Show Cruiser

Minnesota Man Creates a Special Go-Getter


| May 2005



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The completed Fairmont/Simplicity tractor showing the flat belt, belt tensioner and jackshaft pulley. Also shown is the clutch lever (orange knob) and shift lever (black knob).

This little tractor is the combination of a 1944 Fairmont railroad section car engine and a 1972 Simplicity Model 728 garden tractor. I restored the engine 30 years ago after finding it in Minneapolis. It had been resting on its flywheels on the floor of a garage for some time and was quite dirty. I was a little surprised when I gave it a push and found the flywheels would turn. Immediately interested, I asked if it was for sale. A few minutes and $30 later, I became a Fairmont owner.

I could hardly wait to place a call to Fairmont Railway Motors in Fairmont, Minn., to ask some questions about my new engine. The serial number, 66252, was all they needed to tell me the engine was a 1944 Model QBA, Series B, sold to the Minneapolis and St. Louis railroad in 1944. This was exciting! Back in 1944, we used to listen to the section cars, "putt-putts" we called them, go through our hometown of Lindstrom, Minn. The Great Northern tracks were only a couple of hundred feet from our house.

The restoration of the engine was made easier because nothing was broken and it had very good compression. The two rows of ball bearings on the pulley end of the crankshaft and the one row on the other end didn't seem to have excessive play, so I didn't have to remove the flywheels and crankshaft. After cleaning and sanding it thoroughly, I gave it a shiny new red and yellow paint job. I had the cast aluminum water hopper sandblasted by a local abrasive blasting company. The cast aluminum carburetor just needed to be cleaned inside and out. All the ignition parts were okay. An oak cradle now supports the gas tank between the flywheels over the crankcase. Often on section cars the tank was mounted on the chassis of the car, next to the engine.

Fairmonts use a Model T Ford-type buzz coil for ignition, and as luck would have it, one of the two coils in my engine stuff was painted gray and stamped on the side with "Fairmont Railway Engine Co." I mounted the engine on a wood base with a box on one end for the coil and a 6-volt battery.

Ready to Run

I gassed it up with some 2-stroke mix, squirted some oil into the main bearing oil cup on the pulley end of the crankshaft, and closed the ignition knife switch. With the spark retarded about 10 degrees and one hand on each flywheel, I pulled it slowly through a couple of cycles. There was no turning it fast, because with 84 cubic inches of displacement, getting it over the top just once is an achievement. On about the third or fourth try, the old 2-stroke fired up with a real loud "Fairmont bang." The thrill I get when one of my engines starts for the first time is so exciting I just stand there and laugh. With no pipe or muffler it was very loud.

A month or so later, my wife and I took a trip to the Fairmont Railway Motors Co. We were warmly received and congratulated in obtaining one of their engines. They gave us a very thorough tour of their manufacturing facility, including the aluminum, cast iron and brass foundries. They also presented us with a brand new owner's manual and several gaskets they thought might come in handy.