Finding Fairmont

By Staff
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The engine, mounting frame and battery box shown in this January 1935 photo were part of a Fairmont “Engine Outfit” railroaders could buy to convert a hand pump car into a motorized track car. The Model QBA engine was introduced at the 1925 Railway Appliance Show in Chicago.
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Pre-1915 Fairmont engine: The vertical 2 HP.
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Fairmont Railway Motors, 1916.
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In 1927, the Fairmont MM9 Inspection Car was the choice of track inspectors and signal maintainers. With its light weight of 395 pounds, extendable lift handles, which reduced pick-up weight to 120 pounds, and standard rail skids, it was easily handled by one person. The demountable housing seat provided room for a second person and dual tool trays allowed signal maintainers to carry the tools and supplies needed. The MM9 featured a 4 HP Fairmont water-cooled, 2-stroke gasoline engine.
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Pre-1915 Fairmont engine: The horizontal 4 to 6 and 10 HP.
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Someone has to keep those oil-burning signal lanterns going! Imagine having to climb the tower, bring down the lantern, trim the wick, fill it with oil, light the lantern and then climb the tower again to put the lantern in place, in all sorts of weather – day after day. Such was the life of a signal maintainer before the development of electric signals.
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The Fairmont train order stand provided a safe method of delivering written train orders to the crews of passing trains. Prior to the use of two-way radios, train crews received written train location information as they passed various stations. The telegraphed information was written on a form, attached to the clip wires of a delivery fork and held up by the station master for the locomotive and caboose crews to retrieve. The stand eliminated the need to stand by the track as the train rolled past. This August 1946 photo shows an installation at one of the Fairmont, Minn., stations.
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Raising low or sagging rail joints was an on-going maintenance job. A track section with good joint maintenance reduced the back and forth swaying of a train. This made passengers more comfortable and allowed trains to operate at higher speeds over well-maintained sections. Assuring their section provided a better ride than others was a source of pride and competition between railroad section gangs.
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A postcard dated 1917, depicting Fairmont Gas Engine and Railway Motor Car Co.
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Fairmont Boat Co.
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Steve Gray’s PH-4 early Fairmont engine before its restoration.
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Steve Gray’s PH-4 early Fairmont engine after its restoration.

Present-day Harsco Track Technologies, located in Minnesota, is
probably not a name familiar to most engine enthusiasts. But it
traces its history back to a name that almost certainly is:
Fairmont. The company, a subsidiary of Harsco Corp. was formed from
the merger of Fairmont Tamper and Pandrol Jackson Inc. in 1979.

On the following pages you will see postcards sent to us by
Dennis Pollock that show images of a bygone era, when Fairmont was
the manufacturer of engines used in railway maintenance.

According to company history, “The company started as a small
machine shop shortly after the turn of the (last) century. In 1907
the shop began the manufacture of single-cylinder engines, mainly
for farm use to pump water, saw wood and similar jobs. Two years
later, in 1909, it was incorporated as Fairmont Machine Co. That
same year Fairmont engines were first applied to railway hand or
pump cars, and marked their entrance into the railroad field. This
enabled the workmen to ride to and from the job, and save their
energy for actual productive work.

“Business grew throughout the teens and consisted mainly of
supplying engines for mounting on the pump cars already in use. In
1913 the city of Duluth (Minn.) offered the company an attractive
proposition to move the factory and general offices to their city.
However, a committee of Fairmont citizens pledged assistance to the
company, and the directors decided to remain in Fairmont. In 1915
the company name was changed to Fairmont Gas Engine & Railway
Motor Car Co.”

Because of its development in railway motorcar production in the
early 1920s, the company’s name was again changed in 1923 to
Fairmont Railway Motors Inc. The Canadian branch, Fairmont Railway
Motors Ltd. was formed in 1929 and the attention from engine
production to railway maintenance production shifted from there,
although a service instructions and parts list for the RK-B
2-cylinder engine from 1972 shows engine manufacture continued
through the 1970s.

Fairmont Railway Motors appears only briefly in C.H. Wendel’s
American Gasoline Engines Since 1872. Wendel writes: “Many
thousands of these 2-cycle engines carried railroad section gangs
down the rails. Almost anyone can recall the distinctive sound of
railway motorcars headed down the tracks – with the vast majority
being powered by a Fairmont engine. Today’s old engine collectors
count these among the unique designs of yesteryear. Certain
Fairmont designs were created by 1909 under the direction of Horace
E. Woolery. He later left Fairmont to form Woolery Engineering Co.”
Pictured in Wendel’s book is a 4 HP, produced in 1938.

The MM9 cart on features the 4 HP engine. With this reversible
engine, the MM9 could travel up to 25 MPH in either direction
without the need to turn the car around. The car was equipped with
belt drive and a gear-type speed reducer on the rear axle.

The engine at the top of page 20 is a 6 to 13 HP Model QBA
introduced in 1925. According to the postcard, this heavy-duty
engine used ball bearings on the crankshaft and featured a
lever-adjusted sliding base that acted as a belt-tightener

Fairmont engines were water- or, rather, steam-cooled. Engine
heat boiled the water releasing steam, which rose into a condenser
area where it cooled and changed back into water to repeat the
process. The water jacket of Fairmont engines was designed to be
freeze-proof, so no antifreeze was used. In fact, the company
advertised it would replace any properly-filled water jacket
cracked from freezing. More than 114,000 Fairmont engines were
produced in the Fairmont plant.

One website
( agrees
with Wendel in stating Fairmont began making engines as early as
1909. The site claims the engines can be divided into three basic
groups: Plain bearing (P series); ball bearing (Q and OD series)
and roller bearing (R series).

Internet links (parts)

Recommended by most people and contains an extensive list of
serial numbers with corresponding build years from the 1940s
through the 1980s:

Motorcar Yahoo group:


Near as can be told from research, Fairmont started in 1909 with
a set of horizontal and vertical stationary/portable engines in 2,
4, 6 and 10 HP. Evidently, around 1915 when the company’s name was
changed from Fairmont Machine Co. to Fairmont Gas Engine &
Railway Motor Car Co., the company was still shipping these
engines. However, within the following two years, P series engines
were being shipped and in 1920, catalogs show this series with
engines such as a PH-4 (4 HP). A Model PN is in a bulletin dated to
the 1930s and 1940s.

Bulletins owned by Doug Heinmuller, Lunenburg, Vt., give even
more depth to Fairmont’s engine manufacture. According to those, in
1913, there were Model G, GB (both 5 HP) and H engines; in 1917
there was a Model QN (6 HP); in 1928 there were Model K and KM
(both 10-13 HP) and QNF (6 HP) engines; and in 1919 there was a
Model RNF-9 (8 HP).

The QBA engine was introduced in 1925, but manufacture of Q
series engines continuted through the 1960s. The OD series began
and ended around the same time. R series engines were included in a
1940s bulletin and a 1950 catalog.

An instruction book for 4 HP Model PH and 6 HP Model QH engines
states that if for some reason the nameplate is missing from your
engine, the engine number can be found stamped on the edge of the
fiber ring of the timer and on the top of the crankcase. (You will
need to scrape off the paint to see the latter one.) If you know
the serial number of your engine, most people have had very good
luck contacting Harsco Track Technologies to identify the year it
was manufactured. However, if you do not have the serial number,
they cannot help you. Contact the company at: (803) 822-9160;

For photos of various examples of Fairmont engines, visit

Ken Ley, former Canadian Fairmont plant manager invites anyone
with a Canadian-built engine to contact him for the build
information, which he managed to save from the dumpster when the
plant closed. Contact him at: (705) 646-1492;


John and Andrew Mackey, Steve Gray,

Skip Landis and Ray Cordoza

North American Railcar Operators Assn.

Doug Heinmuller, (802) 892-6144

Carey Boney,

David Sundry,

Dave Thornton,

Wayne Brummond and Harsco Track Technologies

Chuck Woycke, 11521 Bank Road, Cincinatti, OH 45251-4413;

John Mandell, P.O. Box 202497, Austin, TX 78720;

Dennis Pollock, 705 Indiania S.E., Albuquerque, NM 87108;

Doug Cummins, 1146 W. 27th St., Independence, MO 64052-3222;

Martin County Historical Society, 304 E. Blue Earth Ave.,
Fairmont, MN 56031-2865; (507) 235-5178; •

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