1899 Fairbanks-Morse “Type T” Special Electric 6 HP engine

By Staff
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John's wife, Arlene, stands with the finished engine. On the base, John typed out the engine's history then had a sign company make a vinyl press-on sign, thus preserving the history with the engine.
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John and a friend designed a trip mechanism for the igniter that looks like a factory piece.
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John Hamilton's 1899 6 HP Fairbanks-Morse Type T Special Electric, bought off a farm in Ness County, Kan.
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A small L-bracket was made to hold the oiler to the outside of the crankcase, and another small tube was added to the bottom of the oiler to the hole in the crankcase, making sure that the end of the tube touches the plate inside the crankcase.
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John got some help from his son, Mike, to reinstall the flywheels. Both were a little nervous about dealing with the split hub on a 400-pound flywheel.
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John found brass engine nameplate on eBay for $18 delivered. Even though this cylinder did not originally have a plate, it was too nice to omit.

In early 2004, a neighbor, Bob, was visiting me and saw some of my engines.  He said he had his father’s engine, which I should take. It was an International LLB 3-5 HP. Soon after I picked it up, it was putt-putting just like new. When Bob heard it he said I needed to go to Kansas and get “the 6 HP Fairbanks.” As I was trying to sell a 6 HP IHC “M,” I declined. But then he mentioned the magic word – “upright.” Shoot – another long trip and another restoration, just when I was trying to clean out the shop. Bob’s uncles, the owners, who were brothers, wanted their engine to go to a good home. If I could bring the LB back to life, mine was a good home.

In September 2004, I picked up Bob and we drove to my brother, Sam’s, house in Stillwater, OK. We transferred to his Dodge 3/4t diesel and heavy trailer. Who knew what we’d find? In another five hours, we were in Ness City, KS. The brothers came to the motel to visit us. “Do you have 4-wheel drive?” Uh-oh – it had been raining on the limestone powder the county puts on its roads. It is as slick as melting ice and called “smear”. 

Fifteen miles of 2-wheel drive smear later, we walked into the shed and saw the engine.  Although it was highly modified and dirty, it looked solid, turned free, didn’t have rust – and it was a big upright! One uncle used his large bucket loader and a logging chain to load the engine on Sam’s trailer. Another fifteen miles of smear, and we were on our way home, white knuckles and all.

Back around 1899, a farmer in Ness County, KS bought this 6 HP Fairbanks-Morse “Type T” Special Electric engine. He used the engine until the mid-1930’s to power a line shaft for a grinder, lathe and air compressor in his farm shop making many modifications to the engine.

Weather in western Kansas can be severe and, at some time, the cylinder froze and was replaced. The head was probably replaced too because there are supposed to be serial numbers on both pieces. Only the cylinder is stamped, and the number there begins with the letter “O,” which would not have been original issue. There has been discussion on the internet about this type of serial number, but it is all supposition. Also, this cylinder never had the cast brass name plate. 

During his ownership, the farmer replaced the hot tube and igniter with a spark plug and a magneto from a Hart-Parr 15-30. The mixer was replaced by an after-market Schebler D carburetor, which was widely advertised in the early 1900’s for this type of application. A Chevrolet water pump replaced the original, and a Madison-Kipp 50 oiler from the Hart-Parr replaced the Michigan manifold oiler.  The igniter trip mechanism was modified to trip the oiler. 

He also reversed the crankshaft in the crankcase blocking off the original rod bearing lubrication. The original type mechanism with a dedicated oiler dripped into a lipped plate bolted to the crankshaft. As the crankshaft turns, oil is spun to the rim by centrifugal force which pushes it through a tube into the rod bearing.  A kind of pressurized system in 1899!  This is unique to the Special Electric. The regular T just used splash lubrication.

A lot of little parts such as the fuel pump, mixer, hot tube and water pump were lost in the process of his changes. A large tractor clutch pulley was mounted for the shop. In reversing the crankshaft to original configuration, I found the pulley would no longer work so it has been set aside as heavy and unnecessary. The top of the piston had broken off and been rewelded, the valve stems had rotted away because of mud dauber nests and the intake valve guide was broken off inside the head.

Around 1936, the farmer sold the engine to a neighbor, who hooked it to a grinder and promptly put out one of his eyes. The engine sat idle for a while until this man’s sons got out of school around 1937 and decided to open a machine shop. They farmed in Ness County and ran the machine shop powered by the engine until 110 volt REA power came in 1946. At that time, the 45 or 46 year old engine was put to rest. It obviously has spent most of its life under cover because there was only minor surface rust.

When Sam was able to bring the engine to Waxahachie, we weighed it at 1,860 pounds at the feed mill. We removed it from the trailer with two cherry pickers, one piece at a time. We’d take something off with one picker, slide it to the edge of the trailer then pick it up with the other picker. Everything came loose and the job only took a couple of hours. Now what to do? Clean it up and leave it as it was? Polish and paint everything? Replace missing parts and restore it?

This was a big project for us. The flywheels weigh 440 pounds each and the piston and rod were close to 40 pounds. After everything was laid out and we had reproduction parts manuals, we took stock. 

The Special Electric was made with heavy flywheels and throttle-governed to turn a generator. The regular hit-and-miss “T” with lighter flywheels and hit-and-miss ignition is called the Jack of All Trades. These big flywheels are slightly domed for use as the pulley, and there are special guards over the governor gears in case the belt falls off.  All of these special parts were here. eBay often has copies of an old ad showing the complete farm and home electric system. 

What was missing were all original electric and fuel systems. Over its life, the engine had worked hard then sat unattended for a long time. As there was no finish, a lot of light rust and many missing parts, leaving it in its old, working livery was not a reasonable restoration option.

A complete restoration would have provided a very unusual and desirable engine but replacing all the parts would have been very expensive. Because we know all of the history of this engine and how it was used and by whom, there is a third option in this case – a hot rod!  After all, if you replace the exhaust, carburetor and ignition on your car it is called a hot rod. This engine spent most of its life with aftermarket and adapted parts handling most of its functions. We decided to leave as much as possible in place and replace only what had to be replaced. 

– Fuel system: The Schebler D carburetor was advertised in “Gas Review” magazine around 1915 to replace inefficient mixers on stationary engines.  Dykes Automotive manuals have a complete page on this carb. Since it was a period piece, it was kept. This saved looking for a fuel pump because the Schebler is gravity fed. It looks good, too. The owner had made an adaptor out of a Model A Ford carburetor base so it just bolts on. The original rod from the governor controls the carburetor. The original mixer was unique to the Special Electric, and required a fuel pump and a lot of plumbing. I adapted a Briggs-Stratton fuel tank by making a bracket to hold it to the head bolts above the carburetor.

– Ignition system: Originally, the engine was equipped with both a hot tube and an igniter. The Hart-Parr magneto and spark plug modifications from the 1920’s were pretty crude, so Sam found a proper ignitor. A friend and I designed and made a trip mechanism that looks like a factory piece.  During the start-up process, I made an L-bracket to hold the igniter from a barbeque grill. The wire was attached to the sparkplug and it was placed so that the trip mechanism worked the spark. It worked for the test but the plastic button and hardened steel tripper probably would not have worked well over time. This is an easy fix for any sparkplug engine. You could disguise the mechanism in a special box and fool anyone.

– Cooling system: The original water pump had been replaced by a 1930’s Chevy water pump working with a 55 gallon drum. The local radiator shop boiled the cylinder and head out overnight and got a lot of debris. That’s probably a good plan for any engine that does not have babbitt on the parts to be boiled. We will use a small water tank bracketed above the cylinder head for engine shows.  This was an option and operated by thermosyphon. 

– Lubrication: The Madison-Kipp was too new for the engine and its “wobblers” are stuck. I missed the proper Michigan 5-place manifold oiler on eBay but had a bunch of matching oilers. The engine takes six! The missing crankcase lubrication system was made from a round disk of 18 gauge steel. The edge was rounded into a lip over the end of an anvil and a small tube soldered to the top to meet with the hole in the crankcase. It bolts to the side of the crankshaft web. A small L-bracket was made to hold the oiler to the outside of the crankcase and another small tube was added from the bottom of the oiler to the hole in the crankcase making sure that the end of the tube touches the plate inside the crankcase. It looks identical to the original setup.

– The head: One of the valves sat open and both valves were rusted almost through near the head. An earlier Gas Engine Magazine contained my article on making your own valves and I could have done this. However, a swap meet in Fredericksburg, TX turned up a new pair so we took the easy route. At some time, the head had received a blow and the intake valve guide was broken off.  This defied my best efforts but a nearby machine shop did a complete valve job and replaced the guide for $100.

Most of the real work was just cleanup and paint. The Ness County, KS area has a lot of limestone, and the dust mixing with an oily engine turned into concrete. It would not scrape or sandblast off but cleaned right up with a pneumatic descaler from one of the junk tool catalogs

There was not a trace of original paint anywhere, even though every bolt was taken off. An early F-M could have been red but dark green might have been the color too. Model A Ford engine paint is close enough for a Fairbanks-Morse. It is dark green and, best of all, available. Two quarts did the job. 

I also found a replacement for the brass engine name plate on eBay for $18 delivered! Once in a while, you get lucky. Even though this cylinder did not have a plate originally, it was too nice to omit.

A lot of cleaning and fabrication and everything looked good. Compression is almost too good, and it is easy to set timing with the trip mechanism we made.  All of the brass looks good, too. 

So where are we?  It’s not original but it’s close to how it was used through most of its productive life up into the 1940’s. Since the carburetion and ignition have been modified, I’ll just call it a hot rod. Leaving it as it was was not a realistic option and restoring it to original would not have been representative of its productive life. The history is preserved with the engine. It’s in Oklahoma now awaiting some fine tuning and a proper trailer or cart. 

John Hamilton
910 W. Marvin Ave.
Waxahachie, Texas 75165

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