Old Engine Retires At 77

By Staff
1 / 3
Restored to mint condition.
2 / 3
The engine swings free on its way to the trailer.
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Lowering engine onto trailer.

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

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

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.

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