Not One, Not Two, But Three!

Old cotton gin building

Old cotton gin building

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Rt 2, Box457 Decatur, Alabama 35603

It began about five years ago. Prior to this, I had already been an old iron lover for about ten years. Although retired from factory work, I grew up on a farm and still live on a farm. Naturally I was interested in old iron as we had a few old one-lungers doing odd jobs and several tractors on the farm during those early years. The first tractors I remember were equipped with steel wheels. Most of these were later changed to rubber which was a lot more comfortable for the operator.

The one most important thing that started me on collecting old iron was my dad's old Economy (Sears Roebuck) cut off saw powered by a 7 HP hit and miss engine. We cut all of our firewood for several years with this outfit. During the mid-thirties, the Tennessee Valley Authority was clearing all the wooded lowland areas over a thirty-five thousand acre area which was to be flooded by the backwaters from a newly constructed dam on the Tennessee River called Wheeler Dam. It was to provide cheap hydroelectric services to the area. As you can imagine, clearing this much land was an immense job. Lots of people were provided jobs by this project. Plenty of good timber was cut and saved, then again plenty was cleaned up, piled and burned. Anyone wanting firewood was welcome to haul off any amount they could. This is where the old cut-off saw came into its hey-day. With six boys in the family, most big enough to help out in some way, we hauled wood day after day, stacked it, and when cold weather came that's when the saw went into service. We stacked the wood on the ends starting with a center pole. It resembled an Indian teepee to begin with, then it grew to a large stack covering a quarter to half an acre. It seemed that we had to run the saw on the coldest of days. This went on for several years until finally electricity came to some of the rural areas and most one-lungers were replaced with electric motors and others were retired to the pasture or fencerow. This is what happened to the cut-off saw. After some thirty-five to forty years, I saw some old engines at a small show and this started me to thinking about the old cut-off saw. After cutting some trees that had grown up through the saw rig, I pulled it home. This is where I got hooked.

Now, on with my story. I got a lead to an old one-lunger that was replaced by an electric motor in this cotton gin. It had powered the auxiliary compressor for starting of the huge cotton gin engine. Once the big engine was started, it maintained its own air supply for the next start-up. After seeing the engine, I knew why they had replaced it with the electric motor-the head was busted. I don't think any type of antifreeze was ever used in those days, as about fifty to seventy-five percent of the engines I have collected once had busted heads. While talking to the owner, I learned about another small engine on the grain elevator at the grist mill adjoining the cotton gin. Luck was with me as he agreed to sell me both engines. After agreeing on a price, the owner told me the whole cotton gin was to be sold later. It would take a real old iron nut to know how happy I was to find not one, not two, but three old engines that day. I was especially happy because the first engine was a 3 HP Jumbo made by Nelson Brothers. The second was a 1? to 2? HP International Harvester. Now the third, as you may have guessed by now, was the huge two cylinder upright crude oil engine made by the Continental Gin Company of Birmingham, Alabama. Although I wasn't interested in the big engine at that time, I soon got to thinking about the challenge of moving, restoring and operating the engine someday, maybe at our old engine show here. The name of our show is 'Southland Fly wheelers' located on U.S. Highway 72, about halfway between Athens and Huntsville, Alabama. Our show dates will be listed in the Show Directory and in the Gas Engine Magazine. I hope to see a lot of you there this year.

Later, I contacted the owner again and sure enough it was for sale. After a few meetings and becoming very good friends, I became the proud owner of the huge engine. But now, how to move the monster? There was no hurry on the owner's part so I took plenty of time. Would you believe about three years?

During this time, I made several trips about thirty miles from home to see the engine and work out details and plans for moving but did not finalize any plans until early in 1989. The original owner had decided he would probably sell the old place where the gin was located and I knew I had to make the 'big' move soon.

A friend, Oneal Hardy, another engine nut, had recently retired. Knowing how hard it is to adjust from a regular job to the 'easy' life, I discussed the move with him. He seemed more than happy to help me and in the next few days we started getting things ready.

First came dismantling the air, fuel and water pipe connections along with other small parts. Then came disassembling of the larger parts such as exhaust pipes, clutch and belt pulleys, exhaust manifold, access ladder and platform and finally the two huge 6 foot flywheels which I estimated to weigh one and one-half tons each. All of the disassembling was done to either lighten the load or to make the engine more compact so as to remove it from the building without tearing much of the wall out.

Oneal and I first hauled home all of the parts which we had removed along with the accessory parts such as air compressor, air tanks, water pump, fuel pump and water-oil separator tank. This would leave more room for skidding of the engine onto the lowboy trailer. We had borrowed two twenty foot 'H' beams to skid on. Fortunately, on the day we decided to move the engine, David, one of my sons, decided to help and we were sure glad since he was young, healthy and strong. We used three come along, one chain pull and a twenty ton jack. After jacking the engine above the concrete foundation bolts, we put the large 'H' beams under the engine base and after greasing the slide surface of the 'H' beams, let the engine down on the beams. Then the hard pull began. A few inches and then rest awhile. This went on for about two hours and finally we had it loaded. After getting the engine secured with chains and booms, we were ready to move from the soft, wet gin yard to the blacktop road a few hundred feet away.

We had worried about whether we would sink down in the soft ground or not. We soon found out and were bogged down almost to the axle of the low boy. We then contacted several nearby farmers but were unable to find a large enough tractor to do the job. As it was getting late in the day, we started praying for help. Another hour passed and still no help. But now I hear some noise from up the road. 'Praise the Lord,' a huge tractor comes by. Of course we stopped him and he was very happy to help us, would not accept any pay at all. We were on solid ground now and headed for home with our worries over and just thinking about the power of prayer.

It would take another long story to tell about reassembling the engine, mounting it on a different trailer, cleaning it up and getting it running again. So I'll let you wonder about all the time and work it took. It runs great!