Grandpa Would Have Loved It!

15 HP Fairbanks-Morse

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127 N. Park Drive, Madern, California 93637

This is the story of a 15 horsepower Fairbanks-Morse engine that sat and waited many years to be restored to its factory new condition.

Life began for this engine at the Fairbanks-Morse & Company plant in Beloit, Wisconsin. It was shipped to California in 1919, as indicated by searching the company records. The engine was bought and placed at the Luigi and Jennie Bandoni Vineyard in Madera, California. Its purpose was to pump irrigation water from a shallow well, by a large centrifugal pump (6'or 8') that was lowered into the well pit and connected by a long flat belt that ran in a wooden belt trough. In the winter the pump and belt would be removed because of rain, frost and the water table rising up in the pit.

The engine was started on gasoline. When the engine warmed up, it was switched to kerosene fuel. The mixer is a dual fuel system with water injection to control pinging on kerosene while under heavy loads. The cooling was accomplished by circulating, under pressure, a small amount of water from the pump, through the water jacket of the engine, then back to the discharge pipe. This was so no water was wasted and the engine could be left unattended for many hours of pumping.

The engine performed well for many years of service according to Jennie, except for an occasional stoppage caused by a clogged fuel line. After the line would be cleaned and the fuel pump hand-primed, the engine would be started again.

The engine was taken out of service for good when the shallow well went dry. A new deep well was dug and a new electric turbine pump was purchased, to continue supplying irrigation water to the vineyard.

For many years this engine that sang the same Boom-Boom-Boom song, a song that could be heard all the way to the house, now sat quietly in its shed just yards from its new replacement.

As the years passed by, the engine had become a new home for spiders, a shelter for field mice, and a target for vandals. The vandals had removed the drip oilers and the brass nameplate.

In the spring of 1994, my wife, who is Luigi and Jennie's granddaughter, told me about the old pump in the field. While we were visiting Grandma Jennie, my wife and I walked in the field to this little shed with almost no roof. I looked inside and I saw this big, dirty, rust covered flywheel engine. I told my wife immediately, I wanted to make this engine run again!!

In December of 1994, Jennie told my wife and I that we could have the engine. We wanted to buy it, not receive it as a gift, so a price was agreed upon and I would remove the engine the next day.

With my dad's help, we hauled the forklift to the Bandoni Vineyard, sawed the end of the shed off, and were able to drag the engine on its skids to the end of the vineyard and then load it on the truck. All the while, my wife took pictures and Grandma Jennie watched.

The next day I started cleaning fifty years of mice nests and two five gallon buckets of grease and oily dirt out of the crankcase area. Then I steam-cleaned most of the soft grease off and filled the cylinder with diesel, because the piston and valves were frozen tight. Over the next four months, endless attempts to make the flywheels move had failed. I was getting discouraged and started thinking of other methods to free the piston, or maybe it needed just patience. I knew the piston didn't get stuck overnight. It had fifty years; it might just take awhile.

About two months had passed since my last attempt at making the piston move. I walked by and noticed diesel had seeped around the rings to the bottom of the piston. I thought good, maybe it was time to give it a yank on the flywheels, and as I did, it moved! It moved about ? inch the first time and ? inch the second time. Now, with the adrenaline pumping, in ten minutes time by rocking the flywheels back and forth, the piston was free and I was exhausted! I knew the war was halfway over and I could relax, knowing the flywheels turned again!

During the next 2? years, I devoted much of my spare time to other easier engine restorations, all the time thinking about how I was going to transport this BIG engine to engine shows. So I made a heavy-duty tandem axle tractor trailer.

Well, it's now November 1997 and I promised my wife that I would have her grandparents' engine at the 1998 National Engine Show in Chowchilla, California, located only 20 miles from our home. Now the pressure was on!

Next, the magneto was disassembled, cleaned, greased, the points were adjusted and repaired, the mixer was cleaned, the adjusting needles reground and the fuel pump internal spring was replaced. The head was cleaned and the valves were hand-lapped, reassembled, and ready to paint. The piston was sand blasted, rings cleaned, and ring grooves scraped free of carbon. The governor was disassembled; all shafts and pivot points were sanded smooth and the governor housing was welded to repair a crack (which is very common on 15 horsepower engines). Also, a new lighter main spring was installed. The rocker arm and pivot bolt were repaired and rebushinged by machinist Ed Perry.

With the National Show just 2? months away, time was running out. I decided to make the engine a factory portable unit. I had a new screen cooler, four steel wheels of correct size, and a picture from a sales catalog. I enlarged the photo and measured the cart to scale. I then ordered the new steel and went to work.

Well, it's June 1 and I've worked almost every night of May. My wife asked, 'Are you sure it will be finished for the National Show?' I said yes and I went back to work.

The engine and all parts were sand blasted, the castings sanded smooth and the cylinder lightly honed. All parts were primered and sandblasted to prevent rust, as was the cart.

I assembled the engine part by part on the cart. I made the mounts for the screen cooler, circulation pump, fuel tank and exhaust pipe bracket.

Seven days before the show, the engine was now ready to paint. First, two coats of DuPont Vari-Prime were sprayed on. Then, one coat of Lox-on Sealer was applied. Three coats of DuPont Centari 5000, with hardener, in Fairbanks-Morse Green, were applied by my friend Brad Clark. Now the engine sat for three days to let the paint cure.

Now, I only had three days to finish the engine for the show. No problem! Well at least the paint looked good. The fuel tank was mounted, brass piping cut and threaded, the cooling tank was mounted, and water circulation pump installed. All brass water pipes were cut, threaded, and installed, and then all cooling and fuel systems piping and fittings were disassembled, sanded, polished and reinstalled.

Well, it's the evening before we leave for the show and it's time to try to start this engine for the first time. My family and Jennie Bandoni (the only person there who heard the engine run some 50-plus years ago) watched as I poured gasoline in the tank and mixer, and a small amount in the primer cup. As I turned the flywheels, nothing happened. Maybe not enough gas in the primer. So I again reprimed with more gas, confident that it was all it needed, and pulled the flywheels over. The mag fired and the engine was popping and smoking until its rpm came up on the governor setting and leveled out. After a 50-plus years nap, she wasn't running well, but she was running. I was very happy but Grandma Jennie was far more pleased. With tears in her eyes, I am sure it brought back many memories, including the same Boom-Boom-Boom song the engine sang while working at the Bandoni Vineyard.

The next day, I loaded the engine and off I went to the National Show in Chowchilla, for set-up day. I placed it in the EDGE & TA Branch 63 display, where I am a member.

Since I wasn't happy with the way the engine ran before, on Friday, the first day of the show, I decided to advance the mag one tooth on the cam. I started it and it ran perfectly, the way it was designed.

In closing, I would like to thank my wife and Jennie Bandoni for the opportunity to restore this engine. A true piece of their family history!!