I Like Old Engines... Better Than Bear Traps!

Old Engines

The engine emerges for its trip.

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P.O. Box 292, Goldthwaite, Texas 76844

My quest for old engines sometimes leads down some strange trails and often ends up at a dead end. Several times in my searches, after many telephone calls and many miles driven, I have heard the former engine owner say, 'I took it to the scrap yard years ago.'

The story of this engine hunt had a happier ending than most. It all started when I learned that at one time a Victor bear trap, that weighed 125 lbs., had once been displayed at a local store. I  don't collect bear traps, but have a friend who does. I thought it would be a nice present for the bear trap collector since he has been quite generous to me with old engine parts, etc. I finally located a local man who said that his brother who lives in west Texas owned the trap and that the first time he came to visit he would ask if he wanted to sell it. After a time the two brothers came down to my shop to tell me that he did not want to sell the trap and to look at my collection of old engines, as the local brother had said I was a certified old engine nut. Naturally, I asked the west Texas brother if he knew of any old engines in his area. He said he knew of one on a large ranch, but that it could not be bought. After my new friend had gone home, I mulled the situation over and decided that a silver-tongued person like me might be able to persuade the owner to sell the engine after others had failed. At least I wanted to try! I called the west Texan to ask him who the owner was. He gave me the name and telephone number and said that if I came out there that he had located another engine that was for sale. I called the engine owner and made a date to look at the engine. My usual engine hunting buddy, Stanley Bessent, was not available for the trip, but another friend, Jess Hammond, was. Jess does not collect old engines, nor does he quite understand why I do, but he agreed to go with me. Jess apparently is a 'glutton for punishment', as he once helped me retrieve a 25 HP Black Bear engine that weighed 7,000 pounds, all the while shaking his head in dismay.

On the appointed day we met the owner of the ranch. He is an elderly man and is the fourth of five generations to own this ranch. He said the engine was a Fairbanks-Morse steam engine. He had never run the engine himself, but had seen his father run it.

After going through three or four gates we came to a watering place with two wells, a large water storage tank, and a small sheet iron building. The man said that, during the 1930's, 3,000 head of cattle had watered at this place. That figures out to require 24,000 gallons of water per day. When the wind did not blow enough to run the windmills, the engine and pump jack were put to work.

When the sliding door of the building was opened I knew I had found a good one. God bless the buildings that protect old engines. The engine was an early 4 HP Fairbanks-Morse (standard?) with a connected pump jack. It had a single flywheel 41?' in diameter with a 25/8' face and a clutch on the off side that was geared to a 47' gear. The gear had holes for 18'-24'-30' pumping stroke. This gear was connected by a pitman arm overhead to one end of a 12-foot walking beam. The walking beam pivoted on a post in front of the engine. The other end was connected to the sucker rod that pumped the water from the well. Closer inspection revealed a date, 8-19-98, stamped on the end of the crankshaft. It is serial #3615. It had originally had hot tube ignition with match start.

After some haggling, I agreed to his price and also agreed to restore a Monitor 1? HP VJ for him in the deal. Jess and I took the end out of the pump house while the landowner went after a cutting torch. The engine was bolted to a cement base with the bolts leaded to the engine base. The cooling tank was mounted behind the engine. When the man returned with the cutting torch and I had melted the lead from around the bolts, we raised the engine a couple of inches and cut the bolts off. With the aid of a small hand winch on my trailer we slid the engine out into the sunshine for the first time in many years. It was fairly easy to load and we had no hair-raising adventures, nobody got crushed and no fingers or toes were lost.

The whole operation took about two hours. After going by to pick up the rancher's Monitor we were ready to return home. After returning home I called Chris Romness in Minnesota and he gave me some much needed information and sent me a booklet on this engine.

I would like to hear from anyone who has an engine like this one and I need a reprint or Xerox copy of the operator's manual.

I have not yet started restoring this engine. Perhaps after I get it restored and running I will write another chapter to this story.