1-1/2 HP Fairbank-Morse Model Z

Author Photo
By Staff

It was a cold day in December of 1965 when I was on my way home from a day of teaching school that I followed up a tip on the location of 1-1/2 HP Fairbanks-Morse Model Z. I pulled into the driveway hoping that this was not a dry run. I got out, knocked at the door, introduced myself and inquired of the engine. The owner and I drove down the road and into a woods. I was shaking, not from the cold but from anticipation and hope. We uncovered the object and there stood the gas engine still connected to the pump jack. We agreed on the price and with a mighty heave it was in the trunk of my car. Thank goodness for snow treads on the car or I might still be stuck in that woods. I then drove back to his house, paid my bill and headed for home.

When I got home I began to wonder how to get the engine out of the trunk by myself when it took two of us to get it into the trunk. I changed clothes, went back out to the garage, and with the aid of two pieces of lumber I slid the engine out.

Next problem-I cannot stand too much cold weather so how could I work on it? I pulled the head and brought it into the utility room where my workbench and tools are kept. With no background I began the problem of the stuck valves and I do mean stuck. I didn’t hammer too much but did free the intake with only a little work, but not true with the exhaust.

The next Saturday I went to a local mechanic and he laughed. With one mighty swing on the hammer the valve broke. Now what? The following Thursday after teaching high school all day and before my adult welding class met in the evening I went to the auto supply house in town. We searched for a valve that could be machined down and ended up with a valve that had a stem of the correct diameter and length.

Then on a lathe I ground down the face diameter and reground the angle. It fit very well.

Christmas vacation was coming and I would have more time for my new hobby. It was going to be too cold to work in the unheated garage so I proceeded to make a base of 2 x 6’s found a pair of old wheels, loaded up the engine, pulled it into the house over three steps, and was ready to go. After getting the engine in the warmth of the house I discovered that I had a remarkable Christmas present when I found the manual and the operating instructions in the bottom of the battery box under the old batteries. The papers had been wrapped in waterproof material and were in excellent condition other than being brittle from age.

Now get the picture. A utility room about ten feet square with washer, dryer, workbench, tablesaw, and gas engine. To say the least, with all this there were sons Von, age six, and Eric, age three and daughter Susan Marie, age two, and myself and there wasn’t a great amount of space in which to work. Every evening the three wee ones wanted to help me work on the engine. Each of us worked with sand paper and emery cloth and we removed all the paint, rust, dirt and grease. Mother enjoyed some time to herself so she did very little complaining about the messes to be cleaned up. Not knowing what exactly made the ‘thing’ go, I proceeded to disassemble and clean.

Spring came, the weather was nice. I couldn’t get it to run. No spark.

The plug would spark outside the head but it didn’t spark inside. The only way I had to tell if it was correctly wired was to grab the spark plug wire, WOW. Cuss, darn. I got new batteries and started to adjust the timing. And would you believe it, the smoke rolled, it belched and with some slight adjustments it was running. The kids and wife came running and to state that we were all pleased is the understatement of the year.

Now as for the engine it was complete with manual operating instructions, (please don’t write for reproductions as they are too fragile to take much handling) crank, crankshaft cover. The only thing missing was the silencer. To overcome this problem I borrowed one from a friend and cast one from aluminum.

If I were to give three reasons as to why I like gas engines I would have to give the following; the pride in taking a part of past Americana and making it work, the personal enjoyment that my family gets from watching gas engines run, and when the ‘old-timers’ in the neighborhood come to watch and listen to it run and spin yarns as to ‘Now I can remember when’.

As for the engine, it is a Fairbanks Morse 1-1/2 horsepower at 550 rpm, model Z, serial #508633, buzz box with hit-and-miss ignition. The picture was taken one year later. Shown with the engine is crank, manual in the folder and operating instructions in the frame.

I’m hoping to find another engine soon but realize that I ‘hit the jackpot’ on my first engine. I can buy all I want restored but that takes the fun out of it.

Christmas is the harvest time of love. Souls are drawn to other souls. All that we have read and thought and hoped comes fruition at this happy time. Our spirits are astir. We feel within us a strong desire to serve. A strange, subtle force, a new kindness, animates man and child. A new spirit is growing in us. No longer are we content to relieve pain; to sweeten sorrow, to give the crust of charity. We dare to give friendship, service, the equal loaf of bread, and love. – Helen Keller

Published on Nov 1, 1967

Gas Engine Magazine

Preserving the History of Internal Combustion Engines