The Outermost Engine

Front view of tank-cooled gas engine.

Front view of tank-cooled gas engine.

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R.R. 2, Box 227 M Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts 02568

Engines are where you find them, and sometimes they turn up in places where engines are the farthest thing from your mind.

Cross Island lies several miles off the Atlantic Coast of Nova Scotia, near Luwenburg. It is a wild, windswept place, uninhabited except for a handful of small camps occupied only in summer. There is also a lighthouse; in the late '80s it was the last one in Canada with a resident lighthouse keeper, but inevitably the fellow and his family were replaced by batteries that are serviced by Coast Guard helicopter.

Last summer I was invited to go cod-fishing with a Luwenburg friend, Robert Tanner. After a morning of fishing out in the open ocean, Robert decided we should try our luck along the shore at Cross Island. We anchored in a small cove for lunch. I was finishing my sandwich and gazing at the lighthouse at one end of the cove when I saw what looked like a piece of rusty machinery perched on top of a rock cliff.

'What's that old iron up there on the bluff?' I asked Robert. He had been fishing these waters all his life and nothing happened without Robert knowing about it.

'That's an old engine been there for 50 years. Some rusted up, it is.'

I grabbed the binoculars and as I found the spot a tank-cooled gas engine came into view. 'Come on, Robert! We got to have a closer look!' I hauled up the anchor and we slowly approached the bluff. The engine was facing us straight on and I could not make out enough detail to identify it, but it looked like about a 4 HP and I could see a carburetor or valve box on the engine's left side. We had no way to get ashore; we could not go into the beach because of the ocean swells rolling into the cove. We went back to our fishing and finally came home with a box (100 lb.) of fat codfish but I could think of nothing but that engine.

It was not an Atlantic (built in Luwenburg) or an Arcadia (from nearby Bridgewater), because I knew that those companies never offered a tank-cooled stationary engine; the next closest manufacturer was the Lloyd Company in Kentville, and they built tank-cooled side shaft engines in all sizes. So I decided that I had found a Lloyd and I became obsessed with going back to the island.

The next morning brought an easterly gale that lasted for three days. I spent the time figuring how to rescue that engine from an inhospitable island. The logistical problems were staggering. There was an overgrown road from the summer camp settlement across the is-land to the lighthouse, but no vehicles; if the engine was as rough as Robert said it was, I figured that I couldn't even pull the bearing caps to free the crankshaft and flywheels without lugging a torch more than a mile; and the engine was on top of a solid rock cliff, so there was no safe way to reach the spot by boat!

I called a friend and engine and junk collector, Jim Bell, to share my dilemma. He listened to my story, then said without emotion, 'No problem! I've got a small barge. On a calm day, we'll float the barge in to the base of the cliff at high tide, ground it at low tide, (so there would be no involvement from the ocean swells which are always there) skid the engine down the cliff on planks, float free at high tide and we're out of there.'

Elated, I told him I'd make a reconnaissance run and give him a report.

The fourth morning dawned calm and sunny. I called Robert. My wife Kyra and I met him 15 minutes later and we were on our way out to Cross Island. We anchored in a protected cove by the camps and rowed ashore in a small tender we had towed behind the boat. Twenty minutes later we arrived at the lighthouse. I could see flywheels above the tall meadow grass.

The closer I got, the more anxious I became; as I reached it I saw the truth to Robert's remark about the engine's condition. Of all the engines I've found over 20 years of prospecting, here was the first one that was so far gone it was not worth rescuing even for a lawn ornament! It had a ghostly quality, like a relic from the deck of the Titanic. Robert and Kyra caught up with me and stared at the weird rust sculpture.

'All those years with the spray breaking over it with every gale it would have done better on the bottom of the sea,' Robert said.

I studied the engine. The sub base and a slight taper to the cylinder identified it as a Fairbanks-Morse Z. With my disappointment came the relief that I would be spared the challenge of salvaging the engine which I certainly would have attempted, had it been a Lloyd side shaft. At least I had a great photo opportunity! The only parts worth saving on the Z were the bearing caps and the gear guard; if someone needs them, I'll try to recover them on my next visit to the 'outermost engine.'