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
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.
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.
A 5-cylinder Model 38 300 HP Fairbanks-Morse was the third
engine and is probably one of the smallest opposed-piston engines
Fairbanks made. The model was manufactured in various sizes for a
long time and the engines are considered to be very reliable. They
have two crankshafts: One is located in the usual position in-line
with the alternator; the other is located on top of the cylinders.
There are 10 pistons, two per cylinder. The top crankshaft is
driven from the bottom crankshaft by a silent chain. Scavenging is
done by a Rootes supercharger driven from the end of the top
crankshaft. You can see the supercharger and the four air cleaners
just above the alternator.
The crankshafts are driven slightly out of phase so the top set
of pistons uncover the exhaust ports a little before the bottom set
of pistons uncover the inlet ports. Doing this gives better
scavenging of the combustion gases because it allows the exhaust
overpressure to be relieved before scavenging air enters the
cylinders. Due to the timing difference, a majority of the engine
power is developed in the lower crankshaft.
As a side note, in addition to generating duties these engines
are used in railroad locomotives, submarines and surface ships.
On the control panels, the left-hand panel is the synchronizing
panel used to bring an additional generator into synchronization
with the others before being cut into the load.
The second and third panels are for the old 2-cylinder generator
sets, and have a main switch for applying them to the load as well
as exciter volt meters and ammeters, an alternator voltmeter and
rheostats for controlling the output voltage.
The fourth panel from the left is the control panel for the
5-cylinder opposed-piston generator set. On the right is the main
load metering and disconnect panel.
Because we were working with a public institution, we understood
we had to be extremely careful to abide by the rules for the
transfer of state property to non-profit organizations. First of
all, Frank made sure the relationship between he and the University
was truly advantageous to them. Their cost of removal was very
minimal. Having volunteer workers do the actual work, plus paying
for the barge and crane time saved the University a substantial
amount of money.
Frank and the University arranged accommodations on the island
for the crew. Dormitory style rooms were provided as well as a
kitchen, but no cook, so groceries were carried to the island and
everyone pitched-in doing the chow hall work.
In November 2006, Frank had a plan and crews lined up from the
Coolspring Power Museum (taking the opposed-piston generator set),
the Ashtabula County (Ohio) Antique Engine Club (taking one
2-cylinder engine) and the East Tennessee Antique Engine Assn.
(taking the other 2-cylinder) to meet on the island Dec. 1 for
dismantling/moving. By that time, the necessary paperwork for the
transfer of the generator set was being completed. We tried to save
everything remotely useable, including the control panels, pumps,
compressors, etc. Unfortunately, some of the transformers,
capacitors and contactors contain PCB oil, considered to be
hazardous waste, which had to be properly disposed of.
The first order of business was to get the opposed-piston unit
ready to move. Exhaust, fuel and electricity were disconnected and
the engine was unbolted from the floor and lifted in preparation
In January and February, the crews met at the island to do some
more dismantling and prepping, and in March, they assembled again
to finally get the machinery out of the building, across the island
and to the mainland. I’d like to thank Jon Garbisch for taking the
photos of the work that occurred on March 17. Jon says they started
about 9 a.m. and finished about 7 p.m.
Advice for others
From our experience, we’ve learned something about how to
preserve large old iron. First and foremost, be nice! Cooperate.
Most owners of this kind of machinery simply want to be rid of it
at minimal expense and as soon as possible. If you expect them to
wait for months or years for you to get around to removing it, they
will simply carry-on with their original plan and the machinery
will be broken and sent to China.
Second, you cannot expect them to subsidize your effort.
Especially above what it would cost them to scrap the machinery.
You’ve got to be able to gather crew and transportation to get the
job done, even if it means shelling out some money. You can’t blame
the owners for not wanting unnecessary complications and expense.
Their job is not preserving the machinery; their job is getting on
with whatever it is they want to do with the property they’re
Remember, no matter how hard we work at it, this kind of
machinery is disappearing fast. In the process, some good old heavy
iron is going to be scrapped. All we can hope for is that some of
the good examples will be saved for future generations to see and
enjoy. Boy – this is fun!
Contact Elden DuRand at: firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information on this project, photos and updates, visit
Elden’s website at: www.oldengine.org/members/durand/F-M Power
Station/F-M Power Station.html (Be sure to leave spaces.)