Like Panning for Gold

| May/June 1994

1905 Olds 12 HP engine

P.O. Box 15368 Pensacola, Florida 32514

I'm not really a fixer-uppersome folks like to get every nut and bolt right and paint 'em up. I don't restore them. I just take an old one, gunk it down, clean it up and get it running.' So says Clinton Edwards, this year's president of the Dixieland Old Engine and Agriculture Club, of himself.

Jim Townsend, a Cantonment, Florida, John Deere restorer, had interested me in restoring old tractors. Even though I have read GEM for two years, this was my first show and I was excited to finally get a chance to talk to people about old engines. I was interested in how the old engines worked and in the people who restored old engines.

Approaching The Dixieland Old Engine Show parking area slowly, I saw a line of tractors to my left, and a tent with lots of folks, which I guessed was the food area. Straight ahead toward a cluster of pecan trees, I heard a faint 'chick a chick,' and could see other people gathered. I walked in that direction and began to see a collection of display tables, trailers, and free standing equipment roughly arrayed in a semicircle under the trees.

Drawing closer, the pitch of the old engine sound changed, from the faraway 'chick a chick' to a deeper 'chuck . . . chuck.'

I stopped to look at a large old green Fairbanks Morse engine which was driving a belt to an antique corn shucking machine. The old engine 'chucked' and a little smoke poofed upward. The big flywheel spun quickly, then seemed to slow down until I thought it would quit. Another 'chuck' and the flywheel sped up again. This was the old 'hit & miss' engine I had heard about. The owner dropped a corn cob in the shucking machine hopper. The kernels were stripped off the cob and moved down a shaking screen to fall into an old woven oak basket. The cleaned cob shot out over the basket and fell to the ground. I stood transfixed. This old stuff worked! There were pistons, rods, cylinders, valves, crankshafts and flywheels, but configured much different from modern engines and machinery. You could actually see the piston thrusting in and out of the cylinder; the open connecting rod attached to the open crankshaft which ran to large and colorful flywheels on each side of the engine. Because of a lower RPM, oil reservoirs sitting atop the crankshaft journals provided ample lubrication to the rod and crank.