Salute to a Dream

By Staff
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In front of the 280 HP 4-cylinder Fairbanks-Morse marine engine owned by the American Thresherman Assn. in Pinckneyville, Ill., stands (from left): Paul Kurtz (head mechanic at Pinckneyville), Pat Hidy (John’s wife), Harold Kurtz (American Thresherm
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The 300 HP 4-cylinder Fairbanks-Morse being extracted from it’s previous residence at the Pattonsburg, Mo., city power plant.
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The 150 HP 2-cylinder Fairbanks-Morse was out of commission for several years due to a non-working oiler. Bill Breese, a friend of John’s, located an 8-line Madison-Kipp oiler
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On a remote island in Alaska. Note the Lathrop Antique Car, Tractor and Engine Assn.’s 4-cylinder Fairbanks in the background of the above photo.
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Don Walters purchased these engines and spearheaded their relocation to the Lathrop, Mo., show grounds. This 4-cylinder was the only engine he saw run after he took ownership.
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The 4-cylinder was transported to its current location on a logging truck. How would you like to see something like this driving down the interstate!
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The 4-cylinder being placed in it’s current location, before the engine shed was constructed.
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The flywheel on the 3-cylinder Fairbanks-Morse.
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Don Walters 1945-2002

On the Sunday morning of Oct. 13, 2002, engine
enthusiast Don Walters of Gower, Mo., woke up early to attend the
2002 Small Farmers Reunion at the Lathrop (Mo.) Antique Car,
Tractor and Engine Assn.’s show grounds, only to be severely
injured when he flipped on a light switch and his home exploded due
to a propane leak. Several days later, on Oct. 25, Don died in the
hospital as a result of the injuries he sustained in the fire.

There is a silver lining to this dark cloud, however. The town
of Pattonsburg, Mo., had been destroyed by the Flood of 1993 and
relocated, auctioning off much of the city property in 1998. That
auction netted Don four very large Fairbanks-Morse engines (used in
the city power plant) for the paltry sum of $2,000. Plus, he was
able to witness all of them running just a few days prior to his
purchase, so he knew what he was buying. For two grand he took
ownership of two 150 HP 2-cylinders (one of which was sold to the
Western Missouri Antique Tractor and Machinery Assn. in Adrian,
Mo.), a 300 HP 4-cylinder, a 600 HP Opposed Piston (OP) 8-cylinder
and many other parts, tools and paperwork for the engines.

Once the deal was finalized on Aug. 22, 1998, it took a year and
a half to get the engines moved from Pattonsburg to the Lathrop
show grounds. The 4-cylinder was moved on a logging truck, but the
rest of the engines were disassembled and transported in pieces in
a joint effort by Don and many of his fellow Lathrop club

Once the engines were moved and set up in Lathrop, the only
engine Don ever had running before his fatal accident was the
4-cylinder. In February 2003, four months after the accident, his
dear friend John Hidy received a phone call from Don’s brother,
David. He told John he wanted to meet him at the show grounds to
give him some of Don’s old wrenches. While they were there, John
asked if they were ever going to run the engines again, and that’s
when this silver lining really begins to shine! David said he had
talked it over with his father and other brother, and they had
decided to hand the engines over to John. John said he was
absolutely floored, not only because he just inherited one heck of
a great collection, but also because the family thought enough of
him to leave Don’s dream in his hands.

Don never did get to see the 2-cylinder run after it left the
Pattonsburg plant. When John and his crew started on it, they did a
thorough cleaning inside and out, re-plumbed everything, torqued
down the head gasket and routed the 10-inch exhaust up through the

For the club-owned 3-cylinder, all that had to be done was the
prerequisite cleaning of the engine and a rebuild of the
compression relief valves, done by Bill Anderson Sr. (Gas Engine
Magazine, August 2005, “Showstopping Sheffield”). John says, “What
I gave him was total junk, and when he returned them to me, they
looked brand new. It was just amazing what he did with those

Since the 4-cylinder was the only engine Don ever got to see
running before he passed on, John hasn’t had to do much but
maintain it, thus far. The 8-cylinder OP engine is still a work in
progress, which John wants to have running by next year’s show.
This engine, he explained to me, uses 16 pistons firing in eight
vertical cylinders and spins two crankshafts, an upper and a lower.
John says it will most likely go outside, because he expects it to
be pretty loud.


Although John knows his way around an engine quite well, he knew
he would need an extra hand, so he began searching for a
particularly good mechanic who had been at the 2002 show. His
search came to a screeching halt when he finally tracked down the
very talented Dennis “Junkyard” Fust of Humansville, Mo.

In talking with John, it sounds like Dennis, a diesel mechanic
by trade, is THE man to see when it comes to the repair and
maintenance of these large engines. Just this past August, John and
Dennis made their way up to Pinckneyville, Ill., to the American
Thresherman Assn.’s 46th Annual Steam, Gas and Threshing Show.
Their mission? To fix the club’s 280 HP reversible Fairbanks-Morse
that hadn’t run since 1989 and had been sitting on their grounds
for over seven years. Despite several attempts by several different
people over those seven-plus years, no one was able to get it
started. If it would ever run, their intent was to place it in the
“center ring” of the show grounds – and they refused to set it
there until it did.

As it turned out, the injectors were fouled up, and as John
explained to me, you must have the proper test stand to work on
them. John just so happens to own two of these test stands. When
John and Dennis thought they had it licked, they turned it over
just three times before she started. The engine was immediately
moved to the center ring and ran all day Thursday, Friday and
Sunday during the show. For their efforts, John says the
association treated them like royalty for the entire weekend,
saying it felt as though they were on vacation. John and Dennis
also had a story written about them and their efforts in the
Southern Illinoisan newspaper, titled “Chugga, Chugga, Chugga.”

Dennis comes to Lathrop about once a year to help John, and has
for three years now. According to John’s wife, Pat, he loves
wrenching on the giant engines and sharing his expertise. Dennis
also works on Adrian, Mo.’s 2-cylinder Fairbanks (sold to them by
Don) and just finished working on the Missouri River Valley Steam
Engine Assn.’s 4-cylinder Fairbanks while at their Back to the Farm
Reunion in Boonville, Mo.

Other Key Players

Another important helper John mentioned was Matt Robinson, a
17-year-old from Weatherby, Mo. He’s been helping out with the
engines since he was 13 years old, doing everything from cleaning
various parts and rewiring to helping John re-plumb the coolant
lines. Pat says he’s a great help, not just another set of hands,
and he loves to be around the old iron.

Bill Breese has also been a key element in the restoration of
these engines. Don had the oiler for the 2-cylinder, but it had a
broken part and he didn’t know how to fix it, which is one reason
he never got it running.

Bill was in Lathrop looking at the engines about a year prior to
Don’s accident, and told them there were some of these Fairbanks
engines in an abandoned copper mine, on an abandoned island, near
his hometown of Ketchikan, Alaska. The engines were still intact,
and were used until the mine, and island, were abandoned in

John stayed in contact with Bill, but nothing ever transpired
with the “island engines.” That is, until John was handed Don’s
engines and knew he would need an oiler for that 2-cylinder;
especially now, because the broken oiler was in Don’s house when it
exploded. Also destroyed in the fire were all the polished brass
plates for the engines, all the manuals and all the documentation
from when they were new. But John was more concerned with getting
the 2-cylinder operable, so he contacted Bill and told him he’d
really like to get his hands on those oilers if at all

Bill then set out one morning to make the voyage out to the
island on his boat, a four-hour trip, one way. As it turned out,
the oilers were both 8-line Madison-Kipps, of which seven lines
still worked on one of them. Right now, the other oiler is being
rebuilt for use on the 2-cylinder. The oiler currently on the
2-cylinder will most likely go back to Bill in Alaska, as he
intends to rescue the 2-cylinder from the island and restore

When he returned home, Bill sent an e-mail to John that read: “I
went out this morning and got those oilers for you. I sure hope
they’re what you need because they’re already in the mail to you.
Just send me $66.30 to cover my shipping costs and they’re yours.”
John was ecstatic, to say the least, getting two oilers to his door
for less than $70.

Two more Bills, Bill Anderson Sr. and Bill Anderson Jr., have
also put in many hours of hard labor on the engines. Bill Sr. is an
excellent machinist and has fabricated numerous parts for the
engines, and Bill Jr. has been happy to lend a hand on many other
various jobs.

John claims this is the largest collection of “big”
Fairbanks-Morse engines in the state, and, it’s been said, the
largest collection west of the Mississippi once you include John’s
not-yet-running Fairbanks generator.

John really wanted that generator, which, at the time belonged
to Don, and had pestered him about it on a few occasions. Just two
or three days before the accident, John again asked him if he would
part with it, and again, got the same answer. John even offered him
triple what he paid for it, but he still wouldn’t let it go. Of
course it’s now in John’s hands, and he plans to have it re-wired,
install new packing in the water pump and give it a good freshening
up sometime in the near future.

Plans to construct a new 30-by-50-foot building to house the
engines are already brewing in John’s head, as well as building a
multiple-engine water system in which all the engines will share
the same coolant and run through the same lines. He’s already
bought a new Quincy air compressor to start the giant engines. John
claims they require 250 psi to start, but his compressor will only
pump 175 psi. However, he still manages to pull it off by using a
very high volume of air.

A Real Devotion

As should be apparent by now, John is extremely devoted to
keeping these engines running for Don (and the club), having
already invested thousands of dollars and countless hours of work.
“I always knew when Don needed help with something,” John says with
a grin. “He’d show up at my place with a can of Diet Pepsi and two
bags of peanuts as payment!”

John will be the first to tell you he couldn’t have done all
this without the support of his loving wife, Pat, and their fellow
club members who have lent a helping hand: Gene Doty, Glen Edwards,
Tim Griggs, Brad Foster, Paul Brown, Jim Lee, Glen Colhour, Curly
Gardener, Lyle Wolford, Butch Hopkins, Marion Hopkins, Ralph
Hopkins, Jim Plowman, Sam Swindler, David Walker, Harry Lewis and
George McCorkle.

Although Don is no longer with us, a sign in the doorway of the
engine shed pays tribute to his memory: “His dream is continuing,
thanks to those who remained behind and have labored on – spurred
by the thoughts of him and the feeling that he will always be a
part of this place.”

John welcomes anyone interested in viewing the engines at
Lathrop to contact him for an appointment – he’d be more than happy
to show them to you.

Contact engine enthusiasts John and Pat Hidy at: 5647 S.W.
McComas Lane, Plattsburg, MO 64477; (816) 930-3548;

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