Not One, Not Two, But Three!


| August/September 1990



Old cotton gin building

Old cotton gin building

Rt 2, Box457 Decatur, Alabama 35603

It began about five years ago. Prior to this, I had already been an old iron lover for about ten years. Although retired from factory work, I grew up on a farm and still live on a farm. Naturally I was interested in old iron as we had a few old one-lungers doing odd jobs and several tractors on the farm during those early years. The first tractors I remember were equipped with steel wheels. Most of these were later changed to rubber which was a lot more comfortable for the operator.

The one most important thing that started me on collecting old iron was my dad's old Economy (Sears Roebuck) cut off saw powered by a 7 HP hit and miss engine. We cut all of our firewood for several years with this outfit. During the mid-thirties, the Tennessee Valley Authority was clearing all the wooded lowland areas over a thirty-five thousand acre area which was to be flooded by the backwaters from a newly constructed dam on the Tennessee River called Wheeler Dam. It was to provide cheap hydroelectric services to the area. As you can imagine, clearing this much land was an immense job. Lots of people were provided jobs by this project. Plenty of good timber was cut and saved, then again plenty was cleaned up, piled and burned. Anyone wanting firewood was welcome to haul off any amount they could. This is where the old cut-off saw came into its hey-day. With six boys in the family, most big enough to help out in some way, we hauled wood day after day, stacked it, and when cold weather came that's when the saw went into service. We stacked the wood on the ends starting with a center pole. It resembled an Indian teepee to begin with, then it grew to a large stack covering a quarter to half an acre. It seemed that we had to run the saw on the coldest of days. This went on for several years until finally electricity came to some of the rural areas and most one-lungers were replaced with electric motors and others were retired to the pasture or fencerow. This is what happened to the cut-off saw. After some thirty-five to forty years, I saw some old engines at a small show and this started me to thinking about the old cut-off saw. After cutting some trees that had grown up through the saw rig, I pulled it home. This is where I got hooked.

Now, on with my story. I got a lead to an old one-lunger that was replaced by an electric motor in this cotton gin. It had powered the auxiliary compressor for starting of the huge cotton gin engine. Once the big engine was started, it maintained its own air supply for the next start-up. After seeing the engine, I knew why they had replaced it with the electric motor-the head was busted. I don't think any type of antifreeze was ever used in those days, as about fifty to seventy-five percent of the engines I have collected once had busted heads. While talking to the owner, I learned about another small engine on the grain elevator at the grist mill adjoining the cotton gin. Luck was with me as he agreed to sell me both engines. After agreeing on a price, the owner told me the whole cotton gin was to be sold later. It would take a real old iron nut to know how happy I was to find not one, not two, but three old engines that day. I was especially happy because the first engine was a 3 HP Jumbo made by Nelson Brothers. The second was a 1? to 2? HP International Harvester. Now the third, as you may have guessed by now, was the huge two cylinder upright crude oil engine made by the Continental Gin Company of Birmingham, Alabama. Although I wasn't interested in the big engine at that time, I soon got to thinking about the challenge of moving, restoring and operating the engine someday, maybe at our old engine show here. The name of our show is 'Southland Fly wheelers' located on U.S. Highway 72, about halfway between Athens and Huntsville, Alabama. Our show dates will be listed in the Show Directory and in the Gas Engine Magazine. I hope to see a lot of you there this year.

Later, I contacted the owner again and sure enough it was for sale. After a few meetings and becoming very good friends, I became the proud owner of the huge engine. But now, how to move the monster? There was no hurry on the owner's part so I took plenty of time. Would you believe about three years?

During this time, I made several trips about thirty miles from home to see the engine and work out details and plans for moving but did not finalize any plans until early in 1989. The original owner had decided he would probably sell the old place where the gin was located and I knew I had to make the 'big' move soon.