My Encounter With A WITTE

| September/October 1987

  • 1 HP Fairbanks Morse engine

    Harold Warp

  • 1 HP Fairbanks Morse engine

115 South 16th Sabetha, Kansas 66534

My experience actually began many years ago when I was about six years old and would look forward to the Monday morning battle on my uncle's farm where I grew up-he would try to fire up the old Hercules to do the washing in a belt-driven wooden washing machine.

In 1969 we sold our dairy herd giving me more time for 'recreational' activities, and as the boyhood fascination for gas engines had never left me I began looking for one. One day the local John Deere dealer told me about an engine up in Nebraska sitting under a tree with an old metal wash tub for a cover. He thought it could be bought but had no further information. This seemed like the kind one only hears about and could I really find one so easily, but it was worth a look. That evening we drove up and sure enough there it sat, wash tub and all. The engine was a 1? HP Fairbanks Morse without a mag and after a little bargaining the transaction was made. My wife and son were more than a little skeptical of this new venture and wondered aloud, 'What's he going to do with that thing?' I only knew from my previous experience with auto, tractor and aircraft engines that compression, gasoline and a spark in the proper environment would make a crankshaft turn so I rigged up a Rube Goldberg device called make and break ignition. I remember the engine was well oiled and thinking to myself, 'What'll I do if it starts?' Well start it did and put up a smoke screen so thick I couldn't see for some time. Roused out of the house by the racket, my wife and son looked on with somewhat sheepish grins as the old iron sat there and talked to us.

By now I was 'hooked,' and it wasn't long before I started thinking about another gas engine. I located the Witte much the same way as the Fairbanks, but it was obviously more of a challenge from the start. It was the 1? HP tree saw, dead mag and all. There was a bewildering variety of cast iron rods, gears, chains and a saw blade. The owner said it was 'mostly' all there. It would have been better if he had said right then that I'd have to look for some parts. Anyway we loaded her up and not knowing too much about the Wico mag I set out to make another make and break system until I could get the Wico repaired. After a lot of work it became evident that this one was not so easy as the engine is high compression, and being more involved in farming I had to put the whole project on hold for a while. Some years later I traded for a mag that had 'some' spark but not enough for the Witte, so once more the project was delayed until I could find time to get the mag in shape. When the engine did start I discovered that one of the flywheels had too much wobble-and even after a trip to the machine shop to true up the crankshaft the wobble was still there. So I had to locate another flywheel and at last she ran true. Yes engine buffs, cast iron flywheels can be sprung. At this point we were ready for the last and most challenging phase of the project-parts for the saw. In spite of having some information on it I could not figure out just what was missing, so I sent a request for help to your great magazine and could not believe the response. I hope the reader from California sees this as it was his scale blueprint that showed me what was missing. (I'd like to thank him personally but have unfortunately lost his address.) Finally, having retired from farming in 1986 and with the drawings to work with, I could work on getting the saw together.

At last it was time to see if the rig would do more than just start, but the Witte wasn't through with me yet. The flyball governor was just going along for the ride and the Witte would either threaten to go into orbit or stop completely. Out of sight was a little control rod leading to the butterfly that was missing or worn off, and after building this up the engine will just sit there and talk to you anytime.

All of this took place over a period of nearly eighteen years and does give one a sense of achievement.


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