In the September 2009 issue of Gas Engine Magazine, there was an item in Flywheel Forum about Fairbanks-Morse Model Z compressor engines that prompted me to send photos and an article about the 3 HP FMZ which I acquired last spring.
After a 20-year effort to buy the engine, the owner decided to donate it to the Miracle of America Museum (MOAM), of which I am the founder and president. The MOAM is located just south of Polson, Mont., which is at the foot of Flathead Lake – the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River.
Introducing Paul Bunyan
To start at the beginning, Great Northern Railroad owned the Somers Lumber Co. and tie treatment plant in Somers, Mont., at the north end of Flathead Lake. In those days, water was the easiest way to move logs, and steam- powered towboats would pick up booms (rafts) of logs from the different bays around the lake and tow them to Somers. They wanted to increase production for needed beams, railroad trestles, bridges, track ties and snow avalanche sheds in Glacier Park.
A new 65- by 17-foot towboat more powerful than those in use was needed. The 20-ton boat was designed by noted naval architect L.E. Geary, and was powered by a 180 HP at 100 RPM Fairbanks-Morse crude oil 6-cylinder diesel engine with a 10-1/2-inch bore. The towboat was able to pull a million board feet of logs at a time. Because it was so much more powerful than any of the small steamers, it was named the Paul Bunyan.
The Paul Bunyan made its first run in August 1926 and continued operating through the 1940s. In the 1950s it was dry-docked and the engine was broken up by dynamite for scrap. It was cradled and moved a few miles south to a small roadside museum where the owner extended the cabin into a house and lived in it for many years. Later abandoned, it was obtained by MOAM, moved to the museum site and restored where possible.
Acquiring the FMZ
In my quest for original related parts, equipment and memorabilia, I learned of the 3 HP FMZ with compressor and two of the air tanks which were used to start and also reverse the 180 HP diesel on the Paul Bunyan. I bought one tank from a different person, but the owner of the other tank with the engine and compressor would not sell it. He said I could trade him out of it, but he wouldn’t even hint at what he wanted.
Several 60-mile one-way trips with various quality items, like guns, tools, even a new Journeyman torch set, and other offers to trade for it were efforts in futility. Last year I heard he had retired and also had a stroke. Since I had to go to his town anyhow, I decided to give it one more try. I called and said I was still interested in purchasing the engine or I could give him a receipt for a tax write-off if he wanted to donate it. To my surprise he took the second choice and said the MOAM could have it.
Overjoyed, I didn’t waste any time in picking it up. The magneto still had spark, but the mount had been broken and repaired at least twice before and was now unrepairable. The governor gear broke when trying to get it off and the tank was rusted out, but everything else was in beautiful shape. Fortunately Hit-and-Miss Enterprises had quality replacement parts and, in no time, we had it pumping air. The engine, compressor and tank were all originally built in 1925. Now after all these years the Z and the Paul Bunyan are back together again. Now if I could only find an FM 180 HP crude oil diesel engine to display with it!
Contact Gil Mangels at (406) 883-6264 •www.miracleofamericamuseum.org.