Permian Basin Oil Show

ODESSA, TEXAS


| March/April 1998



Big Red Engine

Photo #1: Big Red happily chuffing away at the Permian Basin Oil Show, October 1996.

P.O. Box 62032 San Angelo, Texas 76906-2032

Having spent some time in the oil patch in years past, I try to visit the biennial Permian Basin Oil Show in Odessa, Texas, every few years. Along with acres of shiny, glittering, freshly painted new oil field equipment, there is an area set aside for the early day tools of the trade. Among other things, there is a humongous ditching machine, pulling units, production equipment and a full-scale wooden drilling derrick complete with all drilling tools. The derrick is powered by an ancient Ajax steam engine. The Ajax is over one hundred years old and is driven by a gas fired boiler. It quietly keeps the walking beam walking throughout the three day show.

While visiting the show in October of 1994, I saw what was left of an old one lung engine in the 20 to 30 HP range, eternally resting over in a corner. It was lacking many parts, and so thoroughly rusted that restoration seemed unlikely.

A little light flicked on.

During the summer of 1996, I called the Oil Show office in Odessa and asked if they would like to have a working, running exhibit of an old engine for the October show. They would.

I first saw 'Big Red' several years ago in Santa Anna, Texas. Bill Helwig, of Miles, Texas, had restored the engine some years earlier and was running it in the farm equipment exhibition during the 'Funtier Days' celebration. Everything else at the show was immediately forgotten as I stood there slobbering and drooling, watching and listening to the big 25 HP Fairbanks-Morse semi-diesel run. Bill took the engine to several following shows, most of which I attended too, looking for smaller, much smaller, engines. I got much too brave one day and told Bill that if he ever decided to sell the engine, to please let me know I wanted to be first in line. I popped off even more and made a tentative offer. Some time later, we agreed on a deal for the engine, but neither of us are talking about itI don't want anybody to know how much I paid for the engine, and Bill doesn't want anyone to know how little he got for it. Does that make sense?