DESERT ENGINES

By Staff
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This is the Fordson tractor referred to in the article.
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This air compressor spent its working life at one of the numerous local area mines. It has two large wheels on its crank: one is a flywheel, the other is a driven wheel. The largest casting has 'Chicago Pneumatic' in raised letters on it. Despit

3818, White Sands Twentynine Palms, CA 92277

This towed road grader, which is about 60 to 70 years old, was
built by J.D. Adams and Co. of Indianapolis, Indiana. The ID plate
on it reads ‘Adams Leaning Wheel Grader #10.’ The serial
number is 8751. According to Buff, it was used in the early days to
grade out many of the roads around here that are now concrete
ribbons of high speed traffic. There is another plate on it that
indicates it was sold by Brown Bevis Co. of 470 E. Third Street of
Los Angeles. Can any reader add to this?

As a new subscriber I am particularly fascinated by GEM articles
about the almost detective-like efforts people go through to find
engines and/or parts, and then authentically refurbish them. The
articles I’ve read are generally from east of the Rocky
Mountains, and particularly from the Midwest. I don’t recall
any articles from desert writers, although the desert can be a
‘mother lode’ source of old engines. As a Mojave Desert
dweller, I’d like to relate some of my experiences with old
engines.

This cement mixer was a very recent addition to Buff’s
collection. It has a Fairbanks-Morse 3 HP, 475 r.p.m. Z engine on
it. The engine is pretty complete, however it is frozen up. There
is no magneto on it either. The mobile frame that the engine and
the mixer sit on was made by the Spence Co. of Waterloo, Iowa. It
had a wooden tongue on it for towing that was in pretty bad shape,
and Butt has it off in preparation of making a new one. I see no
reason why, once the engine is running again, it would not make
cement as well as it ever did. The photo at right shows Buff and my
8-year-old daughter, Erin.

The principle use of the old one-lungers revolved around mining
and related activities. Prior to the arrival of the Marine Corps in
the town of Twenty nine Palms, California, for instance, the
area’s economy was driven in large part by mining. Since coming
to the desert, I’ve noticed what I call the ‘desert
syndrome.’ This syndrome generally consists of never throwing
anything away and letting it pile up in your yard. Amazing what you
will see in yards.

The other day, for instance, I stopped at a yard containing an
old tractor which had metal wheels on it. I had been meaning to
stop for months and I finally got around to it. I introduced myself
and asked the owner if I could look at his tractor.

There must be a gene of friendliness that is attached to the
‘love of old mechanical things’ gene. The gentleman, Buff
Vreeken, was just as hospitable as could be. Not only could I look
to my heart’s content at the tractor, but he also had an old
road grading machine (towed variety), which he delighted in showing
me. In addition, he had an old air compressor that weighed a ton if
it weighed an ounce. The compressor was on the back of a truck and
Buff was in the process of getting it off and setting it up where
one could look at it. He has since gotten it off the truck, and
mounted it on a large timber on the ground and is painting it up
beautifully. 

When I first saw the compressor, I thought it was an old steam
engine. No, sure enough, it was a compressor with, I’d guess,
an eight inch bore. The compressor was made by Chicago Pneumatic.
Buff said it had been at a mine in the area since the early
1900’s. It had been powered by a one-lunger. It must have been
a whale of a big one-lunger!

The tractor, which first attracted me to the yard, turned out to
be a Fordson from around 1922 or 1923. It has a crack in the
exhaust manifold and the circular part of the steering wheel has
fallen victim to the fierce Mojave Desert sun. However, the engine
is not seized up, and it would probably run if the ignition system
were tweaked. Funny thing is that a week after I saw the tractor in
the flesh, so to speak, there was one in the June GEM, except the
latter has a steering wheel and I presume it is fully operable.
Alert readers might also notice that somewhere in Buffs
tractor’s life an owner cut holes in the wheels. I think Buff
said it had worked in an avocado orchard and the holes gave some
kind of benefit.

Buff still has friends here in the Mojave who can recall desert
life in the pre World War II era. Some of these early settlers
still retain their original ‘old iron’! I hope to talk with
as many of them as possible so that their rich lore can be
preserved.

I’ve included pictures of Buffs items along with some data
and available history. As I mentioned earlier, the ‘desert
syndrome’ is alive and well here in Twenty nine Palms. I
suppose it comes from the early days when the place was rather
isolated and you often made do with what you had on hand; hence,
the saving of everything. The other side of this same coin is that
things just don’t rust out and deteriorate (except from the
sun) or get overgrown as they do in wetter areas. This means that
mechanical devices here in the desert are generally in good shape,
which makes for some very interesting finds.

Gas Engine Magazine
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Preserving the History of Internal Combustion Engines