Fairbanks-Morse Engine Shines Like New

Restoration of a 10 HP Fairbanks-Morse Engine

| June/July 2000

I was sitting on the porch of the Bait and Tackle Shop one Sunday afternoon. (This is where folks in the neighborhood meet to swap stories.) We were talking about tractors and engines when I was informed there was an old engine rusting peacefully, about three miles from my house. We rode up there to find a 10 HP Fairbanks-Morse half-buried and covered with honeysuckle vines. I know the man who tended the land but didn't know who owned it. After a few phone calls I was talking with the owner, who lives in Georgia. He told me that he wasn't sure what he wanted to do with the engine, but to call him back in a month or so. This was in February of 1994. I called him every month or two for a little over a year. He came up for a visit early in the spring of 1995. After returning to Georgia, he called and asked if I was still interested in the engine. I told him I would like to have it if for nothing else but a yard ornament. He said if I would clean up around his old home place I could have it. That seemed fair enough to me, so I went to work.

There were trees growing out of the foundation of the old house. The yard was overgrown with pokeberries and briars. I cut brush and bush hogged. I then mowed and weedeated the whole area around the house. It took several weekends to complete my end of the deal.

I brought the engine home in June of 1995. My friend, Ronald Jones, came over and we decided to try to remove the head. After a couple of hours wrestling with rusty bolts, it moved. It was dusk when we finally got it off. I got a flashlight to see how bad the cylinder looked, since the ignitor was missing, leaving a 2' hole in the side of the block for rain to get in and stand. When I peered into the deep hole there were two eyes looking back. They belonged to a 3-foot long black snake that had been calling the old engine home. At this time, Ronald said he really had to be heading on back home. However, he stayed long enough to hold the light for me to evict the unwanted guest.

The cylinder contained about a quart of dirt and trash but looked pretty good. Over the next few months, I disassembled the engine, finding one broken or rusted piece after another. The piston was stuck pretty badly. I removed the flywheels and set the block on its end. I soaked the cylinder with everything from brake fluid to olive oil with no success. I built fires in the water hopper hoping to expand the cylinder enough to release the piston, but had no luck. I finally got a homemade torch, for setting fire to brush piles, and heated the entire cylinder and hopper while keeping cold water running over the backside of the piston. With a few taps from my brass sledgehammer, it came out!

The rod had nearly rusted through where the piston pin goes through. I located someone who had another one and agreed to meet in Arden at the W.N.C. Fall Harvest Days Show to pick it up. The rod I had bargained for was stuck in a tank-cooled cylinder. It was up to me to get it out. I used my torch again and it came out without much trouble.

A friend of mine, Eddie Ross, who is a machinist, agreed to make valves and guides. He also fixed some freeze damage to the head while he had it. I made bushings, shims, gaskets, head bolts, a carburetor and a device to time the ignition using the old ignitor trip. Since the ignitor was missing, a plate was made to cover the hole with a tap for a spark plug.


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