Fairbanks-Morse Type NB Comes Back

12 HP Fairbanks-Morse

Content Tools

Rt 1, Box 1165 Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151

In 1941 my father and our neighbor, James Tignor, bought a Fairbanks-Morse 12 HP for $175.00. This was to replace an upright steam engine that Dad owned. I was four years old at the time and I remember it sure made a lot more noise than the other one. I would help carry water from the creek to a barrel that sat next to the engine.

Every Saturday they would crank up the engine to grind feed. Some neighbors would bring their corn on horse-drawn wagons to have it ground. There was no money involved, just a percentage of the feed for grinding. Sometimes the noise of the engine would scare the horses and they would run off.

They used this engine until about 1949, and by then most people had cars or trucks and electricity. They could grind their own feed or take it to town to have it ground. The engine was not used any more and in a few years the shed had fallen down on top of the engine.

I joined the Air Force in 1955 and while I was home on leave, my mother said I should fix the shed to protect the old engine, because someday it would be worth lots of money. The last thing I was interested in, at 19 years old, was that rusted old engine. So I didn't listen to Mom.

They sold the engine in 1956 for $175.00 I never thought much about it until about eight years ago when I got the engine bug. I asked Mom who they sold the engine to. She said, 'John Rhines, a junk yard owner, bought it.' I went to see John and he said, 'Yes, I remember the engine. I sold it a few weeks after buying it to a man in Grundy, Virginia, about 80 miles away.' He couldn't remember the man's name but he owned a machine shop and worked on mining equipment. That was 35 years ago, so I didn't have much hope of ever finding it let alone being able to buy it. I never did get to Grundy to try to find it.

In 1988 Mr. Conners of Lexington, Virginia, about 200 miles from Grundy, died. I live in Rocky Mount, Virginia, about sixty miles from Lexington. I saw Mr. Conners' son, Charlie, at the Denton, North Carolina show and he said he probably would sell some of his dad's engines. On my way home from a show in Berryville, Virginia I met Charlie at his dad's place. He was showing me the engines and some he wanted to sell and some he didn't. I said, 'Charlie, what's that big engine in the corner?' He said, 'It's a 12 HP Fairbanks. We bought it in your neck of the woods, Grundy, from a man who owned a machine shop and worked on mining equipment.' Cold chills ran over me and I told Charlie that used to be my dad's engine. He didn't want to sell it but said if he ever did, I would have first shot. I would call or go see Charlie about every three months and he would say the same thing: 'If I sell it, it's yours.'

Before leaving for Zolfo Springs I called Charlie and he wanted to know if I was still interested in the three Witte engines he had. He would make me a package deal. I bought three Wittes and one Fairbanks-Morse 12 HP!

I brought it home and cleaned all the moving parts. Fixed a leak in the gas tank. Then I took a belt and hooked it to my John Deere B just to turn it over for a few minutes. I thought if I was going to turn it over I might as well put some gas in it and hook up the battery. About the third time it turned over and fired! Black smoke rolled out of it and I thought it was running too fast so I shut it off. I changed the governor springs and it ran perfect! You can't turn the flywheel slow enough that it won't start. It is the only engine I have that my wife can start.

I had a small leak in the water pump so I called Charlie to see if the warranty was still good. He said he didn't think so. I packed the pump and the leak stopped. The only part missing is the nameplate on the side that says Fairbanks-Morse, 12 HP. I would like to find one.

When I called Mom and told her I had bought the engine she said that if only I had listened to her I could have had it for nothing in 1956.

The gist of this story is: 'You should listen to your mom.'