Familiar Places

By Staff
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'The back view of the Faribault engine, serial no. 795. '
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This view of the Faribault engine shows how beautifully it was restored by Harlan Hjermstad.
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'Right: This brass tag is all that remains of another engine made at Faribault, No. 729. It appears that the number four was superimposed over the two to show what horsepower this engine was supposed to be. Notice how the design is different from the tag on the actual engine (above). Harlan Hjermstad owns this tag, held by Dick Sunsdahl. Far right: An end view of the 4 HP Faribault engine in a newly-refurbished addition to the State Bank of Faribault, Minn. '
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Faribault engines from 6 HP on up looked like this portable from the 1910 catalog.
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'Two views of the 4 HP Faribault engine, showing the governor (left) and sideshaft and the workings of the engine. '
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The mounted open-jacket Faribault engine from a 1910 company catalog. It was made in 3 and 4 HP sizes.
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'Dick Carlander (left), president of the State Bank of Faribault shakes Harlan Hjermstad’s hand. Harlan sold the engine to the bank to preserve its heritage. Dick Sunsdahl (right) played a key role in bringing the engine home. '

The chances of getting a Faribault gasoline
engine to come back home seemed slim to none to the people of
Faribault, Minn. In fact, nobody knew exactly how many of the rare
engines existed since their manufacture by Faribault Engine Mfg.
Co. began a hundred years ago – or where they might be located. But
people did know they were rare, so attaining one would cost a
pretty penny. Even if it was possible to get one.

Stirring the drink

Though he wouldn’t admit it, the straw that stirred the drink
was Dick Sunsdahl of Faribault, along with his friend, Bill
Helling. “For years, Dick Sunsdahl and I wanted to see a Faribault
engine come back,” Bill says.

Dick’s nephew David Sunsdahl of Stephen, Minn., had found some
Faribault engine literature and Dick had it displayed in his shop.
“I would always ask people in the community and my collector
friends whether they knew of any Faribault engines,” Dick says.

A 2006 auction ad in Farm Collector magazine not only
advertised a Faribault engine for sale, but even better, revealed
it was in Minnesota.

“Right in the middle of the auction bill was a Faribault engine,
being sold at the Dale Hindahl auction at Byron, Minn.,” Dick says.
“What an experience that was to see that engine up for sale! I
didn’t even know that engine existed in Minnesota. I just knew I
had to take part in trying to obtain that engine and get it home to
Faribault.”

Actually, Dick admits he wanted the engine for his own
collection. “I knew it would fit my needs and style of my hobby,
because it had been manufactured here in Faribault, so I was
attached to the idea of what a tremendous history and heritage it
would be, representing the manufacturing of this community, a very
unique, high-quality engine.

“Collectors tell me it is unique because of the sideshaft that
drives the governor, timing and exhaust valves, which makes it one
of those high-dollar high-quality collectible engines.”

Groundwork

So Dick began to research the Faribault engine. He found a
history of the Faribault Engine Mfg. Co. at the Rice County
Historical Society starting from Feb. 24, 1904, when the company
first began, until its 1916 demise. Dick found members of the Rice
County Steam & Gas Engines Co. who remembered a couple of
Faribault engines that were brought to area tractor shows during
the 1970s, along with original photos of the engines at the
shows.

The rarity of Faribault engines is confusing for several
reasons: First, they were well-made and operated, so they wouldn’t
have been discarded easily. Second, they were sideshafts, which are
always collectible. Third, a fair number were made, at least 795,
but doubtless many more. A May 26, 1916, Daily News
article said machinists at the plant were building five Faribault
engines per week. Newspaper references from the early years of the
company said the plant could not keep up with orders. Fourth, the
company must have been a sizable one, judging by line drawings of
the plant, the start-up number of 25 workers, and the fact that it
advertised on the back cover – a choice and expensive spot – of the
1909 Rice County (Minn.) Directory. (C.H. Wendel
says the only record of its advertising was in an October 1904
Gas Review magazine.)

He asked his nephew David, an avid engine collector, to check
with his many contacts for more information.

The research was not encouraging: “Collectors said it was going
to be expensive, in the $15,000-25,000 area,” Dick says. “After a
while, I knew the engine was financially out of my class. It would
have just been too much of an investment, so I found some people in
the community that would support getting the engine back home.” So
when Dick, Bill and David went to the auction, they were armed with
information and a maximum of $30,000 they could use to bid. “A
friend said, ‘If we can’t get it for $30,000, the heck with it,'”
Dick says.

The auction bid started at $10,000. In 26 seconds it went to
$27,500.

After viewing a video of the auction, Dick says, “My first and
only bid was $30,000, 34 seconds from the start time. After 37
seconds, it went to $32,500. The auctioneer knew I wanted it, and
gave me three minutes to consider bidding $33,000. However, I had
to let it go to this young guy, Larry Lucke, of Ceresco, Neb.” Dick
got Larry’s phone number and the history of the machine, but really
felt down in the dumps. He knew his chances of bringing a Faribault
back home were trickling away.

That’s when he was introduced to Harlan Hjermstad, owner of an
engine identical to the one that had just been auctioned. “The
difference between the two engines,” Dick says, “was that the
auctioned Hindahl 4 HP Faribault engine was not restored, and
Harlan’s was. In fact, Harlan had used the Hindahl engine for a
model, for sampling the exact color of the paint, and making the
missing parts exact.”

Dick learned there were three Faribaults all together, the two
already mentioned and another one only 20 miles away from the
auction.

He got great detail about Harlan’s engine, and asked if he
wanted to sell it. “Harlan said he’d think about it, being that I
was from Faribault,” Dick says.

Work slowly, work well

Dick says he didn’t want to make a fast decision. He knew with
enough time, he could get people in the community interested, so he
hit the books again, so to speak. He decided to track down all
Faribault engines. “I wanted to research every one in existence,”
Dick says. “Chris Romness was the most knowledgeable and helpful.
He knew of four of them, and gave me all the information on all the
engines he knew and was familiar with.”

Then Dick began to call, spending many hours on the phone
tracing engine by engine. “Some of the owners no longer had their
Faribault engine,” he says, “but eventually I found and identified
five Faribault engines all together.”

The first was the 4 HP he had bid on at the Hindahl auction, and
that machine wasn’t for sale. Second was a 6 HP engine near the
Hindahl auction, and the owner didn’t want to sell that one,
either. Third was a 6 HP in Wisconsin, and fourth, a 5 HP engine in
North Dakota. Nobody wanted to sell.

So Dick sat down and analyzed the data: “I took the histories
and summarized all the historical facts of what I knew, and from
what I could figure out, every 10-12 years a Faribault engine would
be coming up for sale, through an estate or whatever reason. So
according to that information, it would be another 10 or 12 years
before another Faribault would come up for sale.” That just
wouldn’t cut it.

So, Dick began to work on the fifth and last Faribault engine,
owned by Harlan. “He could see how the town would want a piece of
history like the engine he had,” Dick says. “We kept talking. I
asked him if I could find a Faribault buyer, would he sell? He
started to weaken, and eventually agreed to sell it to somebody in
Faribault. Jerry Heyer, a retired State Bank vice president,
informed me that the president of the local bank, Dick Carlander,
had the perfect fit. The timing was terrific because they were
doing a restoration on an old antique store right next to the bank.
They were upgrading it, remodeling and spending big-time dollars to
renovate this building where they would maintain some of
Faribault’s heritage. If they bought the engine, they could put it
into that display area, and have it there for the open house so the
whole community could come and look at it.”

Dick and others wanted it for its collectible value, but also,
as he says, because “This engine represents the quality and
integrity that our community has in manufacturing. Even today it
represents what they did back in those days, such high quality, and
it represents the high quality of the people who settled here.”

Happy ending

So a deal was struck by the owner of the State Bank of
Faribault, and his sons John and Matt, with Harlan. In July 2006,
the 1,300-pound, 4 HP Faribault engine, serial no. 795, was
installed in the newly remodeled expansion of the bank, only four
blocks from where the machine had originally been built. Through a
lot of hard work, and as Dick says, a great deal of teamwork, the
engine had finally come home, where it belonged.

If you know of any other Faribault engines, contact Dick
Sunsdahl at: (507) 334-8966;
dickandelaine@charter.net

Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and author of several
books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact Bill at: Box 372,
400 Caroline Lane, Rockville, MN 56369; (320) 253-5414;
bvossler@juno.com

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