Diesel Oddities: Fairbanks-Morse Model 45B Engines

A tale of two Fairbanks-Morse Model 45B engines owned by Mike Messner.

| December 2016/January 2017

  • Mike Messner’s Fairbanks, Morse & Co. Model 45 diesel engines.
    Photo by Mike Messner
  • Mike’s two Model 45 diesel engines are almost identical except for demonstrator’s chrome radiator shell.
    Photo by Mike Messner
  • A side view of the demonstrator engine shows a very clean design.
    Photo by Mike Messner
  • A side view of the “work clothes” 45 shows its electric starter and a foot-operated starter solenoid in the shell.
    Photo by Mike Messner

Fairbanks-Morse Model 45B

Manufacturer: Fairbanks, Morse & Co., Beloit WI
Year: Circa 1954
Serial no.: E1688 and E2316 (demonstrator)
Horsepower: 5-1/4 hp @ 1,800rpm
Bore & stroke: 3-1/8in x 4in
Ignition: Diesel compression ignition
Fuel consumption rating:
0.34 gal/hour

In American Gasoline Engines since 1872, C.H. Wendel says “although the Model 45 engines appear to be a very desirable item for today’s engine collectors, virtually none of them have surfaced.” The Model 45 is a single-cylinder, 3-1/8-inch bore by 4-inch stroke, 5-1/4 hp vertical diesel engine. The engine was made in the 1950s for a variety of applications.

I have ended up acquiring two of them. The first, which I found at an estate auction of a friend in Rice Lake, Wisconsin, is in its working clothes. The man had told me he had a little diesel engine, but I had not seen it until the auction. It had been buried in the back of a shed until the family uncovered it preparing for the auction. I was the lucky bidder.

I knew little about diesel engines and how they worked until acquiring this one. I have about 40 to 50 hit-and-miss and gas engines in my collection, but this was my first diesel. I had to rebuild the low-pressure fuel pump and I took the injector pump apart and cleaned it. I purged everything up to the injector, and with some starting fluid and some cranking I got it running nicely.

I took it to a neighboring steam and gas engine show for a number of years to display. A man approached me and talked about the engine. He said he had not seen one for a number of years and was very excited to see it. He told me of seeing them in Korea on generator sets in orphanages. He told me how they would shut them down once a year to change the oil, but otherwise they ran year-round. He also told me he had one just like the one I had. It had been a demonstrator in two branch offices of Fairbanks, Morse & Co., St. Paul, Minnesota, and Des Moines, Iowa. He also told me that as a teenager, one of his jobs was to move it in and out of the Minnesota State Fair for the Fairbanks-Morse display.

Over the years we would talk, and if I didn’t bring the engine to the show, he would ask about it. He told me at one time I should come and see him and he would sell me the demonstrator. This past spring I finally made it down to see him. He had told me there was a lot of chrome on the engine and it also had a generator. I found it to be in very good condition and the chrome was exceptional, even after all these years in his shed.


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