7900 Taylor Street, Zeeland, Michigan 49464
How do you find a gas engine, is the question asked so many
times by any old engine nut? I would like to tell a story of
finding one old gas engine. My answer to the above question is that
I do what the Lord gave me the most talent for, and that is to talk
and ask questions.
This trip really started in May of 1977. My wife and I had
planned a combination fishing and engine hunting trip into
Michigan’s upper peninsula. We had our little travel trailer
packed and parked in the driveway ready to go when she took sick,
so instead of going fishing she went to the hospital. After many
X-rays and about two dozen samples of blood, the doctors determined
that she did not have what we all worry about when we have to go to
the hospital, namely cancer, and we praise and thank the Lord for
that. After two weeks’ stay, she came home, but by now our
vacation time had passed, so we decided to wait until fall.
On the 20th of September we took off for Michigan’s north
country. We traveled light, just a couple of suitcases in the back
of the pick up. We had decided not to take our travel trailer, but
to stay in motels and eat out, so the wife had no dishes to wash
and no beds to make. (A real treat for her, don’t you
We arrived at Sault Sainte Marie about 2 P.M. and decided to
take the boat tour through the Soo Locks, which was real
interesting and took about two hours, then to the motel for supper
and some much needed shut-eye.
We got up the next morning and wouldn’t you know it was
raining, but by the time we had breakfast, and were ready to start
out again it had slowed to a drizzle, and by 9 A.M. the sun was
peeking through. We traveled up the northeastern side of the upper
peninsula, along the Lake Superior shore line, By noon we had made
a half dozen stops, but had found no engines. Then I saw a man
splitting wood by the side of his cabin and stopped to talk to him,
and we struck pay dirt.
Oh yes, he knew of some engines and gave us the names of two
men, but the first man we checked out turned out to be an engine
collector of all things, and he really laughed when I told him what
we were looking for.
‘No, sir,’ he said, ‘you won’t find any gas
engines up here. I have them all bought in this area.’ So I
thanked him and drove away.
The other address we wanted to check out was only about 15 miles
away. It was at the end of the road in a small place called
Whitefish Point. This man was a commercial fisherman and at one
time the commercial fishermen used a lot of the old engines in
We found the place without any trouble. I walked up to the door
and rang the doorbell. A lady came to the door and I asked for Mr.
Brown. ‘Oh, yes,’ she said, ‘I will call him.’
When Mr. Brown came to the door I told him what I was looking
for. ‘Oh, yes,’ he said, ‘we used to have about a dozen
of them old engines, but I don’t believe we have any left, but
on second thought we better go take a look.’ So he put on his
jacket and took me out back and down a little road in the woods
which was lined on both sides with what most people call
‘junk’-old cars, old boats, old trucks, fish nets, old
anchors, you name it and it was there.
As we were walking along, Mr. Brown was talking a blue streak,
telling us about his fishing operation. At one time he operated 13
fishing tugs, but now was down to one tug. He started commercial
fishing in 1909, and was now 84 years old.
Soon I spotted a small gas engine lying on its side back in the
brush and called to Mr. Brown.
‘Oh, yes,’ he said, ‘there is one.’ It was a
rather old 1? H.P. Sattley and in good condition, despite lying out
for over 30 years.
Next I spotted a large flywheel sticking up out of the sand, and
pointed it out to Mr. Brown. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘that was
our old ice crusher, but there should be a gas engine fastened to
As it turned out it was the gas engine; the ice crusher was
lying about 40 feet away. It looked to be at least a 12 or 15 H.P.
engine, possibly a Fairbanks Morse. It had a round connecting rod,
and also a busted flywheel. It was upside and half buried in the
sand, but other than the broken flywheel, it looked like it could
be restored. Mr. Brown said, ‘Well, there are two of them. Do
you want to buy them?’
When we were in our motel that night after we had our supper, I
said to my wife, ‘I wish I had something to read.’
‘Oh,’ she said, ‘I have just the thing,’ and,
opening one of our suit cases she handed me a book titled ‘Gas
Engine Troubles and Installation,’ by J. B. Rathbun, and now
published by Ron Lachniet, 867 Campton Ave., N.E., Ada, Mich.
49301. I said, ‘Where in the world did you get this
‘Oh,’ she said, ‘I thought I would surprise
you.’ Every engine nut should have a wife like that.
I started to read it and in spite of the fact that I was tired
from a long day on the road, I did not lay it down until I had read
it all the way through. It is the most comprehensive book on gas
engines I have ever read and I highly recommend it to any serious
After four more days and two more gas engines, we returned home
safe and sound, but I kept thinking about that old Fairbanks Morse
buried in the sand on the shores of Lake Superior, but that busted
fly wheel bothered me. Where would I ever find another 41′
Then I remembered in my work as a welder in the oil field in the
Grand Rapids area, I had once seen an old pair of flywheels and
crank shaft, which had been used as a jack shaft to run an oil
field power unit. I first saw those wheels about 15 years ago, long
before I got the engine ‘bug,’ but started out to find
them, and by golly I found them still sitting in the same place and
all covered up with brush and wild grape vines. I hunted up the
owner and bought them. I then came home and got Mr. Brown on the
telephone and bought the old engine.
Now the problem was how to get the old engine home. I had a
trailer and plenty of chains, cable and blocks, but had to have
some help, so called our son, Bob, who lives in Crystal Lake, Ill.,
and said ‘How about going along to the U.P. and helping me haul
an engine home.
Bob had been to the U.P. many times on fishing and hunting trips
as a boy and had spent five years at Mich. Tech. college at
Houghton. It so happened that he had a few days off from his job as
Flight Engineer for United Airlines, working out of O’Hare at
At 2 A.M. on Friday morning we left with the trailer and all our
gear for the U.P. We arrived at Mr. Brown’s place about 10 A.M.
We paid for the engine and started to back the trailer about
one-eighth of a mile down a crooked road, as there was no place to
The engine was lying upside down about 150 ft. from the road. We
first had to hook up the cable and snatch blocks. It took 3 blocks
and 3 hours before we had the old Fairbanks Morse to the road, and
another hour to get it up on the trailer, and then back on the
highway for home. We arrived home in good shape late in the
afternoon. Bob left for his home right after supper.
The next week I again hooked on to the trailer and hauled the
fly wheels and crank shaft out of the woods. When I got them home
and unloaded them by the side of the old Fairbanks Morse, they were
exactly the same, diameter and bore size. It couldn’t happen
again in a hundred years, these old remnants lying out in the woods
about 400 miles apart and yet they fit together perfectly.
The Lord willing, I plan to have the old Fairbanks Morse popping
at our next show in July of 1978.
The moral of this story is never give up, as there may be an old
engine just down the road.
‘N.Z. Vintage Farming’ is a quarterly magazine which was
started last August and carries a lot of pictures and articles of
broad world interest.
Publishers, on a non-profit basis, are four enthusiasts-Des
Terry, Fra McKenna, Alan Lewis and Michael Hanrahan, They serve
subscribers in New Zealand, Australia and England, with a few to
All are collectors. Lewis was the founder of the Case &
Vintage Farm Machinery Club of New Zealand, Inc., in 1968.
The magazine says there were 136 tractors in New Zealand in
1919, and the publishers are trying to find out how many there are
now. Many pictures are used, with emphasis on gas tractors and
stationery gas engines. If you wish to subscribe, sent $4-80 in New
Zealand (about $3.90 U.S.}, to: N.Z. Vintage Farming, c/o Mr. A. T.
Lewis, Subscription Manager, 61 Boston Ave., Hornby, Christ-church.
4. South-Island, New ZealandGerry Lestz