Traveling Engine

Fairbanks Morse engine

Dad and his restored Fairbanks Morse. What a beauty, you can almost hear it purr ....

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8821 Jupiter Drive Anchorage, Alaska 99507

That Hume Baker of Sheridan, Texas, got some more 'Old Iron.' This time it was different, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Dad retired from Shell Oil several years ago and thought a hobby would be a good idea. Besides, having a really good hobby can help the conscience when faced with a long honey-do list, and so Dad began collecting 'old iron engines,' restoring them, and making them purr again.

In 1993, on a very special visit, I had the pleasure of meeting Milt and Cora Holmes at their Chernofski Sheep and Cattle Ranch on the Aleutian chain by way of Unalaska, Alaska, in a float plane. Chernofski Ranch is an isolated place, and the logistics of getting equipment, let alone repairs accomplished, is difficult. Food, supplies, and equipment are brought to the ranch once a year by ship. While at Chernofski Ranch I got weathered in and a five day visit became a 13 day visit, so with a lot of help we decided to change out one of Milt and Cora's generators. Having a background in electrical wiring helped me do some rewiring in the generator house and in the main house. Milt and Cora were delighted the generator was up and running and I was happy to do it.

In the main sheep shearing barn I found a line shaft and three engines covered with old sacks and dust. I videoed the three engines and sent the video to my folks in Sheridan, Texas, mentioning to Dad how nice it would be to get one of those old workhorses going again. We both thought it a pretty good idea.

I stayed in contact with Milt and Cora since that very special 1993 visit. My wife Maxine and I are pleased when Milt and Cora come to Anchorage, because they stay with us. Milt's hips began failing and last year Milt had surgery. Milt's doctor told him he could no longer live at Chernofski Ranch. While recuperating at our house in Anchorage, Milt and Cora decided to sell Chernofski Ranch. Milt asked me if I thought my dad would want one of his engines to restore. Well, I didn't have to ask him, because I knew the answer. When Milt and Cora's sons took the barge from Dutch Harbor back to Chernofski Ranch to load up their belongings, along came the three engines! Dad and I were thrilled their sons and others took time to load the old iron. Milt and Cora's sons delivered a 6 HP Fairbanks-Morse engine to another friend's house for transportation to Anchorage.

The original plan was to transport-the engine in a shipping container, but it was too tall to fit with other freight coming from the island. I pondered this awhile and decided, what the heck, let's fly it out! Our friends brought the engine to Alaska Airlines and it was flown to Anchorage, where I picked it up.

While shopping around for an inexpensive way to get the engine to Dad in Texas, my brother Marvin, who trucks freight, got a hot-shot load, or a direct ASAP load, south to California and on into Texas. What a stroke of luck!

Marvin and I mounted the engine on long 4x6's and strapped it down. I'm sure the engine was in his way once or twice, but I was happy it was moving in the general direction of Sheridan, Texas. While the Fairbanks was heading south, I located and purchased a Palmer T-head marine engine, but that's a story for another time.

Dad tore down the 6 HP F-M engine, sandblasted it, ordered parts, fabricated some parts no longer available or hard to find, and put it back together. Dad builds his own trucks to pull his engines around on, paints them and shines each part of the engine and truck to mint condition. He mounts a plate on every truck with his truck number, the serial number and date of the engine, year that it was rebuilt and then logs it on paper just like large manufacturers would.

My fishing buddy Jerry, from Nome, Alaska, was visiting my folks last December when Dad finished the engine. Jerry wanted Dad to start it up, but Dad said it wasn't quite ready, that it needed some more clear coat. Truth is, Dad wanted to wait for me to get there before he started the engine.

Dad knows the engines he restores so well that he has no doubt they will run, and this engine was no exception. Dad let go the intake valve, choked it, the handle made five revolutions, and the 'Old Iron Traveling Engine' came to life! I'm always surprised, but not my dad. He doesn't put his engines together until he's sure he's sure they are perfect. That's just the way it is in Sheridan, Texas, at Hume Baker's house!

The six horse Fairbanks-Morse is Dad's 39th restoration, but don't send requests for him to restore one for you he won't restore one for me, and I cooked up a huge pot of reindeer stew (family and friends helped) for an engine show Dad and Mom hosted December 27, 1997 at their home. It was great fun!

Special thanks to family and friends for their help and to those who participated in the engine show, making it a huge success.

Dad has the Palmer T-head apart already, so I'm sure there'll be another addition to his collection.

My Memories of the Six HP Fairbanks-Morse Shearing Engine

Milton Holmes, Box 890 Unalaska, Alaska 99685

This engine was at Chernofski when I first came to the ranch in November, 1947. I think it was shipped in when the owners moved the ranch headquarters from Cutter Point to Mail Boat Cove in the late teens or early twenties.

It was a very dependable engine and had sufficient power to run a line shaft with six shearing drops. It was my first experience with a one cylinder gas engine. Fortunately I usually had a few Aleuts around who were experts and had been keeping it running for years. I'll never forget that chug-chug-chugging all day long. Occasionally it would get ahead of itself and the governor would cut out and it would coast for five or six revolutions then cut back in with more chugs.

It finally got to where we couldn't get parts for either the engine or the line shaft shearing drops so we were compelled to go modern. By then we had electricity, which we didn't have in 1947.

So in 1974 or thereabouts we bought shearing drops powered by electric motors and jumped into the twentieth century in style.

I'm happy to know the old girl is running still, even if it is about as far from Alaska as it can get.

This letter from Milt is also part of the restoration. The original is framed and exhibited with the engine.