An FM C-O From P-Ville

By Staff
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The pulley setup for the 36-inch pump.
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The old Fairbanks as it sat for over 60 years.
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The pump house the Fairbanks was pulled from in 1997, owned by the Keach Drainage and Levee District, Eldred, Ill.
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John Hidy at work, just before the old Fairbanks was started for the first time in 17 years.
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Last month’s issue of Gas Engine Magazine
included an article titled “Salute to a Dream,” in which several
large Fairbanks-Morse engines were featured. Within that article,
another large Fairbanks engine was mentioned, one belonging to the
American Thresherman Assn. in Pinckneyville, Ill.

That engine is a model C-O 200 HP 4-cylinder reversible marine
engine, recently started for the first time in 17 years at the
association’s 46th Annual Steam, Gas and Threshing Show in
Pinckneyville this past August. Dennis “Junkyard” Fust, John Hidy,
Gary Bahre, and Harold and Paul Kurtz are the men responsible for
getting the engine running again, working about 18 hours over the
course of just a couple of days. But before the ATA got their hands
on it, the old Fairbanks had already faithfully served its previous
owners for many years.

The C-O’s Working Years

The big Fairbanks diesel left the Beloit, Wis., plant with
another, identical engine on June 19, 1925, and headed for
Nashville, Tenn., to be used to power the M/V North Star, a
riverboat owned by the Dillman Egg Case Co.

After 10 years of service, in an unfortunate turn of events
while heading down the Upper Mississippi River in November 1935,
the North Star somehow sank, thankfully in fairly shallow water.
However, the vessel was ruptured, and ice in the river prevented
any rescue efforts for 69 days. During those 69 days, the poor
Fairbanks sat in a pool of water and mud, some of which made its
way to the engine’s internals.

Once pulled from the water, the North Star was taken to Paducah,
Tenn., and the pair of 200 HP engines was removed and replaced with
a pair of much larger, 400 HP Fairbanks diesels.

The old steam engines used at the Fairbanks Ranch pump house in
Eldred, Ill., owned by Henry Cohn, had seen better days and were in
need of replacement. Henry made the decision to replace them with
one of the 200 HP Fairbanks engines pulled from the North Star.
Once the deal was made with Dillman Egg Case Co., he had it shipped
via train to Eldred and loaded on a lowboy trailer owned by Kirbach
Trucking Service. Kirbach then delivered the engine to the pump
house very late one night, only to find the road too soft. A
crawler tractor was then called in to help pull the truck to its

Once off-loaded, the engine was disassembled, cleaned and
reassembled. It was then put to work powering a 36-inch
double-suction centrifugal pump that pumped 35,000 gallons of water
per minute (under normal operating conditions). The engine served
pumping duty for the station until George Varble, station commander
at the time, retired the Fairbanks in 1974.

Between 1974 and 1997, when the ATA bought it, the old Fairbanks
did nothing but collect dust. However, during its dust-collecting
days, all the air and fuel lines were left intact, for reasons
unknown. Maybe just in case the station was to need it again, like
when a massive flood occurred nearby on the Mississippi River in
1983. It is believed the engine was possibly called into duty for a
short time during that period, but that hasn’t been confirmed.

New Owners

After the ATA purchased and transported the engine to their show
grounds, it served only as a static display for seven years,
despite several attempts by several different people to get it
running. Then, at this year’s 2005 Lathrop, Mo., Antique Car,
Tractor & Engine Show, Gary met John Hidy and they began
talking. One thing led to another, and next thing you know, John
and Dennis were at Pinckneyville wrenching on the ATA’s engine.

Among other problems, the issue at hand was fixing the
injectors. This was accomplished using one of John’s rare test
stands that are required for such a repair, and Dennis’ knowledge
of how it’s done.

While these five men diligently worked on the Fairbanks for two
solid days, anywhere from 50 to 150 people were always there
watching them work, as if they were a NASCAR pit crew. According to
the association’s vice president, Gary Bahre, everyone was so
intrigued by what was going on, and so anxious to watch the engine
start and run again, that when the crew would break for lunch,
people waited there for close to an hour until they got back. He
said two men even brought lawn chairs and watched the crew work for
several hours!

Then, on the Thursday afternoon before the show, the crew turned
it over and heard the old C-O fire up. It was immediately moved to
the “center ring” of the show grounds and ran the rest of the day
Thursday and all day Friday and Sunday of the show.

Although they did get the engine running again, the old
Fairbanks is still in need of some attention. It needs a new head
gasket, the air start valves need to be sealed better, the air and
coolant lines have to be re-plumbed, an oil line needs repaired and
several other odds and ends need to be attended to. Some of the
repairs are already underway, and will most likely be finished by
the time you’re reading this. Since the tag was not with the engine
when the ATA purchased it, a new reproduction tag is also being

A very dedicated crew constructed a trailer on which to run and
transport the giant engine. It was built in the winter of
1999-2000, two years after the club purchased the engine. The 200
HP engine weighs in at a whopping 30 tons, so you can bet countless
hours were spent welding on the trailer. However, the guys who
repaired the engine and got it running found out the hard way that
it needs to be permanently anchored down – it bounced itself right
off the blocks it was resting on while it was running at the

The association is also currently working on a plan to house, or
at least cover, the engine, as it is anything but watertight. In
addition to protection from the elements, the 40-gallon fuel tank
currently being used will be installed more permanently.

Gary says there have been many people to help with the engine
over the years: The crew that moved it to the Pinckneyville show
grounds from the pump house, the crew that built the trailer and
mounted the engine, and the most recent crew that got the old
powerhouse running again. The ATA extends its gratitude to all that
have helped over the years.

Gary also wanted us to put the word out that the ATA is in
serious need of a C-O manual. If anyone has one or access to one,
the ATA would appreciate a copy, a loan, or even the chance to
purchase one.

Contact engine enthusiast Gary Bahre at: P.O. Box 40, Sparta, IL

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