Down by the Old Mill

By Staff
1 / 6
The Fairbanks-Morse Type Y.
2 / 6
The old Abbott's Mill where it was found are both survivors of another era.
3 / 6
Pete and Bill size up the 20 HP Type Y before its first start. Note the large governor weight on the left flywheel.
4 / 6
The rescue crew, left to right: Rodger Kriebel, Bill Hazzard, Pete Peterson, Ed Schwartz and Robert St. John.
5 / 6
Some of the roller mills in the old mill, still in perfect condition.
6 / 6
A very nice French stone burr mill. With any luck, all this equipment will be put back to work for future fall fairs.

Last fall while visiting our daughters in Delaware, we took our
granddaughter to a fall festival at Abbott’s Mill Nature Center
(part of the Delaware Nature Society) in Milford, Del. Our 4-year
old granddaughter had her face painted, mixed colored sand and did
all the fun things little kids should do.

We decided to take a little walk along a nice, cool stream
rounding through the woods and back to the historic gristmill
building that’s part of the Nature Center. The mill was not
open to the public that day because some beams were being replaced
in the building, and insurance did not allow people in during

At the mill I met an employee of the Center, Robert St. John,
who described the workings of the old mill. He also told me about
and an old engine inside, a backup for when the water supply was
low and the mill’s turbine did not have enough water to run the
mill. I asked Robert if I could peek into the door and see the
engine, which he allowed, and when he noticed my interest in the
engine he became more interested, too. He had only worked with the
society for a while, and he was amazed by the old engine. A minute
later he said, ‘Aw heck, come on inside. This is not where the
repair work is being done in the building. Let’s go in.’ In
we went, and there stood the nicest 20 HP Type Y Style H
Fairbanks-Morse semi-diesel 1 had ever seen.


According to information Robert had, the engine had not run in
about 40 years, yet everything on the engine was in absolutely
perfect condition. The piston was free and most moving parts only
needed a little tap to get them going. I could see Bob (we’re
old buddies by now) was just as anxious as I was to see this old
fellow run, but I didn’t know anything about diesels, so 1
didn’t want to offer to start it. 1 have a 15 HP Reed engine,
which is nothing like an FM Type Y, so 1 couldn’t really speak
intelligently about it.

Driving home the next day the engine was hot on my mind – I just
couldn’t think of much else. My good friend Rodger Kriebel came
to mind – I knew this master of engines could start the FM if
anybody could. Would he be willing to go 150 miles to start this
engine? Well, all it took was a phone call and we were planning a

I called Bob, and he was very happy for the news and very
willing to leave all the details and date up to us. Roger asked his
friend, Bill Hazzard, if he would like to go along, and I asked my
friend, Pete Peterson, if he was interested – both of them were
ready for the challenge. I figured I better not ask anyone else or
we would need a bus before this was over. We decided we would go
the week between Christmas and New Year’s.

Well, the day finally came for the big start. We picked a Sunday
as the best day for all of us. We packed some tools and a good
torch to heat the hot bulb, and Rodger and his wife, Bill and his
wife, Pete, Ed Schwartz and I headed off for the three-hour drive
to Milford.

When we got to the mill the wind was whipping and it was cold.
Robert was kind enough to supply us with a torpedo heater, which
pleased us all. When we arrived, Bill and Rodger were all over the
engine. Everything seemed to be in great shape on the FM. They got
the oilers working and checked the governor. The underground fuel
tank was disconnected, but there is a little starting tank on the
engine. We used kerosene for our fuel. The rest of the boys started
heating the hot bulb, and this is where Pete and I came in. We were
the designated flywheel turners, and Roger told us to rock the
flywheels back and forth to gain momentum, but not to use our feet
or we might just end up going through the ceiling.

It didn’t take long to get her running, and after a few
minor adjustments the old engine was running like a fine watch. The
exhaust is piped outside, and you could hear her popping away while
it was nice and quiet inside the engine shed. With a 23-acre pond
supplying the mill, the old Type Y saw very little use, which must
explain why it survived so well. We suddenly remembered we had left
our wives freezing in the car, so they came in to see the engine
and Bob gave us a grand tour of the mill.

The mill is absolutely fabulous, and the equipment is in mint
condition. There is a water turbine in the race, but it was under
water when we were there. Bob has since pulled it out, and he
thinks it’s in very restorable condition. Bob intends to get
everything belted up, and wants run the machinery to grind corn,
wheat, etc., for the fall festival – 1 hope I can make it to help
run the engine.

Contact engine enthusiast Ed Schwartz at: Box 611, Hollow
Horn Road, Ottsville, PA 18942; e-mail:

Contact Abbott’s Mill at: 15411 Abbott’s Pond Road,
Milford, DE 19963; e-mail: or on the Internet at:

Gas Engine Magazine
Gas Engine Magazine
Preserving the History of Internal Combustion Engines