A Task Worth Doing

Saving a Georgian Fairbanks-Morse power station

| August 2007

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    The two original Fairbanks-Morse Model 32 E 12s. With the exception of all the junk that had accumulated over the years, the machinery was in pretty good condition.
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    This 5-cylinder Fairbanks-Morse Model 38 F 5-1/4, 300 HP, opposed-piston, 2-cycle, diesel generator set running at 900 RPM replaced an old 2-cylinder unit sometime in the 1950s.
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    The control panel.
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    A rear view of the control panel, showing the main 2,200-volt to 220-volt transformers, the control transformers and other controls.
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    The East Tennessee group, from left: Jeff Hutchings, Darrell Simmons, Drew Talbert, Fred Milner, Don Moorehouse and Jon Garbisch. Jon is with the University of Georgia, where he manages education, public outreach and development for the Marine Institute.
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    Robert Oaks mysteriously missed the ETAEA group photo.
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    The Ashtabula County (Ohio) Antique Engine Club members, from left: Don Burkholder, Larry Lipps (club president), Jon, Bob Sergeff (who actually started the ball rolling by contacting Ed Wharton, former club president), Ken Kepiro, Ladimir Kubichek, Tom Boos, Wayne Johnson (club vice president) and Ed (the person really responsible for getting the club one of the Fairbanks engines).
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    This barge provided transportation for the machinery from the island to the mainland.
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    Despite the weathered exterior of the 5-cylinder generator set, the lower crankshaft and rods are in very good condition.
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    The Ohio group hard at work on their 2-cylinder engine. Important disassembly note: It is required that the punch be dropped into the oil reservoir of the outboard exciter bearing to appease the hungry oil gods. There was a great mechanical engineering breakthrough when the group discovered kitchen tongs beat a pair of screwdrivers to recover the wayward punch. At dinner, everyone remarked about the exotic flavor of the food until someone realized the used tongs were sitting in the skillet!
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    One of the steel plates the rigging crew used as a turntable to rotate the opposed-piston generator set to get it out the door. Note the bolt in the center of the plate. The other plate had a hole that went over the bolt to make a pivot point.
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    The generator set ready to be lifted.
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    The professional rigging crew arrived with their equipment at 9 a.m. after the trip from the mainland.
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    The I-beams were heavily greased to help the beast slide outside.
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    Seeing the sun for the first time in many years.
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    The greased turntable was slipped underneath the generator set and lowered to the steel.
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    The generator set was lowered onto the trailer for its trip to the mainland.
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    The flywheels were removed preparatory to being taken outside. They palletized the rack gear and other items.
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    March 18, the professional crew spent another five hours getting the two-bangers high enough in the air to get the I-beams under them.
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    In April, the East Tennessee club mounted their 2-cylinder engine on its concrete pad at its new home.
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    The intrepid crew unloads the engine parts at the club’s show grounds. The snow was gone but the temperature was 40 degrees and windy. The forklift discovered it wasn’t quite up to lifting the engine, so it got a little help from a loader. Notice the two helpers trying to look relaxed as the engine was balanced and moved to its temporary location.
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    The engine in its short-term spot on the show grounds.
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    The Ashtabula club did the “Move the Big Iron” dance in April. Right after the truck arrived and for the next week, there were 31 inches of snow, so the engine and truck sat at the driver’s house until the show grounds dried.
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    During their June 2007 show and in the dark of night, the crack Coolspring Power Museum engineering staff won the “First Smoke” award with their O.P. engine. Technically, they made smoke – and lots of it – but only while cranking with air. When they get the scavenging blower sorted out, it will really run.
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    During their June 2007 show and in the dark of night, the crack Coolspring Power Museum engineering staff won the “First Smoke” award with their O.P. engine. Technically, they made smoke – and lots of it – but only while cranking with air. When they get the scavenging blower sorted out, it will really run.
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    During their June 2007 show and in the dark of night, the crack Coolspring Power Museum engineering staff won the “First Smoke” award with their O.P. engine. Technically, they made smoke – and lots of it – but only while cranking with air. When they get the scavenging blower sorted out, it will really run.

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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.