Fuller & Johnson Engine a Sleeping Giant

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Building the Fuller & Johnson was in since the '20s.
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Left to right, Dennis (Cheddar), son Andrew, my son Zach behind the engine.
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Dennis cutting loose drive wheel.
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Gould water pump.
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Engine above ground for the first time in almost 80 years.
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Loading engine into my truck for the ride home.

It was a beautiful fall day on November 13, 1999, on the shores of Lake Geneva at scenic Black Pointe. Who would have ever thought that below the ground in an old stone building 10 feet from the lake shore lies the sleeping giant that once pumped water for the original Madlinger Estates: a 25 hp Fuller & Johnson engine.

With the original estate being divided up and sold off, the section with the old pump house on it now belongs to the Culbertsons (Ed and Robin). With the help of Ed and Robin and some other people, I learned that the old Fuller & Johnson engine once pumped water for the horse stables, laundry, servants quarters, the main house, and of course the lush flower gardens which covered the entire estate. One can only imagine how it may have been.

I first found the Fuller & Johnson 20 years ago, but hadn’t acquired the love for rust yet. I was working for a local pier company, Austin Pier Service. We were taking out piers for winter on Black Pointe. Moving from one job to the next, I decided to walk the shore path to the next job. As I was going by the old pump house, I stopped and looked through the two very small windows in the doors. It was very hard to see in, because the small windows had wire mesh over them, and the building was pitch black inside. All that I could really see was the water pump, just inside the door, a Gould three cylinder. The engine was just a dark shadow in the back corner. On down the lake path I went. Over the years I thought about the contents of the old stone building many times.

I got on the hunt seriously this last summer. I first had to find out who owned the property the building was on. Seeing how most Lake Geneva lake residents are only weekend people, and are Chicago residents, it took some time.

This last fall I was working with a landscaper who owns a home up the road from the Culbertsons. When I inquired about the engine, he told me, “Yes, it’s still there.” I asked if somehow I could get in to see it and he replied, “The building isn’t locked any more, you can just drive to my house and walk down to look at it.”

Two days later I was there. I opened the door, turned on my flashlight, and there was the Fuller & Johnson engine, still resting peacefully just waiting to be rescued.

My first attempts to contact the Culbertsons was put off for one week because they were on a trip to Italy. Can you just imagine the anxiety a person has to live with for that week? I’m sure you can.

After several attempts to contact them I finally got them on the phone. After a very brief talk, I found the engine was going to be available. Now it was a question of when. More suspense!

I contacted a very good friend of mine, Dennis (Cheddar) Walsh, and asked him for his help. Dennis has a B-42 Mack, all restored with a job site mechanic’s box, and the key thing, equipped with a crane. When I explained what was up, he said he’d be glad to help.

That very next Saturday I drove down to take pictures of the engine, and the Culbertsons were there. I introduced myself and my son Zach, and after some conversation about the engine we all went to look at it.

We hadn’t had any rain in seven weeks, so I explained to the Culbertsons that this day was a good day to get the engine. The ground was very dry and with two big trucks in the yard, we wouldn’t do any damage, and they agreed.

My son and I left to load the pickup with tools, blocks, jacks, and torches. I placed a call to my friend Dennis (Cheddar) to see if he was available. He was busy at the time, but dropped everything and fired up Maxi (the big B-42 Mack). One hour later we met at Black Pointe, it was now 1:00 p.m.

The first thing we had to do was remove the cupola from the hole in the roof where the engine was originally lowered into place back in the early 20s. The opening was only 1″ wider than the engine and seven inches longer. Once the cupola was removed it allowed the old engine to see sunlight for the first time in who knows how long, and for us to start work.

First item on the agenda was to remove the Fuller & Johnson’s drive wheel. It made the engine too wide for the hole in the roof. After the drive wheel was off we cut the bolts that secured the engine to the concrete pad. After that was finished we jacked up the engine to be sure that it was free from the concrete and placed blocks under it. Dennis’ son Andrew was with us and went up above to fire up Maxi. Andrew then swung the crane around and lowered the cable through the hole in the roof.

We placed an oak 4″ x 6″ between the flywheels and a cable choker under the front of the jug. Using a clevis on the crane cable hook and several high tensile strength chains, we were ready to lift. Dennis now took over the crane controls, his son Andrew and my son Zach stood up above the hole to give signals, while I stayed down below to be sure everything was okay.

Our first lift was unsuccessful because we didn’t have the engine perfectly square when it reached the hole, so we had to lower it down again and re-hook. Our second attempt was perfect. With only 1/2″ on either side it had to be right. Once out of the building we had to stand around for a few minutes to enjoy the sheer beauty of the old engine, once again above ground 80 years later.

I then backed our Chevy dump truck down through the yard to load the engine. Once the engine was lowered down in the truck and secured we headed out and home. The whole ordeal only took us four hours, or was it 20 years? Nevertheless, we are very happy that our first gas engine is such a beauty.

I recently received my club news letter in the mail. Believe it or not, the feature engine will be Fuller &. Johnson. We are Caterpillar tractor collectors by trade and are not real familiar with gas engines.

If anyone has any information or parts, (motor is tight, no mag, no ignitor) and is willing to share knowledge, it would be greatly appreciated. Call us evenings at 262-275-6435 or write: Re-Tired Iron Farm, c/o Robert Stewart, W2786 Brick Church Road, Walworth, Wisconsin 53184.

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