Wrong Turn Yields Large Fairbanks

| August/September 2000

195 Edgewood Avenue Franklin, North Carolina 28734

The single engine Piper taxied to a stop at the airport in Manteo, North Carolina, on a brisk fall day in November 1998. A sea breeze greeted me as I stepped from the plane, along with Earnest Durham, Earl Franks, Norman Durham, and the pilot, Lloyd McGowan. This day began for me in the early morning hours when I left my home in Franklin, North Carolina, to meet Earnest, Norman, and Earl in Pendleton, South Carolina. We then drove to the airport in Greenville, South Carolina, met Lloyd, and were soon airborne on a journey that took me from the rugged mountains of western North Carolina to the coast-a journey that only gas engine collectors can fully understand and appreciate.

We made this trip to the coast because of a chance discovery made by Reid Eassom. One day Reid took a wrong turn on the way to his home in the Manteo area. The scenic route eventually meandered along a canal and, from the corner of his eye, Reid spotted a set of Fairbanks steps providing entrance to a building. The abandoned, weathered building was located on the Pamlico Sound in Englehard, North Carolina. As Reid stopped to further explore his find, he saw a smokestack emerging from the roof, a sign that the building may be home to an engine. This theory was confirmed as Reid peered inside through cracks and dusty windows. The presence of a machine, which was barely visible in the darkened building, encouraged him to begin an immediate search for the owner.

According to local residents, a family by the name of Midgett owned the building. A search of telephone books resulted in a dead-end. However, Reid was persistent. Months later he saw an advertisement for Midgett Realty. He contacted the office and discovered that the realtor's cousin, Bernie Midgett, owned the building. Reid talked with Bernie, who lived on the Outer Banks, and confirmed that the building contained a large gas engine. It then took several months to coordinate our trip to the coast and a meeting with Bernie. When we arrived at the airport in Manteo, it had been almost a year since Reid's discovery. Our mission was to see and admire the large relic from the past, as well as learn about its history.

After a day of sightseeing, we awoke the second day, met Reid and traveled south from Manteo to Englehard. Our mission would soon be completed. Bernie met us at the building which had been known as the Pamlico Ice and Light Company. He explained that at one time the building housed six large engines, including a six-cylinder. He tried unsuccessfully to sell the engines in order to clear the building for other use and finally salvaged the machines for scrap iron. Only one engine, a two-cylinder, Model 32E Fairbanks Morse, remained in the building. The engine had been saved because of its location on a concrete pier in the back of the building, which made it more inaccessible than the other engines.

The flywheel was removed, and the engine was prepared for a 90 degree turn so it could be pulled by its end. Wooden beams spanned the space between concrete piers.


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