The BIG Find

Fairbanks-Morse Engine

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14218 Third Street Arcadia, Texas 77517

It all started about two years ago. I went to a swap meet two hours from my house. I live about 20 miles south of Houston, Texas, and this swap meet was out in the country, about two hours away. I have a few old cars and I thought that this place might be a good spot for those hard to find parts. While there, I noticed a club had set up a display of hit-and-miss and other old engines. I stood there hypnotized. The sound of the pop, then the huffing as it free wheeled, watching the crank and rod in motion did something to me and I was hooked. Up to this point I didn't even know these engines existed. I decided right then I wanted one of these engines!

Well, I walked around to the rest of the swap meet and found someone selling an IHC LB, not a hit-n-miss. (I didn't know the difference at the time), and I couldn't watch the rod and crank. It was missing some parts, but it was a start and it was cheap, so I bought it.

It didn't take me long to learn that there was hit-n-miss, and then there was throttle-governed. So I ordered some parts and put the LB on the back burner, hoping to find a hit-n-miss.

For two years I went to swap meets and never saw anything at all. My job requires me to do a lot of driving in the Houston area, and still I never saw any out in fields or anywhere else. I was beginning to think I was going to have to drive to another state to find what I wanted.

I live in a small town that was a dairy community years ago. The odds of my finding any engines here in town are about as good as a Liberal voting for a tax cut.

I have been having some health problems and decided I needed to start exercising. So I pulled the bike out of the spider webs and aired up the tires and started riding. On one of my rides I went down a road that was out in the 'boonies' and went past a field of old cars and tractors from the late '30s and '40s. They were rusting in peace (or, should I say pieces?), and not much good for parts, but I thought they would make some real good photographs. The family that owned the field went to my church, so it was no problem to get permission to take pictures. I set up a time to go out, and as I approached the field, I hoped in the back of my mind that, maybe, there was something other than cars out there. About midway through the first batch of cars, my heart jumped as I saw a Fairbanks-Morse model Z two HP, dishpan flywheels stuck in the mud. It was missing the piston and rod. The pushrod and rocker and the head bolts had rusted away, but it still had the magneto.

I took some pictures and moved on, because we still had a lot of cars to look at. About thirty feet away was another engine. This one was a Witte 2 HP. It has more parts, but nature hasn't been as kind to it. Nothing on it moves and the small stuff has rusted away, plus it has a six-inch diameter tallow tree growing between the flywheel and the block.

So we moved on, getting some really good pictures. As we came to the end of the tour, we started to come across some cast iron lawn mower engines, mostly Clintons. We scouted around some more and I came across five Maytags buried in the ground, one twin and four singles.

After calming down, I contacted the owner and he told me I could have all the engines and that there was another Maytag twin in a shed. I picked up the Fairbanks-Morse that day and had to wait until the next weekend to spend five hours working in the mud to free the Witte from the tallow tree.

The owner told me he got the two engines about 1939. He said the Witte came from a dairy farm, and the F-M was used at a gas station for the air compressor. He said that after he acquired them he used them for water wells. After they had served that role, he put them in a shed. Later, he dragged them out in the field around 1983. The F-M had a cracked piston and a man told him that he could fix it, so he gave it to the man. He never saw the man or the piston and rod again.

On a later visit, I discovered a Novo model SU. It had bad freeze-cracks but turned over (halfway). He told me I could also have that engine and I gave it to my son to work on.

I have since learned that none of these engines are hit-n-miss, so I guess the search is still on (unless I convert one). If anyone has some spare parts to sell, I'd sure like to hear from him. I'm new to this sport (it is a sport), so any words of wisdom would be appreciated.

Thanks to Mr. Auck for the adventure.