282 W. Broadway Drive Appleton, Wisconsin 54915
I have been a regular reader for about one year. I thought some of the readers would enjoy the story of our family wood splitter. I don't know how unique a splitter of this design is, but it turns a lot of heads here in Northeast Wisconsin.
The history of the splitter begins in Weyauwega, Wisconsin, in about 1949. My great uncle, Arnold Arndt, inherited two old engines with a farm. He took the two engines to the machine shop in which he worked. That's where the splitter was built. He, sadly to say, disassembled and modified the larger of the two. He cut the water jacket off, bolted a large wedge to the piston and reforced the connecting rod, with the head off and turning the flywheels the wedge would go in and out with little effort. This engine or block I should say, is pretty bare and we can't tell what model of make it was. We guessed it to be an old 12HP. Now that he had the splitter he needed a power-plant. That's where the 3HP Fairbanks Morse Type Z Model came in. The other engine he inherited. He mounted the Z on top of the 12HP, where he cut the water jacket off. The power is transferred from flywheel to flywheel by a two inch braided belt, with a tension installed in between. He put the stop and the work area on the back, and tongue and hitch on the front. Underneath went an axle from an old manure spreader.
Once finished, my uncle split wood on his farm and contracted himself and the splitter out. He used to spend one whole week at one large farm to split. He said everybody would come and help just like at threshing time. In a letter he wrote me, he said wherever he went, there was always an optimist, who thought he could split faster with an axe. My uncle then wrote, 'I always put that guy stacking wood, that usually changed his tune in about ten minutes.' In about 1953 he quit contracting out and in 1959 he switched to fuel oil heat in his own home. The splitter then sat idle for about ten years. My uncle then moved to Florida. My grandfather, Paul T. Olson, then purchased the spitter in 1970 from him. My father and I helped my grandfather split wood for our two homes, every fall weekend. But in 1982 my grandfather's health turned and we went to fuel oil. The splitter sat idle until the spring of 1987 when I finally convinced my grandfather to let me restore it and get it running again.
My father and I started work on it right away. We had to find a new mag because my grandfather took the old mag apart and 'modified' it. We got the new mag from a local engine enthusiast. We then overhauled the Fairbanks. We also took off the manure spread axle, and put on an old hay wagon axle underneath the splitter. The reason for this was so we would have bearings instead of the bushings that were on the manure spreader axle. We painted the whole splitter Fairbanks Morse green, with some red striping. We showed it this past summer at the 20th Annual Town of Union Thresheree in Symco, Wisconsin. It drew a lot of looks and a few of those optimists, especially when it came to splitting elm wood. I'll admit it doesn't split elm with ease, but when the splitter was built nobody split that stringy stuff. We don't split wood every fall anymore, but we do at shows, and that brings back a lot of memories. I'm the fourth generation to enjoy the old splitter, and I hope there will be a fifth to do the same. Hopefully the fifth generation will enjoy GEM as much as I do.