend of mine has a 11/2 hp like mine and a 6 hp also. When he wrote to the I.H. factory, they replied that the engine had been out of production so long they had no records or information so be sure and check with I.H. dealers when needing parts. You may get them; I did and at a reasonable price, too.

My dad's uncle was a businessman in the small town of Strasburg about 10 miles south of here and he ran the newspaper. He had a gas engine on the printing press. He sold the paper and my Dad's brother-in-law got the engine from his uncle, who bought the paper. He put on a Model T carburetor and used it for pumping water for a long time after that. Sadly, this engine is long gone now.

I've been asking everyone in the family about gas engines and I've found out quite a few interesting stories and got a couple good leads on engines, as my mother's and father's families both are 4th generation families of this part of the country.

My Dad told me about a couple of big engines that were in a town near his boyhood home and I asked if they had been disposed of and he said the one in the flour mill surely was because the building had something else in it now. I got to inquiring about the other engine and found out who owned the abandoned property (building) where it used to be and got the man's permission to look at and photograph the "big engine". See pictures and data on the big "Fairbanks Morse" diesel stationary.

The man who owns this helped his father repair the engine and maintain it when they had the business running. He said it burned 35 to 40 gallons of diesel fuel every 24 hours. It starts from an air bank. Everything looks at least 98% intact in the engine room although the old business is falling in now.

I have an appreciation for gas and steam engines alike. Steam engine still under cover in old flour mill. Made by Buckeye Engine Company Builders, Salem, Ohio, U.S.A. Last patent date December 5, 1899.

Another view of the Buckeye — The flywheel is 10 feet in diameter and 6 feet thick. The engine is roughly 15 feet long. Nothing on the engine telling hp, rpm or bore and stroke.

The big engine that ran the flour mill was purchased by this man's father and he disposed of it. It was a diesel with a large steel plug or tube that screwed into the head. This was removed and heated with a blowtorch in getting the engine ready to start. My Dad lived 6 miles almost due east from town and he could hear the engines run. My uncle lived 10 miles or so northeast and they could also hear the engines.

I know of an engine still in use pumping water for a beef herd and it is not 15 feet from the edge of the road and the R.E.A. power line. How about that? This isn't in Amish Country either.

The pictures of a big stationary steam engine belongs to a place my cousin drives a truck for. He got me in the building and helped me get the pictures. The steamer, as best I know, is not for sale.

The man who owns the Fairbanks Morse Diesel went to school with my dad. He said he may have an old A.C. forward and backward running engine yet. I'll have to speak to that man again. His father had bought the engine.

I got another engine not so long ago by asking the local gasoline tank wagon man about such things. I asked him about old engines once and he told me about one he knew of about a year ago. I asked him to see about it. This year he said it was gone but he'd just talked to a man an hour ago who said he had one. I wasted no time in getting out to see about this one. I made arrangements to buy it and get it home. It is a type E, 11/2 hp John Deere on trucks. This one had been outdoors and was rusty as a cob hut. It turns over freely and the exhaust rod and rocker arms, etc., all move. I've got it soaking with penetrating oil now.

My wife and family and I went visiting with some friends south of here for the weekend this summer and I inquired if he knew of any engines. He at first said no, then he said, "I do know of one. It was on a well inside the barn on the farm next to us when I was a boy." This led to memories of an old orchard spray rig (see pictures) and another engine and a buzz saw complete. Not bad for someone who didn't know of any engines at all.

He had to work Saturday, so that evening when he got home, we went to look at the spray rig and the one on the well. The one on the well in the barn was gone but we found it in the farm house (abandoned) living room. It is a 11/2 hp open crank Alpha engine with the base made to attach a pump jack. The spray rig is a John Bean with an upright cylinder Novo 3 hp engine on it.

The spray rig has not run in 40 or 42 years. The water jacket is cracked, name plate broken in two, etc. It is a battery ignition engine.

These pictures show an aermotor which Andy Anderson owns. You will note that this one has a Wico jump spark magneto. It has a crank guard which is missing from my engine.

I am sorry but I have mislaid Andy's letter as it sheds an interesting light. He writes that in the last years of Aermotor manufacture, they were made by a Pennsylvania shop. His quotes from builder's plate. Perhaps Andy, if he reads this, can fill in the missing information.

My friend got to thinking about old gas engines while working and decided he wanted to get into this hobby. (A new gas engine nut in less than 24 hours.) We want to see the man about the spray rig Sunday afternoon and he agreed to sell it for junk price. He spoke to the farm owner's son who owns the Alpha and it was rerung, valves ground, etc. but had a weak mag. After all that effort expended so they set it in the house and changed over to an electric motor on the pump — this only within the last year from what I gathered from the conversation.

Well, that is all for now. I'll write another article and try to get some more pictures in the future. In the meantime I've got to see about a couple of engines on wells that I know of; A forwards backwards running engine, a couple cement mixers, an engine that belonged to a friend's uncle, an engine in the junk yard, get some film developed, etc., etc.