Fairbanks Survives War Effort!

By Staff

1610 N. West Street Carroll, Iowa 51401

I saw this Fairbanks the first time in 1934. I was 18 at the
time, and my dad and I were inspecting a farm he had just taken
possession of, about 10 miles from our home.

The Fairbanks had been abandoned a few years earlier. It was new
to me, as it was a single cylinder with a box on the side with a
stall for four telephone batteries, and a Model T Ford coil with a
knife switch on the side. It had the gas cap removed, and the tank
was rusted out. It was quite a find for a boy, so we took it along
home.

This was in the ‘dirty Thirties,’ the days of lost
farms; people needed money and the German and Irish mix population
needed a bracer to face the realities of the times. You have to
remember this was Carroll County, the home of Templeton Rye, and
the entrepreneur of the times filled the need. This explains the
desperate need for a reliable source of power when the wind
didn’t blow for the windmill. When the mash was ready they
needed water right now. The steady ‘Hiff, sutt, sutt,
hiff!’ of the hit and miss engine meant that the moon shiners
were at it. The hog in the barn needed a soothing, cooling of his
coil. No one complained about this arrangement, and the hog in the
barn was moved frequently from place to place to break the trail
for the agents. Occasionally, the raiders did catch a shiner and he
was jailed, but always his friends bailed him out the same day and
things were back to normal shortly.

Well, I took this discarded engine home and started to fix it
up. The gas cap was gone and the tank rusted out, so a tin can set
under the check valve became the gas tank. Next I’ needed
ignition, so instead of four dry cells I persuaded Dad to buy a
Hot-Shot from the Gambles Store. They cost 98 cents, no tax. It
didn’t take long to get things working. I hooked it up to the
well behind the grove. I found a half can of gas, and a squirt of
oil in the oiler produced a stock tank of water. This worked well
for the summer. (We pumped by hand in the winter.) But the next
year the battery was nearly dead and Dad said, ‘I just bought
you one last year!’ I learned fast that cranking an engine with
a low battery is a burn-out sport. I knew that mags were available
at the time, so I asked at Auto-Motive Electric in Carroll. He was
sure they were available. Later on at a car service visit at their
place they said they had the magneto, but the price was way out of
my reach, so no deal. I just used old car batteries and they
usually lasted through the summer.

Several years later, after I was on my own, I got to talking to
the boss at the shop and he wanted to sell me the mag for
$5.00.

Now I was in business! It worked out well until 1940, when the
war effort wanted all sorts of scrap metal. I was alone at the farm
by then, and at noon one day a large Government truck stopped in
and wanted scrap metal. They wanted all kinds of iron, and would
accept rusty barbed and woven wire and pay cash for cast iron. I
told them I’d give them the pile of barbed and the rusty woven
wire, but not to get any ideas about the engine and the pump jack
by the well. I then hitched the horses on the cultivator and went
to the fields to plow the corn.

That evening I went to town for a while. The next morning I went
to church, and when I got home I went to look at the job those guys
had done cleaning up the scrap. They’d done a thorough job
alright, including the theft of my Fairbanks!

I couldn’t do anything about the loss, and with the coming
of tractors and the R.E.A. I sort of forgot about it. Then came the
collecting, and the engine bug hit me at once, and hard. I managed
to pick up a number of engines, but how I longed for the Fairbanks!
By that time I was restoring small engines and outboard motors. I
went to Lake View one day to see Byron Provoost, as he had the
agency for Johnson outboards. I bought some parts from him and he
wondered about my ability and the engines I had. He told me he had
an old Fairbanks at his farm. I asked if he would sell it, and he
said, ‘I may as well, as it is out of order.’ Well, I made
a date with him to come back the next day.

The next morning my son and I went back to see Provoost, and he
led us to his farm a short distance from his Resort. He took us to
his brooder house, and there was the partially disassembled
Fairbanks: dishpan flywheel, complete with trucks and 2/4 skids,
just like the one I had as a boy in 1934. He went on to tell me he
rented the farm house to a family with a young boy who had found a
long heavy bolt on the place and proceeded to bust everything in
sight windows, doors, battery on the engine, and the glass oiler.
Before any more damage occurred, he moved them out. He bought
another battery, and a squirt of oil in the oiler tube got him by,
but water got in the pipe. He said it had been a very good engine
but now was stuck tight as the devil.

I looked it over yes, it was stuck. Then I looked at the serial
number. I asked what he wanted for it, and he said $55.00. I messed
around for a minute or two, then said I’d take it. I paid him
and we loaded up and started for home. On the way home my son asked
why I hadn’t dickered on the price, as the odd $5.00 was
obviously dicker money. I said, ‘Wait ’til you read the
serial number.’

We got the engine loose in about an hour, and everything was
upbeat from then on. I took the battery box off and installed a
magneto. It runs like a charm now, and all new red paint! I even
sold the battery box for $25.00.

So, that’s how I got the Fairbanks I had at 18, and lost to
the war effort in 1942, back in my possession at age 62! By the
way, the serial number reads the same from each end584485.

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