Roadside Riches: Rescuing Old Engines

Rescuing and restoring old engines, twin brothers discover more in common than blood.

| April 2006


The four engines Gary Berlin picked up in Canada, from left: a Fairbanks-Morse 7-1/2 HP Model ZC, two International Harvester 3-5 HP LBs with clutch and a 2-1/2 HP LB. The engines are all from the mid-1940s.

My introduction into restoring old engines started in Berwick, Pa., way back in the early 1950s. My twin brother Larry and I lived near the Susquehanna River and would hike and play for miles along the river banks. We would visit a hermit who lived several blocks from our home. This man collected everything he could get his hands on. Some of it was valuable and more of it was simply junk. Buried in the brush and vines near his house was an old Fairbanks Z engine, probably a 3 or 7 HP.

As 12 or 13 year olds, the engine became an irresistible stop every time we were in the area. We would stand there and turn the flywheel for long periods of time, and when we had a new friend with us, we would initiate him by having him hold onto the spark plug wire while we turned the flywheel.

When we were about 15 we purchased 10 old Maytag engines for $1 each. Some of the engines were not complete, but there were enough parts to make up a few good engines. This allowed us to have some great kick-start fun.

The next engine we rescued was a Wisconsin V4 taken from a piece of farm machinery that had been in a barn fire. We lugged this engine down the narrow basement steps of our home and stripped it down completely. We were sure that we could get this engine operating. Unfortunately, the babbitt bearings had melted out during the fire and we could not find anyone with the knowledge to pour new bearings. We put this project aside, hoping to work on it when we got the money.

Shortly thereafter, my brother and I started working and dating, and our interest in engines was put on the back burner. We graduated from high school and started college. I took a mechanical design course and my brother, still having the engine bug, took courses in diesel mechanics and automotive repair.

Eventually we married the women of our dreams and moved away from home to start our families and careers. About 10 years later Dad called us and asked if we wanted the Maytag engines. He said he had decided to clean out the basement, and we had more there than he had collected in 40 years of marriage. Don't believe him; he was a child of the Depression and he saved everything, down to the pull strings from the old ceiling lights that had been replaced in our home. He trained us well in saving old things.