Story Of A Unique Woodsplitter

By Staff
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282 W. Broadway Drive Appleton, Wisconsin 54915 

I have been a regular reader for about one year. I thought some
of the readers would enjoy the story of our family wood splitter. I
don’t know how unique a splitter of this design is, but it
turns a lot of heads here in Northeast Wisconsin.

The history of the splitter begins in Weyauwega, Wisconsin, in
about 1949. My great uncle, Arnold Arndt, inherited two old engines
with a farm. He took the two engines to the machine shop in which
he worked. That’s where the splitter was built. He, sadly to
say, disassembled and modified the larger of the two. He cut the
water jacket off, bolted a large wedge to the piston and reforced
the connecting rod, with the head off and turning the flywheels the
wedge would go in and out with little effort. This engine or block
I should say, is pretty bare and we can’t tell what model of
make it was. We guessed it to be an old 12HP. Now that he had the
splitter he needed a power-plant. That’s where the 3HP
Fairbanks Morse Type Z Model came in. The other engine he
inherited. He mounted the Z on top of the 12HP, where he cut the
water jacket off. The power is transferred from flywheel to
flywheel by a two inch braided belt, with a tension installed in
between. He put the stop and the work area on the back, and tongue
and hitch on the front. Underneath went an axle from an old manure
spreader.

Once finished, my uncle split wood on his farm and contracted
himself and the splitter out. He used to spend one whole week at
one large farm to split. He said everybody would come and help just
like at threshing time. In a letter he wrote me, he said wherever
he went, there was always an optimist, who thought he could split
faster with an axe. My uncle then wrote, ‘I always put that guy
stacking wood, that usually changed his tune in about ten
minutes.’ In about 1953 he quit contracting out and in 1959 he
switched to fuel oil heat in his own home. The splitter then sat
idle for about ten years. My uncle then moved to Florida. My
grandfather, Paul T. Olson, then purchased the spitter in 1970 from
him. My father and I helped my grandfather split wood for our two
homes, every fall weekend. But in 1982 my grandfather’s health
turned and we went to fuel oil. The splitter sat idle until the
spring of 1987 when I finally convinced my grandfather to let me
restore it and get it running again.

My father and I started work on it right away. We had to find a
new mag because my grandfather took the old mag apart and
‘modified’ it. We got the new mag from a local engine
enthusiast. We then overhauled the Fairbanks. We also took off the
manure spread axle, and put on an old hay wagon axle underneath the
splitter. The reason for this was so we would have bearings instead
of the bushings that were on the manure spreader axle. We painted
the whole splitter Fairbanks Morse green, with some red striping.
We showed it this past summer at the 20th Annual Town of Union
Thresheree in Symco, Wisconsin. It drew a lot of looks and a few of
those optimists, especially when it came to splitting elm wood.
I’ll admit it doesn’t split elm with ease, but when the
splitter was built nobody split that stringy stuff. We don’t
split wood every fall anymore, but we do at shows, and that brings
back a lot of memories. I’m the fourth generation to enjoy the
old splitter, and I hope there will be a fifth to do the same.
Hopefully the fifth generation will enjoy GEM as much as I do.

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