A friend of mine, Leon, told me about this old 1918 15 HP Fairbanks-Morse kerosene engine about three years ago. One day, while at his home, we decided to go look it over. I had just started collecting antique engines in the 1-1/2 to 3 HP range, weighting from 100 to 300 lbs.
I have worked on engines all my life, from lawn mowers to 2,000 HP gas and Diesel engines. However, I was surprised to see about 3000 lbs. of iron to make a portable power unit of only 15 HP. Real quick I told Leon that I was not interested in an antique engine this large.
In the next year of antique engine collecting, and one real good engine show at Portland, Ind., I did a lot of thinking about the old truck-mounted, screen-cooled FM. Finally I decided to try to buy the engine. It was at some relatives of the owner, near Leon’s, but the owner lived in New Jersey. Leon really worked hard at negotiation on the sale. It took many months and I became very anxious. Finally Leon called and said the deal was closed and I could come get the engine.
I arranged to borrow a gooseneck trailer and pickup truck, gathered some chain, come-alongs, and some two by twelves. At 5 PM, Alton, another friend of mine, drove the 20 miles with me and we met Leon. Well, the grist mill that was to go with the engine was gone. But there was the engine, way on the back of a lot grown up with weeds, in a little lean-to shed, on the back of an old garage that was leaning so badly that I was scared to walk into it, and the lean-to shed was resting on the engine.
We took come-alongs and chains and with the aid of a handy tree, we pulled the shed and the garage upright. The screen-cooling tower was too tall to go through the opening in the rear of the garage and we had to hacksaw the piping and remove the tower. We then started pulling on the engine with the come-along. Well, the engine had set there so long that the wheels were about 6 inches buried and when the engine started to move ahead it also started to rise. Now the flywheels got too high to enter the garage and we had to back off and dig trenches for the wheels to travel through until the flywheels were clear of the garage entrance.
We thought we had it going easy and tried to pull it with the pickup. All we could do was spin wheels. So back to about 50 ft. of pulling with the come-alongs and steering by hand. I got real smart next and decided to back the low boy trailer in the road ditch to lower it for easy loading and learned real quick that a three axle low boy only backs over a small ditch, not lowering it more than an inch or two.
It was getting dark now and we still had to pull the engine about 75 ft. Forty five minutes later we were ready to rig up ramps with the two by twelves and to start loading. With a come-along and chain connected to each side of the front truck axle we started to pull old FM up on the low boy in pitch darkness.
We would pull, me on one come-along and Alton on the other, until we would run out of travel on the come-alongs; then we would have to tie it off with another chain and take up the slack in the come-alongs and start another pull. When the rear wheels started up it got real hard to pull so I took the flashlight and took a look at the problem. The two by twelves were bent U-shaped and about to break, but the rear wheels were not coming up.
We then had to find some heavy timbers to block up the center of the two by twelves, and this required slacking off on the come-alongs. With this support, the two by twelves held and old FM came on up slowly. Finally all 4 wheels of old FM were setting on the low boy, and we found that with effort we could roll the engine by hand up to the front of the trailer. Then we used the come-alongs to bind it down tight for the trip home.
We had to clean up the mess we had made before leaving. It sure was nice driving back. Alton went directly home and I went to where I work to unload old FM. This was easy with the 15 ton electric traveling hoist we have where I work and old FM has made her home here for the last two years.
Well, it tain’t over yet, although I sure was wishing it was. I still had to go drop off the low boy and return the pickup to the man I had borrowed it from. It was after midnight when I got home and I sure didn’t need anyone to rock me to sleep.
Restoring the old engine
It was several months before I completed some other projects and got everything checked out on old FM to be safe in attempting to start it. I sure did not want to damage the engine, and I had a few thoughts about it trying to damage me. Without removing any major parts, only a little oil and grease, this nearly 60-year-old engine had so much compression that I could not roll it over compression with the compression release valve closed.
When I was sure the governor, carb, magneto, make and break points, lubricator and such were working, I finally got up nerve to try to start it. The first time was a chore, mainly because I didn’t know how to prime it. After a dozen or so tries old FM fired off, and with a little adj. of carb, she ran very well.
You might think the hard part was over, but it just ain’t so. Cleaning a dirty, greasy, rusty old chunk of iron like this down to the bare metal, priming and painting, repairing the screen cooling tower, fuel tank and trying to make it look new again is the slow hard part.
Someone asked me how much the old engine was worth. I told him about 251 a ton at the junk yard, and priceless to a nut like me.