A search through the sketchy history of Fairmont Railway Motors’ engine manufacturing
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.
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 clutch.
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 (http://motorcar.winkworth.us/engines/engines_index.htm) 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).
Recommended by most people and contains an extensive list of serial numbers with corresponding build years from the 1940s through the 1980s: http://motorcar.winkworth.us/engines/engines_index.htm
Motorcar Yahoo group: http://finance.groups.yahoo.com/group/RailroadMotorcarMaintenence
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; www.harscotrack.com
For photos of various examples of Fairmont engines, visit www.GasEngineMagazine.com
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; email@example.com
John and Andrew Mackey, Steve Gray,
Skip Landis and Ray Cordoza
North American Railcar Operators Assn.
Doug Heinmuller, (802) 892-6144
Carey Boney, firstname.lastname@example.org
David Sundry, email@example.com
Dave Thornton, firstname.lastname@example.org
Wayne Brummond and Harsco Track Technologies
Chuck Woycke, 11521 Bank Road, Cincinatti, OH 45251-4413; email@example.com
John Mandell, P.O. Box 202497, Austin, TX 78720; firstname.lastname@example.org
Dennis Pollock, 705 Indiania S.E., Albuquerque, NM 87108; email@example.com
Doug Cummins, 1146 W. 27th St., Independence, MO 64052-3222; firstname.lastname@example.org
Martin County Historical Society, 304 E. Blue Earth Ave., Fairmont, MN 56031-2865; (507) 235-5178; email@example.com • www.co.martin.mn.us/mchs/