Look In Your Own Back Yard

Fairbanks Morse before restoration

Content Tools

409 Mills Lane New Albany, Indiana 471 50

My dad told me the particulars about this engine, a 3 HP Fairbanks Morse Z less than 10 miles from home, but I've added the first part to the story, because I know it's also true.

In any one given year, Dad probably travels one or two thousand miles just in the pursuit of engines. Half or more of the trips end up being a 'wild goose chase,' and most of the balance are either too expensive or not worth owning. How many of you have spent half a day hunting a farm to look at 'the old antique engine in back of the barn,' that turns out to be a lawnmower or roto-tiller that's been left outside too long? Be honest now? Well, Dad has had his share of those too!

Dad has outgrown his trailer and was interested in restoring an old gas pump, so one day last summer he started out to chase down some leads he had. None of these leads turned up anything worthwhile, but he got a lead on an old engine on a nearby farm. Sure! Oh well, it wasn't that far and it was a nice day to be riding in the country.

Have you ever seen a school bus body removed from the frame and set on the ground and used as a shed or out-building? Well, later that afternoon, Dad found himself standing beside one! Waist deep in brush and briars, and about a hundred yards from where the trail ended. The top of the flywheel and part of the cooling tank were all that were visible in the junk inside. It took three people to carry it back to the truck and about twenty minutes worth of rummaging in the junk to find the crank.

The owner, Mr. Harold Webb, is a retired river boat pilot, and the engine had been used as auxiliary power for the boat's electrical generator many years ago. Modernization and technology had long since caused it to be abandoned to the farm. It moved from spot to spot until it found its way to the school bus and there laid at rest.

The engine was free and the mag hot, even though the mag face was cracked. Chipmunks had occupied the cylinder and left it partially filled with wild cherry seeds. The engine was in good shape internally and was running within two weeks. The colors aren't original, but 'what the heck' I think it looks good in pastel.

The engine isn't all that rare, but the story of how and where it was found was enough to get me interested in old engines. Dad had a spare Maytag hanging around the garage with a questionable future, so I talked him out of it, and it's in about a 'zillion' pieces in my garage now. I sure hope it goes together as easy as it came apart!

Thanks to Harold Webb, for keeping this old F-M around, and thanks to my dad for relating to me how he came into possession of it. The photos are typically before, after and where it was found. And remember, you don't necessarily have to go to the next state to locate an engine; just don't fail to follow up on all those leads! Of course, that's how you rack up a thousand miles or more a year.

If this is hard to follow, I apologize, it's my first attempt at writing. I also apologize to my dad, he asked me to write this, and it's not quite the same as the copy I gave him to proof.