1018 West Dixie Avenue, Leesburg, Florida 32748
Friday evening about 10:00, June 22, 1989, we finally arrived home with the old 20 HP Fairbanks-Morse type N, hit and miss engine that was used to open the CSX Railroad bridge over the Altamaha River at Doctors Town Road, Jesup, Georgia. This culminated three years of effort on my part.
It all started while talking with a Mr. Jeffords with the then Seaboard Coastline R.R., now CSX, in Waycross, Georgia. This was in the summer of 1986. I had called him about having my name placed on their bid-list so I could bid on one of their Fairmont R.R. motor cars. He just happened to mention that he bet I would be interested in an old engine they had over at Jesup, Georgia that opened a R.R. bridge over the Altamaha River.
During hunting season, my wife and I go though Jesup almost every weekend, so on my next trip up we drove down Doctors Town Road and there the bridge stood with the engine house 25 feet high right over the R.R. track, 20 feet out on the span and about 25 feet above the river, a total of 50 feet to the top of the ladder. I tried twice to go up that ladder but half way up, I froze-I could not go one step higher. I am afraid of heights, especially when my body is hanging out over whatever it is, and if I slipped it could mean my death.
My next trip the following weekend, I took my climber's safety belt and was determined to see that old engine. It was a white knuckle climb all the way for me. When I got to the top of the ladder, I hooked my safety belt before climbing onto the platform.
The door was not locked and when I opened it, there was this beautiful old Fairbanks-Morse. It was hooked up with a direct drive off the crankshaft over to all these huge gears that raise and lower the R.R. bridge.
I made up my mind if there was any way possible, I was going to have that old engine. I was told when the bridge had to be opened, they sent a man down one week in advance to work on the old engine and get it running. Also it had been 18 years since it was last run, and that was when an oceangoing tug-boat had to go up to an atomic energy plant.
I made a proposal whereby I would replace the old engine with a 14 HP Industrial Wisconsin cast iron engine with a 6 to 1 reduction clutch, further reduced 2 to 1 by V-belt drive to a 3 inch shaft that would couple to the same shaft to which the old engine was coupled. I would do all of this at no cost to CSX.
After several weeks of not hearing from Mr. Jeffords, I decided to go by Waycross and see him personally. After all, he did not know me from Adam's house cat. Mr. Jeffords was out but I talked with his assistant, Mr. Ambrose. He told me my proposal had been forwarded to the Bridge Building division in Jacksonville. He also told me they were not going to do anything about it because it was not used that often.
Not wanting to be a bother to anyone I waited and waited. Finally I told my wife we had to go to Jacksonville and talk with someone. A Mr. Duval had been told of my intention by a mutual friend with the railroad, but by the time I got to Jacksonville I was told Mr. Duval had taken early retirement. The gentleman I was talking with told me the individual I should talk with was a Mr. Ralph Thompson, Jr., Director of Bridge Building. He called him and introduced me by phone and my wife and I were invited to come on up to his office.
We talked with him for about thirty minutes. I had pictures showing everything. He had never seen it. He asked one of his assistants whether he had received my proposal from Mr. Jeffords. He found it, but his assistant told me that even if I put the exchange unit in, they did not have the manpower or time to go over there and test it. I told him if he had confidence in the geared mechanism working behind the old Fairbanks Morse, then I could assure him what I would power it with would be much more reliable than the old Fairbanks.
Mr. Thompson asked me to make a formal detailed proposal and he would see what he could do. It had now been a year and a half since I had first gotten in touch with Mr. Jeffords.
Susie and I went back to Jesup and this time she climbed up with me to hold the tape so I could get the dimensions needed to draw up the plans for Mr. Thompson.
Months passed and no word. Mr. Thompson apologized when I called him. A barge had hit a bridge on the Mississippi River and he had been out of his office. In the meantime Gas Engine Magazine had three issues that featured articles about saving old engines (exactly what I was trying to accomplish), so I mailed them to him.
Again several months passed. This time he had given the plans to one of his assistants but his assistant had a heart attack and everyone had forgotten about it.
Finally, in November of 1988 I had a phone call saying they were ready to give me a contract for the engine swap at Jesup. To fulfill a requirement for the contract I had to come up with two million dollars worth of liability insurance. My insurance firm tried for six weeks to get the insurance and finally gave up. No insurance company would insure anyone for that amount of money for only a two day job, especially one involving a railroad. In the meantime Boynkin Erector in Jesup had given me a certificate of insurance showing they had a two million dollar liability policy. CSX agreed to issue a contract to Boynkin covering my work.
On June 15, 1989, a very close friend, Buddy Hunter, his wife Jeannie, Susie and I went to Georgia with acetylene torches, winches, jacks, 110 volt generator, saws, etc. By 1:30 that afternoon we had opened the building, half removed two walls, raised the engine, placed 4 x 4 timbers and pipe rollers under it and had it ready to roll for the following Thursday.
CSX placed a stop order for all trains on Thursday, June 22, from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00' p.m. Each train coming through had to call ahead via radio-phone and make certain the area was clear. We were supposed to start at 9:00 but the trains were off schedule and running late. Seven trains came through between 9:00 and 11:30 and that was when we finally got the word we had one hour before the next train.
Boynkin started backing down the track with a 60 ton Pettebone crane straddling one rail for about 100 yards to the beginning of the span over the river. Gary Mock with Boynkin had told me the old engine would have about two feet of swing as it came out of the building, therefore we had a one ton chain winch holding it back as the crane lifted it out.
We had the old engine on my trailer by 12:30. Fifteen minutes later the Wisconsin was in place in the engine house and Boynkin was off the track. The next train came through about 30 minutes later. It would have been close, if it had not been late. If they had had to stop a train, that would have cost me. How much? I did not want to know.
We brought the old engine home the next day and I spent all Saturday cleaning the cam gears, freeing up the fuel pump, push rod, internal igniter, etc. Sunday afternoon Dan and Tom McWhorter and Mr. Fox came out and after more freeing up and adjusting we fired it up and had it running beautifully by mid-afternoon. Tom and Dan have a 32 and 15 HP type N, so they knew what had to be done to get my 20 running.
That beautiful old engine has less than five hours running time, just like brand new. On the end of the crankshaft is stamped, '4-4-12.' April 4, 1912 was the day it was manufactured. The bridge was also constructed in 1912.
We made a videotape of all the trains and the whole procedure in getting it down. Susie also taped us working on it at home and when it fired off for the first time in 18 years.