Gas Engine Magazine

Big Moe

By Staff

1473 North Bend Road Hebron, Kentucky 41048

This is how Bob Turner and Herb Ginn Sr. became partners of a
1922 Fairbanks Morse engine that is affectionately known as
‘Big Moe.’

As Bob and I were sitting in Bob’s shop discussing various
engines we both owned, the subject of a larger engine came up. We
decided that we would be interested in finding a bigger engine. Bob
said that he knew where one was located, and he thought it was a 20
or 30 HP. He said that this gentleman had had this engine for a
long time, and that he would not sell it to anyone. He thought that
it would be possible for us to go and look at it sometime. With
this thought in mind we started out one Saturday morning to look at
this engine. We had no intentions of buying this engine because we
knew the man would not sell it to us. Regardless of what our wives
said, our intentions were to merely look at the engine. It was a
short one hour drive to this gentleman’s home. We were in luck
and found the owner at home. He was very kind to us and took the
time to show us his old engine which was out behind an old barn on
a four wheel wagon. It was a sad looking sight. The engine had
briers, bushes and grapevines growing all over the engine and
through the flywheel. The old wagon was swayback just like an old
horse with the load that it was carrying. It had a 55 gallon drum
for cooling. The engine was stuck because it had sat out in all
kinds of weather. There had never been a cover put over it in many
years. It was really a sad looking sight.

At this time, anyone in his right mind would have turned and
walked away. But as most of you engine folks know, old engine buffs
don’t have their right minds when it comes to engines. Bob and
I discussed the potential that the old engine had and how it would
look if someone would restore it to its original condition. The
gentleman who owned the engine told us that he had some more old
engines out in another field. He took us through the briers and
bushes. Every once in a while you could see engines scattered
throughout the field. They were from 2 to 10 HP. One could see that
he had lost his interest in restoring engines, because of the way
that they were sitting throughout the field. To our great surprise,
he asked us if we would be interested in buying this big engine and
some of the others. To make a long story short, we wound up with
four of the old engines, including the big 20 HP one. We did not go
with any intention of buying any engines and were just as surprised
when he said he would sell us those four engines. Almost as
surprised as our wives were when we told them of our great buy.
Boy, were they happy!!

We got a short history on the old engine. It was purchased in
1922 by a milling company in Richmond, Kentucky. The old engine
stayed in Richmond until the early 1960’s. The gentleman then
purchased it from this milling company in the early 60’s. We
bought the engine from him in the summer of 1988, and we were the
third owners. The old FM engine has 54′ flywheels and 9? bore
and a 12′ stroke. It weighs almost 3800 lbs. While we had the
engine torn down, we weighed the rod and piston together and they
topped the scales at 125 lbs. We didn’t have any trouble
getting the engine home. A lucky thing happened while we were
pulling the old engine out of the bushes, briers and grapevines.
The grapevines wrapped around and through the flywheels caused the
engine to break loose before they broke. The grapevines sure saved
us a lot of work.

Well, the fun started when we got the old engine home and
unloaded. We were then able to start taking it apart. We then
wondered if we had not got in over our heads. After the
dismantling, sandblasting, scraping and cleaning, the painting
began in earnest. This took us about one year. As you can see by
the pictures, the screen-cooled is made out of stainless steel with
wood trim. The stainless steel gas tank on the back, plus other
parts, are all Bob’s work. He is a machinist and perfectionist.
We made the exhaust pipe different from the picture. It is now
4′ larger at the top than the old one. The woodwork is the area
where I was allowed to help. Through a friend of mine in Dunville,
Kentucky, I was told about a very lightweight wood that was
stronger than oak. It was said to have more grain in it than oak.
This wood is called sassafras. Most old timers are familiar with
sassafras tea made out of the roots of sassafras. Most all these
trees are very small. My friend told me that he had some logs of
sassafras and that he would cut me some 8 x 8’s for the engine
blocks. Also, he would cut some planks for the decking of the
trailer. He told me what a beautiful wood the sassafras would be
and was sure right.

We had an interesting time trying to get the 8 x 8’s planed.
It seems like all the planers in the Greater Cincinnati area open
up to 6′ but no larger. We spent half a day trying to get these
timbers planed. In desperation, we took an electric hand planer and
got the job done. It turned out great after the sander got
done.

Well, with the engine getting ready to be reassembled, we
decided that we needed to get the trailer done so we would have
somewhere to put the engine. This was in July 1988, the hottest
summer in our area on record. We obtained some axles from another
good friend, Dick Anderson. The axles were on a portable office. We
had to remove them from underneath this office. The temperature
that day was 100 degrees in the shade. The grass was dry and we had
to use a cutting torch to get the axles. We were hoping that we
would not burn Boone County down, but a few small fires did start;
we managed to get them put out right away. After three hours of
blocking, jacking, cutting and fire-fighting, we were finally able
to get the axles loaded onto Bob’s pickup. We were hot, sweaty
and dirty and ready to head for the air conditioning. We were
ready, but Bob’s truck wasn’t. It would not start. The
battery was shot. What a day!

We got the trailer built, the engine timbers mounted, and were
all ready to mount the big engine that we had nicknamed ‘Big
Moe’. We finally got it all put together and the big day came
for the start-up. Bob, my son Herb Jr., and I were all ready early
that day. We had the engine in Bob’s shop with the wheels
blocked on the trailer and, we thought, ready to-run. For a few
minutes we discussed how much gas to prime it with-Bob suggested to
use just a little. We put a little in, but nothing happened. I told
Bob that we needed more gas. Bob said that he did not think so, but
I won out on this point. Big Moe fired, the shop turned black, Bob
and Herb Jr. ran for the door, and I was trying desperately to shut
the engine down. Now that was fun! We have since become more
proficient at starting Big Moe. We are still working some of the
small bugs out, but the engine is 99% complete.

The first show that we had it at was at Rabbit Hash, Kentucky.
We also had it at the Northern Kentucky Steam and Gas Engine Show
at Crittenden, Kentucky. It is to be the featured engine at their
1990 show. We also had it at the first Boone County Fair Antique
Engine, Implement and Tractor Show in 1989. We will have the engine
this year at the same shows. Come and see Big Moe and be with us at
our Boone County show this year. We would like to hear from anyone
who owns a 20 HP Fairbanks Morse engine or anyone who has any
information on this engine. Please drop Bob or me a letter.
Bob’s address is: Bob Turner, 5904 Carlton Drive, Burlington,
Kentucky 41005, phone 606-536-7457. My address is on the previous
page, and my phone is 606-689-7551.

  • Published on Jul 1, 1990
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