1942 350 hp Fairbanks-Morse Diesel Engine

A massive Fairbanks-Morse diesel engine gets a second life.

1942 350 hp Fairbanks-Morse Diesel Engine

1942 350 hp Fairbanks-Morse diesel.

Photo by Bill Vossler

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350 hp Fairbanks-Morse Type 32E

Manufacturer: Fairbanks, Morse & Co., Beloit, Wisconsin
Year: 1942
Horsepower: 350 hp @300rpm
Bore & stroke: 14in x 17in
Total Displacement: 5 cylinders, 13,084 cubic inches
Weight: 40-plus tons
Cooling: Water, jacketed cylinders and heads
Ignition: 2-stroke diesel/air starting
Special Equipment: 480-volt AC generator

When Ralph Altenweg of Dayton, Minnesota, was involved with pouring the cement for the base for a 1942 5-cylinder 350 hp Fairbanks-Morse diesel engine at the Rogers, Minnesota, Threshing Show in 1991, he had no idea the work would have to be repeated two years later.

“The most important point is that the pillar for the tailboard bearing must be poured continuously with the main foundation as one solid chunk, approximately 32-cubic-yards of concrete 4 to 6 feet deep. The engine anchor bolts had to be almost in perfect alignment to hold the 30-ton engine. This was accomplished by a custom fixture made by Gene Zopfi and Leo Eiden,” Ralph says, noting that when Ed Klemish with Rocket Crane Co. set the engine, everything lined up.

“We had a Fairbanks-Morse book that told how you open up that last porthole and go in with a dial indicator between the web of the crankshaft and turn it over; that’s how you set that bearing adjustment screw so there won’t be any flexing. If the 8-inch-diameter crankshaft flexes, it could break, so it was critical getting it aligned.” But all that work lasted only two years, when it had to be redone.

History all around

Ralph began collecting gasoline engines starting with a circa-1912 3 hp Waterloo Boy, and helped start engine clubs in Minnesota in the early 1970s, including the Anoka Engine Club, which morphed into the Rogers, Minnesota, show. Ralph also morphed into collecting tractors, like a 1918 14-28 Rumely OilPull, one of the last made, as well as 10 antique trucks. So he had a background in old iron, not to mention the years he spent working at Federal Cartridge Co., (now Federal Premium Ammunition,) of Anoka, Minnesota, where he worked with four Fairbanks-Morse 2-cylinder 150 hp engines of the Model E type like the 350 hp engine.

“They were used for power for the boiler room,” Ralph explains, “though they used to power the shot shell plant. When I started working there, one was running all the time. An old electrician there got me interested in those. I had to start and run them and check the oil and do maintenance, as well as tear them down and re-ring and change the main bearings.”

So Ralph and some other enthusiasts in his engine groups were interested when threshing show member Butch Soukup, who worked at Food Machinery Corp., informed them in 1991 that a 1940s 350 hp Fairbanks-Morse engine at that plant was going to be coming available for scrap.

“That Fairbanks-Morse was used for emergency power for their exit lighting,” Ralph says. “The last time it had any big run was after the 1965 tornado, when it ran for a week straight providing power for critical things.”

Member Glen Westphal was awarded the bid, and had to write a letter of intent to the Naval Commission stating that the engine would be set up and shown, and not cut up for scrap. Although they couldn’t scrap it, the engine was sold to them based on scrap metal prices. With the engine bought, they then loaded it onto a single trailer and hauled it to Rogers.

Early on they had a few minor problems with the engine. “The number one cylinder had a bad water gasket, but at that time you could still get parts from Fairbanks-Morse out of Beloit, Wisconsin, so we got a couple of extra parts for it,” Ralph says. Ralph notes that the engine wasn’t run much at the factory, so the club is confident it has many years of running ahead.

Pour more cement

After they got the engine settled on its foundation, a building was erected around it. That didn’t last long, however, because in 1993 the show property owner, Walter Dehn, died. The land was sold, and the group was given two years to remove the engine.

They decided to move it to the Nowthen, Minnesota, Threshing Show, about 16 miles from Rogers. The building around the engine was taken down, and then on Dec. 8, 1994, the main block of the engine was loaded on a lowboy trailer. The total weight was 98,000 pounds; 49 tons, and 9 tons over the maximum load limit.

The drivers had a backup plan. “If they were stopped by the State Patrol, they were going to get out of the truck quickly and walk away, which luckily didn’t happen,” Ralph says, laughing.

The rest of the engine including the 8-ton flywheel, generator stator, rotor, and the stub shaft to attach the rotor to the engine was brought over later. The building was re-erected around the engine at Nowthen, and a year later, the 350 hp Fairbanks-Morse was running – and it has been ever since.

Running the Fairbanks

Starting it up requires filling it with water – now done by Rick Hoffman, who, Ralph says, “has been a real godsend. I used to have to drain it and fill it with water, and now Rick and new team member Zoranna Berry take care of that. So all I do is chat and talk.”

Ralph says what he enjoys most about the Fairbanks-Morse is talking about it. “That’s the easiest thing to do,” he laughs. “Education is part of our core value at the show, so we do the best we can. After running it we have question-and-answer sessions, and one frequently-asked question is, ‘How much fuel does it use?’ The answer is, it depends on the load. We fill the tank once a year, although one year we forgot to turn the fuel on, and when you do that on a diesel you have to bleed everything and pump it up to get it going again.”

The machine isn’t started until the first day of the show. “That’s kind of a fun thing to do. We give a little explanation on the air start, done with bottles that supply air at about 200 psi piped underground to a rotary valve that alternately puts air in cylinders one and four and starts turning the engine over until it fires. We’d like to see 225 psi, but usually it’s about 175-200,” Ralph says.

The 350 has a Woodward governor. “We put a plastic sheet over two sides so you can actually see how the governor picks up the load. We demonstrate that with lights up above and when we turn on a 40 hp helium compressor that was used to pump up weather balloons during World War II; the lights momentarily blink, and the governor picks up the load right away. We put a 200 hp Gardner-Denver air compressor on and the lights dim down and then it picks up that load. That’s a synchronous motor, and turns the same speed as the generator. It was used for power factor correction in big plants with a lot of induction motors. It helps correct the power factor so the power company isn’t billing you for extra power,” Ralph explains.

A “next start” clock tells show-goers when the engine will be run next. A bronze Fairbanks-Morse generator name plate and two small name plates were saved by Ralph from the 150 hp engines, and are now on the 350.

The 350 is water-cooled, originally with a large radiator. “Now we just run water through a large tank containing 300-400 gallons,” Ralph says. The serial number is not available as the tag was taken as required by government regulations when something is scrapped. A Madison-Kipp lubricating system on the front end near the governor keeps it pressure lubed, and there’s an oil reservoir for each of the main bearings so workers can go along and find out whether the oil ring is picking up the oil and lubricating the 8-inch diameter crankshaft.

One problem operators of the engine have to be aware of is that it is a dry-sump engine. “If you get oil down in the crankcase, it could run away. It could speed up and destroy itself, so we make sure that the sump system is working okay. At Federal Cartridge we had to come in weekends to check on those Fairbanks-Morse engines,” Ralph says.

The Fairbanks has compression releases. “If you don’t close them again prior to starting the engine, and start turning it over with air, you get a heck of a mess,” Ralph says. “It gets pretty loud and completely chaotic. We’ve done that twice over the last 20 years or so, so now we always remember to shut those compression releases off.

“It’s not a rare engine,” Ralph continues. “Many of these engines were used in power plants in Minnesota years ago. The city of Princeton had a complete set of Fairbanks-Morse Style E from 1 cylinder up to the 6-cylinder model.”

Ralph says Nowthen has brought in another engine that came out of a municipal plant in south Minneapolis, a Worthington 5-cylinder diesel that runs at twice the speed of the Fairbanks-Morse at 600rpm. “So we’re going to have a combination of 5-cylinder engines,” Ralph says, “one a 4-cycle and one a 2-cycle, for comparison.”

End of the season

When the season ends at the Nowthen show, the engine is stopped and a chart on the wall is consulted. “Every year, we stop it at 90 degrees from where it was stopped the year before. The theory is that if the crankshaft stays in one position too long you’ll get a bowed crankshaft, because it doesn’t get started between when it’s stopped and the next year. We turn it by hand to get it right; if it accidentally stops right on the mark, it stays there the entire year.”

The engine has to be drained of water so it doesn’t freeze and damage the block, the fuel has to be shut off, and an air hose is used to blow any water out of the five injectors on top of the engine. A screen is placed over the control board to keep mice and squirrels out. Finally, part of the crankshaft out by the generator is exposed, so that’s covered with oil. Then it just sits until the next year, when Ralph and the crew will go through it all over again.


Contact engine enthusiast Bill Vossler at Box 372, 400 Caroline Ln., Rockville, MN 56369; bvossler@juno.com