What Would A New One In The Crate Be Worth?


Content Tools

4252 Dunstan Court Stone Mountain, Georgia 30083-2448

The ringing telephone interrupted my work at the lathe. I flipped the lathe off and hurried to the phone. The caller introduced himself as being from the next town, and asked if I was the fellow with flywheel engines out front? I answered yes, and then he dropped his next question, 'What would a new one in the crate be worth?' For a moment the world seemed as if it stood still. As I fought to regain my composure, a fleeting vision of a rare vertical engine in new factory colors and polished brass flashed through my mind. Trying hard to banish any excitement from my voice, I attempted to casually ask what kind of engine he was selling. He didn't know what kind of engines they were-- good Lord, there was more than one!-- but he was trying to buy rather than sell. Aw shucks! Still my curiosity was fully aroused. As we continued our conversation, I explained that it was impossible to estimate the value of an engine without knowing the make, model, condition, etc. Further, just because it was in a crate didn't necessarily mean it was new, or even operable. The fellow thanked me for my time, the information, and closed the conversation. As I walked back to the lathe, that vision of a rare engine flashed by again and I thought no, that would be too good to be true; more likely a worn-out modern machine, a compressor perhaps, crated up tor shipment to a repair facility and lost in transit that had been mistaken as a flywheel engine. Over the years I had experienced several exciting calls about old engines that turned out to be old horizontal compressors upon closer inspection. Oh well, back to reality and the work at hand.

A couple of weeks later a car drove up to the shop and I recognized one of the occupants as an ex-county official. The other fellow introduced himself and his friend, explaining he was the one who had called about the new engines in the crates. They had decided to use their lunch hour to learn more about flywheel engines. That vision of a rare engine flashed back; or maybe these fellow had stumbled onto something after all! I showed them several engines, and they were attracted to an early 3 HP Fairbanks-Morse 'Z' open crank engine. They thought the engines they'd found resembled this engine, but were bigger and slightly different. I showed them the brass nameplate and explained that if these engines were new they'd have a maker's plate on them. With that information and some idea of the condition, were they frozen and broken, free to turn, etc., we might be able to estimate a fair price. There was no hint as to where the engines were but a remark was made that it was awfully dark and there was no lifting equipment. Apparently there were several engines. While I had no intention of trying to interfere with their find, my curiosity was aroused once again.

Less than two hours later the fellow called with the nameplate information: 'Fairbanks-Morse' Type Z, Style C, self oiling, 6 HP @ 600 rpm--7 HP @ 700 rpm.' 'The engines turn free and appear in good condition.' A late engine, not quite as nice as that fleeting vision, but a good find nevertheless! I told him what they'd found and my estimated value. Just how do you value a new-old engine?! Still no hint of the whereabouts of the engines, but certainly less than two hours distance from the shop--little did I know! Some engine buddies and I spent many a bull-session wondering where these engines might be. Best guess was a civil defense or military warehouse. We were stymied.

A few weeks later, a shiny red Cadillac came wheeling in the driveway towing a two wheeled trailer with--my gosh!--a new Fairbanks-Morse Z-C engine in a rough, open framed crate with the shipping tags fluttering in the wind!! Talk about engine shock! It was the ex-county official and he explained that he'd purchased one of the engines and wished to hire me to get it running. We skidded the engine off the trailer and after leaving his phone number, he hurried off leaving me to savor his find.

It was a brand new engine alright, slightly weathered with faded paint, but no serious rust. The hand crank and fuel filler tube was strapped to a skid. Shipping tags indicated that the engine had originally been shipped from Fairbanks-Morse and Company, 315 Whitehall St., S. W., Atlanta 3, Georgia, to Kester Machinery Company, Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Also attached was an inspection ticket marked 'ok May 1951.' More of mystery; how had the engine gotten back to the outskirts of Atlanta?

The engine had been shipped filled with oil, but the plastic sight glass had deteriorated with age, leaking most of the oil. The fuel tank had never been filled, leaving it shiny as new inside, as was the inside of the crankcase. The spark plug showed signs of sparking, but not running. The points in the magneto were frosted with corrosion, but a quick cleaning had the mag working, and a new sight glass fixed the oil leak. The engine was running sweetly, as only a new one can, in about 30 minutes with the help of an engine buddy who happened by.

In due course the owner was contacted and he and his friend came by for a run up of his engine. I suggested he ought to carry it to the next Georgia Antique Engine Club outing scheduled two weeks later. There was certain to be a lot of interest in a new-old engine fresh out of the shipping crate. Finding that I planned to attend, he asked if I'd haul his engine to the show, which I did. The engine ran flawlessly through the weekend and attracted a lot of interest, especially from the serious Fairbanks-Morse collectors. A few weeks later the owner came by to pay me for starting his engine. I declined any pay, explaining that I had never experienced the pleasure of starting a new flywheel engine, and besides it hadn't taken much effort. But I asked if he had no interest in the remaining engines--however many there were or where they were; I still didn't have a clue. I would appreciate a lead on them. He still wouldn't tell me anything about the other engines, but said he'd pass my business card to the owners and leave it to them if they wished to contact me, as they greatly valued their privacy. Weeks passed into months and the question of the mystery engines faded in the face of more real day to day activities. The new-old engine and crate were left at the shop and the engine was run occasionally, but the owner appeared in no great hurry to claim his prize.

Many months later I answered the phone--ever notice how our lives are ruled by the ringing of a telephone?-- the fellow introduced himself as the owner of the remaining new-old engines and said that the State of Georgia Department of Transportation was negotiating for an additional two lanes of interstate right-of-way which would take the old barn where the engines were stored. He and his wife wondered if I would be available to discuss disposal of the engines and some other equipment with them. As he gave me directions, I realized that the barn was less than three miles from the shop! It was located beside I-285, a major Interstate loop around Atlanta, with tens of thousands of people passing nearby daily without a clue as to the treasures sheltered in the barn. If I were a betting man, I would have bet serious money there wasn't a cache of old engines anywhere near the shop that I hadn't heard about! Needless to say, I arrived there in very few minutes with one quick stop to purchase camera film.

Sams farm had once included 350 acres and was devoted to a sophisticated, state-of-the-art truck garden operation. Fairbanks-Morse engines and pumps had been used to pump irrigation water for the crops from nearby ponds and creeks. In addition to irrigation, the farm also had its own ammonia-cooled cold storage facility, and was much ahead of its time. It had been operated by the wife's father from the early 1930s until about 1960, when the interstate highway system was built. A major intersection was constructed where the farm once operated, leaving a few acres and the barn where the engines were ultimately stored. In checking the remaining crated engines, a faded original bill of sale was found in one of the water hoppers, along with a bug-eaten engine manual, a cloth bag with spark plug tools, and a very old mouse nest. Three engines had been purchased from the High Point store of Kester Machinery Company, supplier of mill and factory supplies, Winston-Salem, North Carolina on January 6 (?) 1956. The price was listed as $110.00 each--$300.00 net. Apparently one engine was collected at the time of purchase as the sales order notes two-7 HP style C, self-oiling Fairbanks-Morse gasoline engines were ordered. One to be shipped from Winston-Salem and one from High Point via Great Southern collect to R. Sams, phone HT3-2322, Clark-ston, Georgia.

All were Z-C engines, two were hopper cooled 6-7 HP and one Z-C 118 7-8 HP with a radiator-condenser and an extra radiator-condenser assembly in a crate. These engines were apparently purchased as back-up engines for the several pumping units necessary for operation of the irrigation system, but had never been placed in service, spending the next 34 years in the old barn. Ultimately, I purchased the two remaining engines in crates, and ten or so used engines. All the flywheel engines were Fairbanks-Morse. One of the older engines had a bullet hole through the fuel tank. Apparently, a nearby neighbor had become upset about the noise of pumping water all night!

There were also numerous farm implements including horse-drawn cultivators, an early Farmall Cub tractor and two Caterpillar plowing tractors--an R-2 and an R-5 that had been abandoned behind the barn when replaced with two new D-4's. There were also two new Fairbanks-Morse Typhoon pumps on shipping skids and numerous other pumping equipment. Little remains of the original Sams Farm, but the intersection is now named for the father--Richard F. Sams Intersection, locally known as the Stone Mountain Interchange.

Now for the rest of the story! The first engine was left at the shop for several years. It was run occasionally, and carried to a few engine shows just to keep it operational. Nothing was heard from the owner during this time. Finally, thinking the owner must have lost interest, I contacted him in an effort to purchase the engine and keep the three together. Much to my surprise, he asked that I deliver the engine at my convenience. A short time later, I delivered the engine and asked that I be given first refusal if he ever decided to sell and we discussed a possible price.

Nearly two years passed before he called me, saying that as an engineer he had an interest in mechanical equipment, but that he and his son had only run the engine once while they had it, so he sadly concluded they were not antique engine enthusiasts after all. He asked if I was still interested in purchasing his engine at the before-mentioned price. So over four years after that first shocking telephone call about new flywheel engines in the crate, I acquired the third new-old engine. Where else could one find such an interesting hobby?