Fairbanks-Morse engines found in East Texas cotton gin

Hidden treasures on FM 134

fairbanks morse 1

A 2-cylinder Fairbanks-Morse diesel engine found by B.J. Benton in an abandoned East Texas cotton gin.

Photo by B.J. Benton

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I have been an avid reader of Gas Engine Magazine for many years, and although I cannot collect engines anymore, I am always looking for that old building, farm or whatever else that just might harbor a piece of mechanical history. Always having that in mind frequently takes me down an unknown side road in the course of my daily work, and one day in 2007, that curiosity yielded a treasure of epic proportions.

A shortcut pays off
While on my way home from a service call near Karnack, Texas, I chose to take Farm-to-Market Road 134 as a shortcut back to Interstate 20. FM 134 is typical of East Texas country roads: They twist and turn back on themselves and always throw a surprise at you at some point. Well, I had almost come to the conclusion that I was hopelessly lost when I suddenly rounded a 90-degree corner and found myself in the tiny hamlet of Jonesville, less than three miles from Interstate 20.

Nice town for a treasure trove
On my right was the center of town complete with a rather well-preserved and operating general store flanked on either side by a dozen or so houses. On the left, however, was the treasure I mentioned earlier: a large tin building with the words “Murray Cotton Gin” on a small sign up on the wall. I knew that if this building was intact, and it looked like it was, that it was very possible that the equipment – and the engine that ran it – was still there! I pulled off the road and had to investigate.

I walked up to the side that had the sign, and below the sign, in a drive-through area, was an old cotton wagon hitched to an equally old John Deere “Poppin’ Johnny” tractor. The tractor was complete; it looked like the driver had parked it there and simply walked away.

Entering the gold mine
I decided to go around the back side of the building just to see what else might be there, and when I got to the side opposite the tractor, my heart skipped a beat. About a foot above ground level in the lower left corner of the building was a small muffler sticking out of the wall – still on its pipe! There was no door in that wall so I continued around to the next wall where I found that door and went inside. It was totally dark in this room but I had a small flashlight, with which I used to find the owner of the muffler – a 6 HP Fairbanks-Morse Model Z engine, complete down to the starting crank sticking out of the hopper.

As I said, the room was totally black when I entered it, but I sensed an even larger mechanical presence, much bigger than the 6 HP Z. I played the flashlight to the left and my eyes met the circle of a flywheel at least 5 feet in diameter. Then the flashlight revealed a large 2-cylinder Fairbanks-Morse diesel engine, complete, still belted to its accessories and still in the harness of the main drive belt. Just like the tractor, it was as if someone shut it down and walked away.

Preservation help wanted
I was ecstatic at this discovery but also heartbroken because I knew I did not have the means or the wherewithal to restore this old workhouse and make it bark again. But that’s why I wrote this article; to see if there’s a club or group in the East Texas area that would like to take on the task of restoring this piece of Texas history.

Contact B.J. Benton at 13326 CR 3104, Gladewater, TX 75647 • (903) 984-1790 •  greatgrammaof6@aim.com .