1610 N. West Street Carroll, Iowa 51401
I saw this Fairbanks the first time in 1934. I was 18 at the time, and my dad and I were inspecting a farm he had just taken possession of, about 10 miles from our home.
The Fairbanks had been abandoned a few years earlier. It was new to me, as it was a single cylinder with a box on the side with a stall for four telephone batteries, and a Model T Ford coil with a knife switch on the side. It had the gas cap removed, and the tank was rusted out. It was quite a find for a boy, so we took it along home.
This was in the 'dirty Thirties,' the days of lost farms; people needed money and the German and Irish mix population needed a bracer to face the realities of the times. You have to remember this was Carroll County, the home of Templeton Rye, and the entrepreneur of the times filled the need. This explains the desperate need for a reliable source of power when the wind didn't blow for the windmill. When the mash was ready they needed water right now. The steady 'Hiff, sutt, sutt, hiff!' of the hit and miss engine meant that the moon shiners were at it. The hog in the barn needed a soothing, cooling of his coil. No one complained about this arrangement, and the hog in the barn was moved frequently from place to place to break the trail for the agents. Occasionally, the raiders did catch a shiner and he was jailed, but always his friends bailed him out the same day and things were back to normal shortly.
Well, I took this discarded engine home and started to fix it up. The gas cap was gone and the tank rusted out, so a tin can set under the check valve became the gas tank. Next I' needed ignition, so instead of four dry cells I persuaded Dad to buy a Hot-Shot from the Gambles Store. They cost 98 cents, no tax. It didn't take long to get things working. I hooked it up to the well behind the grove. I found a half can of gas, and a squirt of oil in the oiler produced a stock tank of water. This worked well for the summer. (We pumped by hand in the winter.) But the next year the battery was nearly dead and Dad said, 'I just bought you one last year!' I learned fast that cranking an engine with a low battery is a burn-out sport. I knew that mags were available at the time, so I asked at Auto-Motive Electric in Carroll. He was sure they were available. Later on at a car service visit at their place they said they had the magneto, but the price was way out of my reach, so no deal. I just used old car batteries and they usually lasted through the summer.
Several years later, after I was on my own, I got to talking to the boss at the shop and he wanted to sell me the mag for $5.00.
Now I was in business! It worked out well until 1940, when the war effort wanted all sorts of scrap metal. I was alone at the farm by then, and at noon one day a large Government truck stopped in and wanted scrap metal. They wanted all kinds of iron, and would accept rusty barbed and woven wire and pay cash for cast iron. I told them I'd give them the pile of barbed and the rusty woven wire, but not to get any ideas about the engine and the pump jack by the well. I then hitched the horses on the cultivator and went to the fields to plow the corn.
That evening I went to town for a while. The next morning I went to church, and when I got home I went to look at the job those guys had done cleaning up the scrap. They'd done a thorough job alright, including the theft of my Fairbanks!
I couldn't do anything about the loss, and with the coming of tractors and the R.E.A. I sort of forgot about it. Then came the collecting, and the engine bug hit me at once, and hard. I managed to pick up a number of engines, but how I longed for the Fairbanks! By that time I was restoring small engines and outboard motors. I went to Lake View one day to see Byron Provoost, as he had the agency for Johnson outboards. I bought some parts from him and he wondered about my ability and the engines I had. He told me he had an old Fairbanks at his farm. I asked if he would sell it, and he said, 'I may as well, as it is out of order.' Well, I made a date with him to come back the next day.
The next morning my son and I went back to see Provoost, and he led us to his farm a short distance from his Resort. He took us to his brooder house, and there was the partially disassembled Fairbanks: dishpan flywheel, complete with trucks and 2/4 skids, just like the one I had as a boy in 1934. He went on to tell me he rented the farm house to a family with a young boy who had found a long heavy bolt on the place and proceeded to bust everything in sight windows, doors, battery on the engine, and the glass oiler. Before any more damage occurred, he moved them out. He bought another battery, and a squirt of oil in the oiler tube got him by, but water got in the pipe. He said it had been a very good engine but now was stuck tight as the devil.
I looked it over yes, it was stuck. Then I looked at the serial number. I asked what he wanted for it, and he said $55.00. I messed around for a minute or two, then said I'd take it. I paid him and we loaded up and started for home. On the way home my son asked why I hadn't dickered on the price, as the odd $5.00 was obviously dicker money. I said, 'Wait 'til you read the serial number.'
We got the engine loose in about an hour, and everything was upbeat from then on. I took the battery box off and installed a magneto. It runs like a charm now, and all new red paint! I even sold the battery box for $25.00.
So, that's how I got the Fairbanks I had at 18, and lost to the war effort in 1942, back in my possession at age 62! By the way, the serial number reads the same from each end584485.