Good Friends and Old Diesels

By Staff
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A hydraulic press presses the piston from the cylinder.
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The subbase being removed during one step of disassembly
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The governor and injector housing are installed during rebuilding.

4, Box 518, Easley, South Carolina 29640

This article is about determination, hard work and friendship
and how, together, these characteristics have restored a forgotten
old diesel engine to working order. In July 1987 my engine friends
and I went to Orangeburg, South Carolina to look at some old
Fairbanks Morse diesel engines. One of these happened to be a
single cylinder, type Y, style VA, 60 HP, 257 rpm, SN582402, and
built in 1924. This engine was a real eye-catcher because of the
unusually large flywheel, which measured 15 inches wide and 89
inches in diameter, weighing 6.5 tons according to the FM recorder.
Everything else about the engine was a turnoff because of its poor
condition. The engine was last run in 1943, and the piston was
stuck about one-fourth of the way down the cylinder. When you have
a piston 14 inches in diameter and 38 inches long stuck, then you
really have something stuck!

The crankcase showed some evidence of rust and deterioration due
to condensation over the past 45 years. Only a rough assessment of
the condition of the engine could be made on the first visit, since
on that hot July day the wasps were so mad and plentiful we could
not even keep them back with a spray bomb. Plus, the all tin
building made it seem even hotter. Examination of the engine room
and engine turned up all the missing parts. During a second trip in
October. Mr. Harris Valentine, the owner, agreed to let us remove
the head and check the condition of the cylinder wall from that
end. Well, there were no surprises, because there was rust just
like we expected. This pretty much turned everyone against the idea
of trying to move a very questionable engine that weighed about 12
tons 130 miles.

Well, as you engine fellows know, there is something mysterious
about old rusty machinery and iron that keeps you dreaming about
them- they haunt you for just one more chance to run. I just could
not take it any longer and decided to call the owner again and see
if he would set a reasonable price that would at least make the
engine worth moving, even if it could never be made to run again.
To my surprise we came to agreeable terms. I also decided to take
the project on myself and put the engine in my back yard. That
meant I would have to work out the costs for loading and moving on
my own. Fortunately, my good engine friends, Ernest and Norman
Durham, agreed to haul the engine home on their large trailer in
trade for a 37? HP Fairbanks Morse semi-diesel that I had owned for
some 20 years but had never restored. Another good engine friend,
Reid Eason agreed to make his boom truck available to remove the
cylinder and piston together with the subbase.

With these plans and a lot of determination we decided to try to
move the engine on a cold day in February. I went down to
Orangeburg early Friday and tore one wall of the building out and
loosened all possible nuts and bolts, so that the large clutch
pulley would be ready to remove early Saturday morning.

Mr. Lawrence Fogle from Orangeburg made his large crawler-type
backhoe available for lifting anything really heavy. The big
loading problem was getting the engine to the side of the engine
room so that the backhoe could lift the engine and set it on the
trailer. Moving the engine to the outer wall was accomplished by
using two large steel beams and four dollies. We were afraid the
large flywheel would cause an unstable condition such that the
engine would tip over, but fortunately this did not occur. Having
moved the engine to the outer wall, we were ready to load it on the
trailer and head home. Well to everyone’s surprise, the backhoe
could not lift the engine. During the lift attempt the large steel
beams kicked out from under the engine, allowing everything to drop
to the ground. Well not knowing what to do next, we tried several
different hook-ups to the backhoe, but without success. We soon
determined that the backhoe could partially lift the engine with
the flywheel on the ground serving as a pivot. With this technique
we were able to position the trailer under the base of the engine,
lower the engine, then lift the flywheel and slide the whole
assembly over the trailer bed. By the time we got the engine loaded
late Saturday afternoon, everyone was cold, hungry and tired, and
still the wall of the engine room had to be put back up. While
Norman and I reassembled the wall, Ernest and the crew tied
everything down, only to discover that the trailer wheels had
settled down in the soft pasture ground around the gin. We were
stuck! To our good fortune, Mr. Valintine used his large John Deere
tractor to pull the truck and trailer together to firmer ground.
Being very late in the day we decided to stay in Orangeburg another
night and leave early Sunday morning. This really made the wives
back on the front happy, if you can say ‘seeing red’ makes
one happy.

Well, the truck and trailer were parked at Ernest’s house
for a few weeks while a foundation hole was being dug in my
backyard. I decided to have the engine moved home before building
forms so that very accurate measurements could be taken for the
hold down bolts and foundation forms.

On a fairly cold day in March the truck, trailer and engine
arrived on the road in front of my house. The driveway to the yard
is fairly well inclined and we already knew that the beaver tail on
the trailer would drag the road if the truck was used to pull the
trailer. Our plan was to use my 1946 I. D. 6 International tractor
for this task, so the trailer was blocked up and prepared for
connection to the tractor. Because of the engine being
forward-loaded on the trailer, when the trailer tongue weight was
placed on the draw bar of the tractor, the front end of the tractor
came off the ground. To correct the situation we had to use jacks
and a come-a-long to slide the engine aft about six feet. With this
complete, we started up the drive at full throttle in low gear. As
the trailer wheels started up the incline of the drive the old
tractor just stalled out due to the excessive load. I hit the
clutch and brakes at once to keep from killing the engine. One
brake caught before the other and before I could blink my eye, the
tractor jackknifed across the drive. To solve this problem, the
large Chevy truck was brought around across the front lawn (another
happy wife) leaving deep depressions in the yard. We then pulled
the tractor, trailer and engine up the drive to where it was to be

The next few weeks were quite uneventful during the form
construction and concrete pouring. All of this project has been
well documented on videotape and on still 35 mm photographs. My new
neighbor, Mr. Marion Dillard, had been quite interested in all the
unusual activities in my backyard. He was holding the 35 mm camera
when the tractor jackknifed in the driveway. If it had. not been
for him, we would not have had any pictures of this action, because
everyone was too busy. After that he was made the official
photographer for the concrete pouring.

The 13 cubic yards of concrete were poured on a spring day in
April 1988. I guess I had a lot of faith that I could get the old
engine to run by pouring all that concrete.

On Saturday, a few weeks later, Steve Fassett (with Action Crane
Service ) arrived and set the engine on the concrete slab with a 25
ton hydraulic crane. He had made a 2:00 o’clock appointment
with me to do the job, so I had several engine friends and a camera
crew lined up for that time. Well about 9:00 o’clock in the
morning Steve called saying he would be there at 10:00 o’clock.
On such notice I could not get in touch with my engine friends or
the camera crew. As a last resort, I called a neighbor and good
flying friend, Lou Short, to come help handle the large lifting
cables and guide the engine down on the hold down studs. At 2:00
o’clock all my engine friends arrived and were surprised at the
engine already being set. I got only four still photographs of the
crane setting the engine.

After the Pendleton Old Farm Day Show in May, Reid Eason brought
his boom truck down and we disassembled the engine right down to
the crankshaft. Reid has had the engine fever now about three
years, so I gave him three old, not-running, F.M. 3 HP engines from
which he could make one good operational one. It’s a lot of
pleasure to see other individuals enjoy these old engines.

A critical stage of this project was to see if the piston could
be pushed out of the cylinder and, if so, to determine the
condition of the cylinder wall. Reid had placed the heavy cylinder
and piston in the back of my half-ton pickup truck, really causing
it to set down. I carried the parts assembled to work one day and
two co-workers, Ronnie Andrews and Mike Cabe, helped me position
the cylinder and piston in the 250-ton hydraulic press. I had been
soaking the cylinder since October, when the head was first
removed, with some of Ernest Durham’s secret mixture of oil,
brake fluid, and automatic transmission fluid. To my amazement,
this fluid had started to drip past the end of the pistons, and it
pushed out the cylinder with almost no effort at all from the
hydraulic press. Even the rings had worked free from the grooves
due to all the soaking.

The cylinder, piston and subbase were sandblasted and primed. We
then built a custom-made hone and dressed the cylinder bore to a
fine polish. There were some shallow pits in the upper eight inches
of the cylinder, but we felt these would cause no problem. The
governor housing was completely stripped of the fuel and injector
pumps, sandblasted and refurbished. The next critical and tedious
task was to level and grout the engine base to the concrete
foundation, with the large flywheel still on the crankshaft and the
shaft still in the base, this operation took a lot of trial and
error to get the base level. While the exposed crankshaft was
accessible the journals and crankshaft ‘throw’ were finely
polished. There was some minor pitting on the ‘throw’ at a
location where the oil wick from the connecting rod bearing had

The reassembly of the engine began with fitting and shimming the
crankshaft and connecting rod bearing. Then Reid returned with his
boom truck and restacked the subbase, cylinder and pistons. With
these large sections in place, the work pace became more enjoyable.
There was now no need to schedule lifting equipment or to arrange
assistance of a crew. Over the next six months the engine really
began to take shape with all the freshly painted parts and all the
gleaming brass and copper tubing put into place.

There was one small setback during the reassembly process
associated with the Madison Kipp lubricator. Some months earlier, I
had completely disassembled this unit and its four pumps. You
fellows who have had one of these apart know what a difficult job
that is, especially when it’s stuck. Well, despite my
mechanical ability, I failed to bench check the lubricator before
mounting it on the engine. It was not until two days before
starting the engine that I found that one of the pumps did not
work. During disassembly, I discovered that one of our famous
Carolina dirt clobbers had gotten into the oiler and plugged the
discharge pump tube with its nest. That part cleaned and
reinstalled, I wondered what could happen next!

Well, with everything primed, timed and adjusted, the big
start-up event is scheduled to take place Sunday, February 26,
1989. I am hoping that the warm weather will last a few more days,
because these old diesels start so much better when the temperature
is above 50°. I plan to use the cold weather starting-up procedure
by heating a small plug insert screwed into the hot head. I can
almost hear the old diesel fire that first lick as she springs to

The scheduled start-up date of February 26 has finally arrived
and the weather cooperated beautifully. All my ‘engine friends
and camera crew arrived about 2:30 p.m. The large air tank has been
pumped up to 210 psi and the piston is positioned 10? TDC. As
everyone is waiting breathlessly for the air start lever to be
pushed forward, you can feel the excitement in the air. As the air
lever is rapidly pushed to the start position and the large
flywheel starts on its first revolution, all of a sudden there is a
grotesque sound of ESCAPING air from a blown gasket under the air
start valve. Several attempts were made to correct this problem
with no success. So the first start-up was unsuccessful and another
one scheduled a week later.

Well, several attempts to start the old engine were made during
the next few weeks, but all failed, so we decided to wait for
warmer weather.

On March 16, 1989, the weatherman was forecasting the
temperature to reach the mid-70’s, so I uncovered the engine
and let it bake in the sun all day to heat up that cold cast iron.
I called my engine friend, Ernest Durham, to help me try starting
the engine one more time. On this go around, the first attempt was
unsuccessful, so as a last resort, we used a torch and heated the
hot head so hot you could not touch it and inserted a red hot glow
plug. This time we had also removed the crankcase air valve cover
so the warm outside air could be drawn directly into the crankcase.
During this starting attempt two revolutions of the flywheel were
made with no results. At this time, Ernest decided to spray some
ether directly into the crankcase air valve and on the next
revolution of the flywheel you could hear the old diesel engine
coming to life. Well, it is impossible to describe the feeling of
joy and accomplishment that went through us.

This has been quite a project and many hours were spent on it,
but it was very rewarding and enjoyable. I would like to thank all
my engine friends for helping make a dream come true.

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