A Task Worth Doing

Saving a Georgian Fairbanks-Morse power station

| August 2007

This power station was built in the early 1930s to power the offshore Georgia island estate of a tobacco magnate. It was used until sometime in the 1960s when commercial power became available. For at least a few years after that, the station was more or less cared for; but for about the last 30 years it has been allowed to deteriorate.

The property was recently transferred to the University of Georgia as a wetlands conservation and research facility. The power station building has been slated to be remodeled into a lunchroom for students and staff. The University was in the position of having to scrap and remove the generators and auxiliary equipment at considerable expense.

Enter the old iron guys. At the time I got involved, I had been advertising on the Internet for an old Fairbanks-Morse diesel generator to be used as a backup generator at the farm of a friend and fellow enthusiast, Frank (who asked that his last name not be mentioned). In the summer of 2006, one of the people at the University responsible for clearing out the building happened to see my advertisement, e-mailed me with photos of the machinery and asked if I would be interested in helping preserve it. We corresponded and I got Frank involved, who, in the meantime, had second thoughts about having such a large standby generator and we agreed to try to find suitable homes for this cast-off cast iron.

The good news was that everything was virtually untouched since the plant was shut down. The bad news was the location. Since the power station was on an island in the tidal flats, the machinery had to be moved by barge to the mainland where the engines could be trucked away to their new homes. A crane had to be available to lift the heavy iron from the building where it resided to the barge. We had to organize an experienced volunteer crew as well as moving gear to get the job done.

The agreement with the University required the recipients of the machinery qualify as bona fide non-profit organizations (museums, etc.), so the hunt was on.

The machinery

There were two of three original Fairbanks-Morse Model 32 E 12, 2-cylinder, 2-cycle diesels remaining, each rated at 88 KVA at 80 percent power factor, giving an actual 70 kilowatts at 2,200 volts, 60-cycle, 3-phase. They run at 360 RPM.