Salute to a Dream

The late Don Walters lives on through the engines he acquired.


| November 2005



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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

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 members.

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 ceiling.

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 valves."