The $26 Engine

By Staff
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801 Eastridge Dr., Lincoln, Nebraska 68510

The morning was cold, very cold. When I think about it, I really
can’t remember being so cold in all my life. What in the world
possessed us to go to that sale in Central Nebraska in this winter
weather was beyond me. All the same we had scraped a couple of
holes through the ice on the windshield, and left at 4:30 a.m.,
half asleep, and headed west. Sale time was 9:00, so we had plenty
of time to look things over when we arrived at the site.

A quart of hot coffee and three hours later we pulled in, parked
the truck in a corn field and bundled up.

It looked right away like a good sale. Except for the northwest
wind at 20 mph and a little snow falling, it might not be too bad.
We donned insulated coveralls, parkas and five buckles and ventured
out. Father-in-law and good friend, Morris Currie, who was with me
(and at whose insistence I had come) mentioned how it was ‘cold
enough out here to freeze the bells off a brass monkey,’ or
something similar. I wholeheartedly agreed.

The engines at the sale ran the gamut from IHC LA, LB, all sizes
of M’s to John Deere Model E’s. Fairbanks Morse, a Sattley,
Monitor and Economy units were offered also in various sizes. Being
relatively new to this hobby, I was very excited at the variety
available and quietly lusted for the three horse JD E over on the
end of the north row.

Lots of parts were on a flat bed near by and a few ‘basket
case, boat anchor’ engines. Well, we looked at all the good
stuff, had some more coffee to warm the insides, and thought
we’d better check the trailer for that elusive 1 HP Giant
rocker arm and governor latch I’ve been hunting for the past 15
years. We discovered a couple sets of trucks and a considerable
pile of LB parts.

That done, we walked stiffly (from the cold) over to the parts
engines. Of the two there, the Fairbanks headless interested me
most. At that time I had none of these units in my collection, and
generally like a smaller engine to lug around at show time in the
summer. It was pretty bad off. ‘Morris,’ I said, ‘look
here, three spokes are broken out of this flywheel.’ ‘Well
now,’ he said, ‘you have to understand that these engines
are old and do have a little wear on them.’ ‘But
Morris,’ I said. ‘Can’t even turn the flywheels over,
the piston must be stuck real bad.’ Morris had always been a
fan of Fairbanks Morse and continued to pitch the engine. ‘Well
now it might be stuck a little bit, but maybe the rings are in real
good shape, and the compression is keeping the flywheels from
moving.’ I noticed he turned and winked at another spectator.
Doubting this, I said nothing and allowed this was his way of
needling a son-in-law whenever possible.

The auctioneer barked over the PA to get your numbers and the
sale would begin. The trailer was sold off first, and as luck was
running my way, we proceeded to the parts engines. When the
headless came up for bids no one seemed interested. Finally the
auctioneer asked for a $ 15 bid and got it. Well, I figured it
might be worth that because of the darn good compression I told you
about earlier, and jumped in. A few bids later I had it for $26.
Heads shaking, the crowd moved on to the next unit, and I got a
good look at my prize. This time it didn’t look so hot. The rod
was completely rusted away below the crank throw, which was turned
down below where the water level must have stood for the last
thirty years. A couple of styrofoam coffee cups had appeared inside
the water hopper, and the one bent oiler with broken glass it did
have had disappeared. Undaunted, I consoled myself by the fact that
it had such excellent compression. As the snowfall continued to
increase, we loaded the truck and I swear I heard Father-In-Law
snicker a few times on the way back to Lincoln. After a couple of
weeks of cylinder soaking, those ‘real good rings and
compression’ still maintained their enormous grip on my piston,
and this being the headless version I gave up the cause and began
to quietly plan my revenge on a father-in-law who got me into this
unfortunate situation.

My son, Aaron, who was away in service, had come home for a few
days on leave. After spending some time visiting his friends around
town, he had time for the old man. ‘Pop,’ he said,
‘whatcha been working on lately in the shop?’ Immediately,
my agile brain sprang into action. Here was a young man, well fed,
fresh out of boot camp who just might substitute for a piston
puller. ‘Well, that old headless out there has me beat,’ I
replied. ‘The piston is stuck tight and has to be pulled out
because it has no head. I doubt anybody can get that thing
apart.’ Shaking my head, I stood back and waited. Unable to
resist a chance of one-upmanship on the old man, he jumped at the

To make a long story short, with a heavy bar, log chain, much
determination and muscle, he got the darn thing to budge an eighth
of an inch. You know the rest. A little more Liquid Wrench, more
heat inside the hopper and alternating movements on the piston
finally did the trick.

I’ve put a few dollars more into the project. The rings
weren’t so hot after all, the connecting rod was ruined as
mentioned earlier. Tom Aukland of Grafton, Nebraska had a flywheel
set, and Ed Deis supplied the replacement rod. With a new fuel tank
in place, she started almost immediately, and although not a
‘rare’ class engine, I’ve derived more satisfaction
from this restoration than any other. You can see from the photo
how it turned out. Of course, the hand crank did fly off once and
hit my shin, sort of like the time I tumbled over a little I HP
power engine in a fence line I was cleaning out for a friend. I got
up, looked closer, and it sure looked like a little Giant; but
that’s a whole ‘nother story…

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