Boy Meets Engine

Top view of 1933 Fairbanks

Ed Brushac

Content Tools

P.O. Box 1026 Leeds, Alabama 35094

Photos by Ed Brushac

Christinas, 1975. Clarksville, Arkansas. Driving out to the in-laws for the festivities. Driving along Highway 64, I see a junkyard. Junkyards always deserve a 'look-see' for something of interest. This time it pays off. There, atop a neatly piled stack of scrap iron, are several spoked wheels of some sort. We pull in and I find the owner of the junkyard. 1 ask him what those wheels and Dig castings are. He is not sure, so I take a closer look. They look like some kind of old engine or compressor. There are two of them, and we agree on a price of $60 for the lot. Well, here I am, 500 miles from home and, as luck would have it, we are in the Honda Civic! He agrees to save them for me until I can get hack out to Arkansas with my trailer.

That is how I found a 1933 Fairbanks and a C.H.&E. of unknown vintage. Keep in mind that, at this time in my life, I knew absolutely nothing about antique engines or the hobby. All I knew was that I had found something interesting to play with.

The C.H.&E. was fairly complete, so I gave it to a friend to fix up, as he did not have machine shop facilities at his disposal. He could get his fixed up and running with little 'remanufacturing.'

Mine was an absolute basket case. I had by this time figured out that it was indeed some kind of very old engine, but still had not a clue as to what it was used for, or where to get help or parts or anything. All I knew was it was a four stroke, the fuel system was gone, and there was no timing mechanism or gearing whatsoever. Boy, this was going to take some work to make it into an engine!

The piston was stuck fast, and the valves were broken off even with the head. The babbitt bearings were also completely non-existent. On the bright side, the block was not burst, the rod was straight and the flywheels were not broken or bent. After taking the head off, I poured in some oil and let it sit for a while. Eventually, the piston was delicately removed, with the aid of a piece of oak and a fire axe! For some unexplainable reason, the piston and rings were perfect, but the cylinder bore was rusted out an eighth of an inch where the rings touched the wall. Oh well, I always wanted to sleeve an engine.

Good old NAPA auto parts. They had a sleeve that was close enough to work with. I put the block in the boring mill at work (while the boss was out of town) and bored and pressed the sleeve in place. Next, for bearings, I found some prefab brass bushings that were close to the right size and split them in half length-wise. These were held in place in the block and caps by drilling and countersinking the halves and screwing them in place with flat-head brass screws. Crude but effective! The rod got the same treatment. After that, I put the crank in a lathe and gave it a good polishing, so it would turn freely in the homemade bearings. Now, the piston would go up and down. Great, but still no cam or gears or spark ,or timing.

Thanks to the good Dr. Ferdinand Porsche and the local Volkswagen bone yard, my valve timing was taken care of. A sleeve was pressed into a VW crank gear and rebored to fit on the Fairbanks crank. One big set-screw makes it infinitely adjustable. For a cam, I sawed a section of a VW camshaft to about three inches long and turned a couple of lobes off of it to leave a stub shaft on one end. Next, a VW cam gear was bushed and sleeved to fit on a short shaft section that was turned on the other end of the remaining camshaft lobe. Next, I bored out a block of aluminum to accept the new camshaft. This was bolted to the block where the original timing mechanism must have gone. A dead Briggs and Stratton lawnmower engine gave up a lifter, and now I had gear timing.

For the spark, I took a Dremmel hand grinder and ground a hollow in the side of the cam gear. This let the rounded-off head of a quarter-inch bolt fall into the hollow to work an old set of points from my Honda. A friend gave me a T-model coil (later changed to a homemade buzz coil), and I robbed a carburetor from an old lawnmower. Hey, we're getting close! Two Chevrolet valves modified to fit the head, and a couple of old springs from the company junque pile, and I'm in business. Next, I bolt it to a piece of cross tie and fill the gas tank made from an empty propane torch bottle. A few turns of the crank, and, WOW, it really is an engine!!!

This project was completed in 1976 and, since it was our bicentennial year, my wife suggested that it be painted red, white and blue. So be it! After having many enjoyable hours over three or four years' time listening to and playing with my 'one of a kind' engine, my bubble was finally burst. On a trip through Kentucky, we accidentally happened upon the Mammoth Cave Antique Engine Show. That is where we found out that I was not the only weird person who played with old engines. What a great thing to find out.

We have now been in the old engine hobby for nearly twenty years, have had a great time at many engine shows and have met many really nice people. Thanks to a junkyard in Arkansas.