I have been collecting small engines such as Briggs and Stratton, Maytag and REO for about 10 years, but like most guys with old iron fever, the urge eventually turns to a flywheel engine. But like many engine collectors with a family to raise, the cost of a "real" engine is hard to justify to the wife. My good friend Hap, who lives near New Orleans, is in the same boat as me. We encourage each other and share our enthusiasm with each new rusty engine find.
One day back in 2002, Hap called and told me of an old shed he discovered, full of old, greasy, grimy stuff, including a few engines - one was a flywheel engine buried in the dirt. Hap took a day off work and, with the help of one of his daughters, loaded all he could. The flywheel engine he found was a Fairbanks-Morse ZC, essentially a totally-enclosed Z. Based on the pictures he sent me, this engine was going to take a little more than a blowing off, cleaning the points and some fresh gas. Hap told me the valves were nearly rusted away, the carburetor needles were frozen and nearly rusted in two, the piston was frozen, and lastly, the magneto was locked up with broken teeth. But on the positive side it was a "real" engine, with no visible cracks and mostly complete.
Hap relayed the disassembly process to me as he went along. He was able to remove the head and carburetor. Cleaning them showed just how difficult this engine was going to be. The valves, or what was left of them, came out of the head, revealing the valve seats, which were badly pitted. The carburetor needle valves wouldn't budge and the remaining shaft was about the size of a pencil lead, so there wasn't much pressure that could be applied without twisting them off. Hap also said the piston still wouldn't budge and asked for suggestions. I suggested positioning the block such that he could pour diesel fuel into the cylinder and just let it sit, then every week or so give the head of the piston a tap with a wooden block. I don't recall how many months Hap did this before I paid him my yearly visit. We were planning on going to an engine show in Bush, La., and I had brought some engines with me to sell and show. The show ended up canceled due to wet show grounds, so Hap and I had some time to work on projects. Eventually we got to looking at the Fairbanks and tried to collectively decide if it was worth spending the time and money on, or if it should just be parted out while he continued to look for something a little easier for his first flywheel engine.
Engine shows in southern Louisiana are scarce, and Hap was concerned about being able to find the parts he would need. I like a challenge, and had a nice, original B And S, Y and some other trading material, so we made a deal and I took the Fairbanks home with me to South Carolina.
I first ordered a manual that had a parts breakdown so I would have some idea of what was missing, then spent the next couple of months soaking and heating parts to see what could be salvaged. The piston wouldn't budge, so I ended up making a steel plate to replace the head, then threaded a grease zerk into the plate. I made some wood blocks to fill most of the cylinder space, then pumped the cylinder full of grease under pressure. That did the trick. I like this method, as the grease that does get past a gap in the rings also acts to lubricate the cylinder as the piston comes out. The only drawback is that it's pretty messy.
Now that I had everything out, it was time to determine what parts I would need. The list included new magneto bearings, coil, condenser, points and gear (or complete magneto), carburetor needle valves, springs, seats (or complete carburetor), new governor assembly (old one was cracked and had broken teeth), new head studs, nuts, valves, valve springs, valve seats (or complete head), rings, muffler, splash pan, dipstick, rocker arm and gas tank. Also, the cylinder was badly pitted, so add either a sleeve or oversize piston. Review the previous statement where I said I like a challenge. I priced new replacement parts - ouch! (Maybe my son wouldn't mind going to a local two-year college.) But on the positive side, the Fairbanks ZC is a pretty common engine and parts are pretty easy to find.
Had this not been an engine from Hap, I would've just sold the salvageable parts and gone looking for another project engine. But this engine was going to run again. So the used and cheap parts hunt began - this is really the fun part of engine collecting. Over the next year, I found a complete head with new valves, seats and springs for $35 at the Florida Flywheelers Antique Engine Club's Annual Swap Meet in Fort Meade. eBay provided a complete hot magneto with gear and a complete governor assembly. As the search continued, I found a complete carburetor and rocker arm at the Tri-State Gas Engine and Tractor Assn.'s Annual Swap and Sell in Portland, Ind. I had the cylinder bored and sleeved, and bought some other parts from Hit and Miss Enterprises, Orwell, Ohio. I sandblasted everything and was ready to begin the reassembly process. Everything went back together smoothly, and after painting it the correct shade of green, it was starting to look like something other than a miscellaneous pile of rusty parts.
I now needed a cart and wanted to make my own. I had some heavy oak lumber and some wheelbarrow wheels that needed a home. I spent the next couple months building a cart that I thought had the right proportions. I bolted the engine on, put the decals on the hopper and was anxious to see if all my work would pay off with that first puff of exhaust smoke. But wait, Hap should be here for that moment - after all, he did find the engine. I would be seeing him in a couple more months at the Northwest Florida Panhandle Swap Meet, Tractor and Engine Show in Jay, Fla., so I decided I could - and should - wait.
So after about a year and a half of scrounging, blasting, spending, researching, cleaning, yet more spending, and painting, she was ready to come to life, or at least I hoped. It was a beautiful morning in Florida, with the sun rising behind the Fairbanks. I had butterflies in my stomach as I filled it with gas. I spun the flywheel maybe five revolutions and she came to life! I had to fool with the carburetor a little bit, but overall, she ran great. What a feeling! You guys know what I mean - the feeling of satisfaction, knowing that your hard work and effort has brought to life something that was little more than junk to most people. Will I ever get my money back out of this engine? Not likely. But this is my first "real" engine and it's not likely I will ever sell it anyway. I will certainly never forget it, or the feeling I got on that beautiful morning in Florida, with my friend Hap smiling beside me.
Contact engine enthusiast Doug Bauman at: 305 Farmwood Drive,
Fountain Inn, SC 29644