Hap-less ZC

The Fairbanks-Morse ZC was discovered in Louisiana and restored in South Carolina.


| July 2005



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The Fairbanks-Morse ZC in front of a beautiful Florida sunrise

I have been collecting small engines such as Briggs and Stratton, Maytag and REO for about 10 years, but like most guys with old iron fever, the urge eventually turns to a flywheel engine. But like many engine collectors with a family to raise, the cost of a "real" engine is hard to justify to the wife. My good friend Hap, who lives near New Orleans, is in the same boat as me. We encourage each other and share our enthusiasm with each new rusty engine find.

One day back in 2002, Hap called and told me of an old shed he discovered, full of old, greasy, grimy stuff, including a few engines - one was a flywheel engine buried in the dirt. Hap took a day off work and, with the help of one of his daughters, loaded all he could. The flywheel engine he found was a Fairbanks-Morse ZC, essentially a totally-enclosed Z. Based on the pictures he sent me, this engine was going to take a little more than a blowing off, cleaning the points and some fresh gas. Hap told me the valves were nearly rusted away, the carburetor needles were frozen and nearly rusted in two, the piston was frozen, and lastly, the magneto was locked up with broken teeth. But on the positive side it was a "real" engine, with no visible cracks and mostly complete.

Hap relayed the disassembly process to me as he went along. He was able to remove the head and carburetor. Cleaning them showed just how difficult this engine was going to be. The valves, or what was left of them, came out of the head, revealing the valve seats, which were badly pitted. The carburetor needle valves wouldn't budge and the remaining shaft was about the size of a pencil lead, so there wasn't much pressure that could be applied without twisting them off. Hap also said the piston still wouldn't budge and asked for suggestions. I suggested positioning the block such that he could pour diesel fuel into the cylinder and just let it sit, then every week or so give the head of the piston a tap with a wooden block. I don't recall how many months Hap did this before I paid him my yearly visit. We were planning on going to an engine show in Bush, La., and I had brought some engines with me to sell and show. The show ended up canceled due to wet show grounds, so Hap and I had some time to work on projects. Eventually we got to looking at the Fairbanks and tried to collectively decide if it was worth spending the time and money on, or if it should just be parted out while he continued to look for something a little easier for his first flywheel engine.

New Ownership

Engine shows in southern Louisiana are scarce, and Hap was concerned about being able to find the parts he would need. I like a challenge, and had a nice, original B And S, Y and some other trading material, so we made a deal and I took the Fairbanks home with me to South Carolina.

I first ordered a manual that had a parts breakdown so I would have some idea of what was missing, then spent the next couple of months soaking and heating parts to see what could be salvaged. The piston wouldn't budge, so I ended up making a steel plate to replace the head, then threaded a grease zerk into the plate. I made some wood blocks to fill most of the cylinder space, then pumped the cylinder full of grease under pressure. That did the trick. I like this method, as the grease that does get past a gap in the rings also acts to lubricate the cylinder as the piston comes out. The only drawback is that it's pretty messy.

Now that I had everything out, it was time to determine what parts I would need. The list included new magneto bearings, coil, condenser, points and gear (or complete magneto), carburetor needle valves, springs, seats (or complete carburetor), new governor assembly (old one was cracked and had broken teeth), new head studs, nuts, valves, valve springs, valve seats (or complete head), rings, muffler, splash pan, dipstick, rocker arm and gas tank. Also, the cylinder was badly pitted, so add either a sleeve or oversize piston. Review the previous statement where I said I like a challenge. I priced new replacement parts - ouch! (Maybe my son wouldn't mind going to a local two-year college.) But on the positive side, the Fairbanks ZC is a pretty common engine and parts are pretty easy to find.