Brother, Can You Spare a Nickel?

This Nickel-Plated Fuller & Johnson Really Shines!


| August 2005



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The “after” photo, once the 1926 1-1/2 HP Fuller & Johnson Model NB (serial no. 160333) engine was fully nickeled and reassembled.

Photos courtesy of Jerome Then.

Jerome Then of St. Cloud, Minn., gets lots of chuckles and a few scratched heads when he points out the "over-restored" sign by his 1926 1-1/2 HP Fuller & Johnson Model NB gas engine when he displays it. It doesn't require a closer look at the gas engine to know what he means: The entire engine is nickel-plated.

A Little History

Retired 78-year-old Jerome got interested in gas engines because he grew up with them on the farm. "We had a couple of Fairbanks-Morse engines we used, one for milking and another for water and other chores around the farm." He remembers when he was 7 years old, it was his job to go out in the evening and shut the engine off after it had pumped enough water to cool the milk from the cows.

When he began nearing retirement, he started attending a variety of threshing shows, and that's where he started buying engines. He'd added several dozen to his collection before he found the Fuller & Johnson. "I chose that engine first because of the make, because it had two cute 16-inch flywheels, and because it had a cast iron subbase. It was an attractive engine, and I thought it would be a good engine on which to do the nickel plating."

He might have thought about chrome plating the engine, but he'd tried that once before with a 1/2-scale John Deere 1-1/2 HP engine he'd bought as a kit and put together. When he took it to have it chromed, his contact said they could chrome everything except the engine block because the chrome didn't take or didn't work out in some way. "They were able to chrome the flywheels and base, but the engine block had to be nickeled. Nickel also tolerates heat better than chrome. If you look at the engine, you can barely notice the difference between the chrome and the nickel."

He plated the engine because he discovered that every time he took a wrench to a painted nut or bolt, paint would flake off. But if it was chromed or nickeled, it wouldn't. His next step was the thought of plating an entire, full-sized engine.

That led to Jerome's choice for the Fuller & Johnson NB engine he spotted at an auction in southwest Minnesota during the spring of 2004. "The owner passed away," Jerome says, "and the family sold off some of his collection. When I saw the Fuller & Johnson, I wanted it because it's not as common as the International Harvester Ms or John Deeres and some of those, but it was rather collectible. You don't see a lot of the little NBs."