Shown at a parade in downtown Merlin, Oregon, in spring 1994.
293 Whispering Pines Grants Pass, Oregon 97527
Nearly obscure, hidden in tall grass behind a remote building somewhere in northeastern Opheim, Montana, waiting to be discovered, was a valued treasure that many of us engine folks would love to have. No one really knew how many seasons it had endured those harsh elements common in this area. This big one ton prize would still be there if it were not for the skillful and tenacious negotiations of Dean Axtell of 'Ready Manufacturing of Grants Pass, Oregon.'
How Mr. Axtell came upon this coveted gem well, let's say it was through a friend's friend's friend! I'm sure some of us can relate to this method when it comes to finding these valued antiques.
Located some two thousand plus miles from Grants Pass, Opheim, Montana, is a quiet agricultural area where life may be centered around ranching and cattle raising. Instead of the noisy city life, with its fast paced, bustling activity, one finds himself hearing the plaintive bawling of cattle, and in the evening the distant howling of coyotes echoing through the hills and valleys. A place where one has time to enjoy a cool beer at the local tavern on a hot summer afternoon with longtime acquaintances.
Call it what you wish, be it haggling, bargaining, bartering, dealing, the desired result is for an agreement of a price and the product transferred from seller to buyer. What would a 1927 Fairbanks Morse 'Z', fifteen horse gas and kerosene engine be worth??? Complete, but with a rusted immovable piston ? Would a 1918 Columbia Graphical disk phonograph be a fair trade? How much would it be worth if all the original papers were with it for example, the purchase receipt along with the factory production certificate, signed by the company inspectors with date of manufacture and serial number?
In the dictionary, the word 'eternity' is described as a seemingly endless amount of time. This may well describe the emotions and anxieties we endure while we endeavor to persuade the owner to part with his desired appurtenance.
At last, an agreement was reached for the transaction, the deal concluded. But now, another challenge: How to transport this giant beauty from Opheim, Montana, to Grants Pass, Oregon, with a half ton Nissan pickup truck. Not only were the weight and size of this precious cargo a concern, but also the long distance over narrow roads and precipitous mountain passes that must be traversed.
Mr. Axtell, being a man known for good planning and forethought, was prepared for this venture. He was towing a well equipped tandem trailer capable of carrying a very heavy load. However, there were other items that he was bringing back to Oregon already on the trailer that wouldn't allow room for this large engine. So with a little ingenuity, it was decided to remove the huge flywheels, load them in the back of the pickup, and put the remainder of the fifteen horse Fairbanks on the trailer. Everything fit perfectly. With all of this paraphernalia on both the truck and trailer, we indeed had a very heavy load. The Nissan met the challenge with ease, considering all that was involved. The ardent but uneventful journey back to Grants Pass that hot July was a bit strenuous, but without any incidents of highway breakdowns, or stops by investigating state patrol officers, all went fine.
Arriving home, unloading the vehicles of transport, the next order of business was that of planning for restoration of this giant behemoth.
Disassembly of the engine was no real difficult challenge, except the removal of the piston from the cylinder that tenaciously refused to yield to ordinary pressure due to the years of accumulated rust.
With these projects there is the usual barrage of ideas and opinions, free advice, and suggestions as to how to go about dealing with longtime rust and ferrous oxide corrosion. However, Dean had a good plan that proved successful. From August 1993 to January 1994, the engine was propped upright standing on its rear with a special anti-rust solution working to dissolve the captivating agent holding the piston tightly to the cylinder walls.
The challenging moment of truth was to come that cool January afternoon when Dean Axtell, Leonard Martin, and Don Hood, all fine engineers, craftsmen, and mechanics, began to ply their talents and energies. With a special fabricated jig that could apply several tons of pressure, they methodically proceeded to exert force to the block of wood insulating and thoroughly covering the top of the piston. Stressed to nearly the maximum, nothing was budging! How much more would be necessary? How much more was available? There was the danger of metal, under such a strain that if it were to break, it could be very dangerous to bystanders. Perhaps setting up a jig to pull from the rear via the connecting rod may be in order. This seemed like a good idea. However it was time to take a break and relax, to do some more thinking and planning. Meanwhile it was agreed, while everyone was thinking this one out, what would happen if the acetylene torch with the big rosebud assembly directed heat systematically to the inside skirt of the piston. Smoke billowed from the old oil and accumulated debris that had built up over the years. Also heat was directed inside the water jacket area so that the whole cast iron assembly was evenly warmed up good and hot. As it began to cool down to where one could comfortably hold a hand on the surface, to everyone's delight, it was detected that a slight movement of the piston was beginning to show who the victors in this contest were going to be! Yes, it was on its way, finally being released from rust's captivity. It didn't give up without a Herculean struggle. Tenaciously, Dean, Leonard, and Don continued until it was 'at last' free and extracted from its corrosive prison.
Further inspection and cleaning revealed the cylinder to be in excellent condition. Only minimum wear was noticed. However, a new set of rings was in order because, after all, they were a bit rusted and somewhat worn.
Anyone who has done a restoration on any piece of antique equipment is certainly cognizant of the time and effort that is taken on things like cleaning, polishing, painting, and rebuilding of our treasured possessions. No less so with Dean Axtell's engine. Many extra projects like fabricating a suitable truck so that it could be portable, a fuel tank, a cooling tank, as well as other minor but indispensable details were brought to completion. Rebuilt and restored to his satisfaction, the fifteen horse, in hunter green, was finally ready for her debut to perform. It was cool, cloudy, and damp on that January 1994 afternoon inside the fabricating room of Ready Manufacturing, as the three engineers proceeded to make final adjustments, lubricating and inspecting. The moment of truth was soon to be. Fueled up, timing set, valves adjusted, each one at his station to contribute to the grand moment of coming to life. Two who had lived three-score plus began to pull heartily on the huge flywheels. With a freshly honed cylinder, new rings, as well as snug bearings, it soon reminded them that they were not young men any more. This sleeping beauty demanded all they could muster to go through its cycles. With a bit of compression released, and properly primed, about the fourth revolution it gave out with a faint 'Whoomp'' with smoke emerging from the cylinder past the new rings that were certainly not seated yet, as well as from the exhaust pipe. It doesn't take very long for an old timer's energy to subside from exertion of this nature to cause him to stop and think, 'There must be an easier way.' One thing about us older folks, we have had a lot of experience in life which results in becoming inventive, resourceful. There must be an easier way other than brute manpower. 'Well of course,' commented one of the mechanics, 'Let's belt 'her' up to a 3-5 HP LB International, and pony start it.'
Working like beavers before winter sets in, they proceed to fabricate special mounts and proper rigging for the LB to turn these monstrous flywheels. It didn't take long before things were in order to once again try to revive this prized beauty.
The LB was started up, the Fairbanks exhaust valve was opened so that enough momentum could be gathered to pass through the cycles at a fair speed. The LB International strained under the dead load, but our beauty was now turning over at a good clip. The exhaust valve released, a slight choke to the fuel mixer, and next, the indescribable sound everyone had been waiting for. With smoke coming from the exhaust from excessive lubrication to the top end, and with strong deep toned 'chuggs,' this masterpiece was now running on its own power. With just a few more minor adjustments, it would be performing and repeating those nostalgic sounds that our fathers were familiar with in their younger years.
Even though some of us are well in the sixties, we still get excited over the sounds, sights, and smells of these creations. We love to work on, watch, talk about and reminisce over these mechanical designs. Yes, the synchronous rhythm of gears, rods, and melodious tones of the exhausts can be mesmerizing.
Under the controls of Dean Axtell, owner and engineer, this engine responds willingly to his commands. It's truly a delight to the spectator, and to all who had a part in restoring yet another trophy for everyone's enjoyment.
This engine has been shown at two shows with Branch #9, thrilling onlookers with its performance. No less so, this summer, June 17-18, at Pottsville show grounds, Merlin, Oregon, it will be presenting the talent of Dean Axtell, owner, Leonard Martin, engineer, and Don Hood, engineer.
Everyone is invited to enjoy seeing this engine along with many varied, well restored engines, tractors and antique machinery of yesteryears. We will be looking for you, at this very pleasurable event at a 'living museum.'