Good Friends and Old Diesels


Old diesel

Content Tools

4, Box 518, Easley, South Carolina 29640

This article is about determination, hard work and friendship and how, together, these characteristics have restored a forgotten old diesel engine to working order. In July 1987 my engine friends and I went to Orangeburg, South Carolina to look at some old Fairbanks Morse diesel engines. One of these happened to be a single cylinder, type Y, style VA, 60 HP, 257 rpm, SN582402, and built in 1924. This engine was a real eye-catcher because of the unusually large flywheel, which measured 15 inches wide and 89 inches in diameter, weighing 6.5 tons according to the FM recorder. Everything else about the engine was a turnoff because of its poor condition. The engine was last run in 1943, and the piston was stuck about one-fourth of the way down the cylinder. When you have a piston 14 inches in diameter and 38 inches long stuck, then you really have something stuck!

The crankcase showed some evidence of rust and deterioration due to condensation over the past 45 years. Only a rough assessment of the condition of the engine could be made on the first visit, since on that hot July day the wasps were so mad and plentiful we could not even keep them back with a spray bomb. Plus, the all tin building made it seem even hotter. Examination of the engine room and engine turned up all the missing parts. During a second trip in October. Mr. Harris Valentine, the owner, agreed to let us remove the head and check the condition of the cylinder wall from that end. Well, there were no surprises, because there was rust just like we expected. This pretty much turned everyone against the idea of trying to move a very questionable engine that weighed about 12 tons 130 miles.

Well, as you engine fellows know, there is something mysterious about old rusty machinery and iron that keeps you dreaming about them- they haunt you for just one more chance to run. I just could not take it any longer and decided to call the owner again and see if he would set a reasonable price that would at least make the engine worth moving, even if it could never be made to run again. To my surprise we came to agreeable terms. I also decided to take the project on myself and put the engine in my back yard. That meant I would have to work out the costs for loading and moving on my own. Fortunately, my good engine friends, Ernest and Norman Durham, agreed to haul the engine home on their large trailer in trade for a 37? HP Fairbanks Morse semi-diesel that I had owned for some 20 years but had never restored. Another good engine friend, Reid Eason agreed to make his boom truck available to remove the cylinder and piston together with the subbase.

With these plans and a lot of determination we decided to try to move the engine on a cold day in February. I went down to Orangeburg early Friday and tore one wall of the building out and loosened all possible nuts and bolts, so that the large clutch pulley would be ready to remove early Saturday morning.

Mr. Lawrence Fogle from Orangeburg made his large crawler-type backhoe available for lifting anything really heavy. The big loading problem was getting the engine to the side of the engine room so that the backhoe could lift the engine and set it on the trailer. Moving the engine to the outer wall was accomplished by using two large steel beams and four dollies. We were afraid the large flywheel would cause an unstable condition such that the engine would tip over, but fortunately this did not occur. Having moved the engine to the outer wall, we were ready to load it on the trailer and head home. Well to everyone's surprise, the backhoe could not lift the engine. During the lift attempt the large steel beams kicked out from under the engine, allowing everything to drop to the ground. Well not knowing what to do next, we tried several different hook-ups to the backhoe, but without success. We soon determined that the backhoe could partially lift the engine with the flywheel on the ground serving as a pivot. With this technique we were able to position the trailer under the base of the engine, lower the engine, then lift the flywheel and slide the whole assembly over the trailer bed. By the time we got the engine loaded late Saturday afternoon, everyone was cold, hungry and tired, and still the wall of the engine room had to be put back up. While Norman and I reassembled the wall, Ernest and the crew tied everything down, only to discover that the trailer wheels had settled down in the soft pasture ground around the gin. We were stuck! To our good fortune, Mr. Valintine used his large John Deere tractor to pull the truck and trailer together to firmer ground. Being very late in the day we decided to stay in Orangeburg another night and leave early Sunday morning. This really made the wives back on the front happy, if you can say 'seeing red' makes one happy.

Well, the truck and trailer were parked at Ernest's house for a few weeks while a foundation hole was being dug in my backyard. I decided to have the engine moved home before building forms so that very accurate measurements could be taken for the hold down bolts and foundation forms.

On a fairly cold day in March the truck, trailer and engine arrived on the road in front of my house. The driveway to the yard is fairly well inclined and we already knew that the beaver tail on the trailer would drag the road if the truck was used to pull the trailer. Our plan was to use my 1946 I. D. 6 International tractor for this task, so the trailer was blocked up and prepared for connection to the tractor. Because of the engine being forward-loaded on the trailer, when the trailer tongue weight was placed on the draw bar of the tractor, the front end of the tractor came off the ground. To correct the situation we had to use jacks and a come-a-long to slide the engine aft about six feet. With this complete, we started up the drive at full throttle in low gear. As the trailer wheels started up the incline of the drive the old tractor just stalled out due to the excessive load. I hit the clutch and brakes at once to keep from killing the engine. One brake caught before the other and before I could blink my eye, the tractor jackknifed across the drive. To solve this problem, the large Chevy truck was brought around across the front lawn (another happy wife) leaving deep depressions in the yard. We then pulled the tractor, trailer and engine up the drive to where it was to be unloaded.

The next few weeks were quite uneventful during the form construction and concrete pouring. All of this project has been well documented on videotape and on still 35 mm photographs. My new neighbor, Mr. Marion Dillard, had been quite interested in all the unusual activities in my backyard. He was holding the 35 mm camera when the tractor jackknifed in the driveway. If it had. not been for him, we would not have had any pictures of this action, because everyone was too busy. After that he was made the official photographer for the concrete pouring.

The 13 cubic yards of concrete were poured on a spring day in April 1988. I guess I had a lot of faith that I could get the old engine to run by pouring all that concrete.

On Saturday, a few weeks later, Steve Fassett (with Action Crane Service ) arrived and set the engine on the concrete slab with a 25 ton hydraulic crane. He had made a 2:00 o'clock appointment with me to do the job, so I had several engine friends and a camera crew lined up for that time. Well about 9:00 o'clock in the morning Steve called saying he would be there at 10:00 o'clock. On such notice I could not get in touch with my engine friends or the camera crew. As a last resort, I called a neighbor and good flying friend, Lou Short, to come help handle the large lifting cables and guide the engine down on the hold down studs. At 2:00 o'clock all my engine friends arrived and were surprised at the engine already being set. I got only four still photographs of the crane setting the engine.

After the Pendleton Old Farm Day Show in May, Reid Eason brought his boom truck down and we disassembled the engine right down to the crankshaft. Reid has had the engine fever now about three years, so I gave him three old, not-running, F.M. 3 HP engines from which he could make one good operational one. It's a lot of pleasure to see other individuals enjoy these old engines.

A critical stage of this project was to see if the piston could be pushed out of the cylinder and, if so, to determine the condition of the cylinder wall. Reid had placed the heavy cylinder and piston in the back of my half-ton pickup truck, really causing it to set down. I carried the parts assembled to work one day and two co-workers, Ronnie Andrews and Mike Cabe, helped me position the cylinder and piston in the 250-ton hydraulic press. I had been soaking the cylinder since October, when the head was first removed, with some of Ernest Durham's secret mixture of oil, brake fluid, and automatic transmission fluid. To my amazement, this fluid had started to drip past the end of the pistons, and it pushed out the cylinder with almost no effort at all from the hydraulic press. Even the rings had worked free from the grooves due to all the soaking.

The cylinder, piston and subbase were sandblasted and primed. We then built a custom-made hone and dressed the cylinder bore to a fine polish. There were some shallow pits in the upper eight inches of the cylinder, but we felt these would cause no problem. The governor housing was completely stripped of the fuel and injector pumps, sandblasted and refurbished. The next critical and tedious task was to level and grout the engine base to the concrete foundation, with the large flywheel still on the crankshaft and the shaft still in the base, this operation took a lot of trial and error to get the base level. While the exposed crankshaft was accessible the journals and crankshaft 'throw' were finely polished. There was some minor pitting on the 'throw' at a location where the oil wick from the connecting rod bearing had contacted.

The reassembly of the engine began with fitting and shimming the crankshaft and connecting rod bearing. Then Reid returned with his boom truck and restacked the subbase, cylinder and pistons. With these large sections in place, the work pace became more enjoyable. There was now no need to schedule lifting equipment or to arrange assistance of a crew. Over the next six months the engine really began to take shape with all the freshly painted parts and all the gleaming brass and copper tubing put into place.

There was one small setback during the reassembly process associated with the Madison Kipp lubricator. Some months earlier, I had completely disassembled this unit and its four pumps. You fellows who have had one of these apart know what a difficult job that is, especially when it's stuck. Well, despite my mechanical ability, I failed to bench check the lubricator before mounting it on the engine. It was not until two days before starting the engine that I found that one of the pumps did not work. During disassembly, I discovered that one of our famous Carolina dirt clobbers had gotten into the oiler and plugged the discharge pump tube with its nest. That part cleaned and reinstalled, I wondered what could happen next!

Well, with everything primed, timed and adjusted, the big start-up event is scheduled to take place Sunday, February 26, 1989. I am hoping that the warm weather will last a few more days, because these old diesels start so much better when the temperature is above 50°. I plan to use the cold weather starting-up procedure by heating a small plug insert screwed into the hot head. I can almost hear the old diesel fire that first lick as she springs to life.

The scheduled start-up date of February 26 has finally arrived and the weather cooperated beautifully. All my 'engine friends and camera crew arrived about 2:30 p.m. The large air tank has been pumped up to 210 psi and the piston is positioned 10? TDC. As everyone is waiting breathlessly for the air start lever to be pushed forward, you can feel the excitement in the air. As the air lever is rapidly pushed to the start position and the large flywheel starts on its first revolution, all of a sudden there is a grotesque sound of ESCAPING air from a blown gasket under the air start valve. Several attempts were made to correct this problem with no success. So the first start-up was unsuccessful and another one scheduled a week later.

Well, several attempts to start the old engine were made during the next few weeks, but all failed, so we decided to wait for warmer weather.

On March 16, 1989, the weatherman was forecasting the temperature to reach the mid-70's, so I uncovered the engine and let it bake in the sun all day to heat up that cold cast iron. I called my engine friend, Ernest Durham, to help me try starting the engine one more time. On this go around, the first attempt was unsuccessful, so as a last resort, we used a torch and heated the hot head so hot you could not touch it and inserted a red hot glow plug. This time we had also removed the crankcase air valve cover so the warm outside air could be drawn directly into the crankcase. During this starting attempt two revolutions of the flywheel were made with no results. At this time, Ernest decided to spray some ether directly into the crankcase air valve and on the next revolution of the flywheel you could hear the old diesel engine coming to life. Well, it is impossible to describe the feeling of joy and accomplishment that went through us.

This has been quite a project and many hours were spent on it, but it was very rewarding and enjoyable. I would like to thank all my engine friends for helping make a dream come true.