What Would A New One In The Crate Be Worth?

| September/October 2001

4252 Dunstan Court Stone Mountain, Georgia 30083-2448

The ringing telephone interrupted my work at the lathe. I flipped the lathe off and hurried to the phone. The caller introduced himself as being from the next town, and asked if I was the fellow with flywheel engines out front? I answered yes, and then he dropped his next question, 'What would a new one in the crate be worth?' For a moment the world seemed as if it stood still. As I fought to regain my composure, a fleeting vision of a rare vertical engine in new factory colors and polished brass flashed through my mind. Trying hard to banish any excitement from my voice, I attempted to casually ask what kind of engine he was selling. He didn't know what kind of engines they were-- good Lord, there was more than one!-- but he was trying to buy rather than sell. Aw shucks! Still my curiosity was fully aroused. As we continued our conversation, I explained that it was impossible to estimate the value of an engine without knowing the make, model, condition, etc. Further, just because it was in a crate didn't necessarily mean it was new, or even operable. The fellow thanked me for my time, the information, and closed the conversation. As I walked back to the lathe, that vision of a rare engine flashed by again and I thought no, that would be too good to be true; more likely a worn-out modern machine, a compressor perhaps, crated up tor shipment to a repair facility and lost in transit that had been mistaken as a flywheel engine. Over the years I had experienced several exciting calls about old engines that turned out to be old horizontal compressors upon closer inspection. Oh well, back to reality and the work at hand.

A couple of weeks later a car drove up to the shop and I recognized one of the occupants as an ex-county official. The other fellow introduced himself and his friend, explaining he was the one who had called about the new engines in the crates. They had decided to use their lunch hour to learn more about flywheel engines. That vision of a rare engine flashed back; or maybe these fellow had stumbled onto something after all! I showed them several engines, and they were attracted to an early 3 HP Fairbanks-Morse 'Z' open crank engine. They thought the engines they'd found resembled this engine, but were bigger and slightly different. I showed them the brass nameplate and explained that if these engines were new they'd have a maker's plate on them. With that information and some idea of the condition, were they frozen and broken, free to turn, etc., we might be able to estimate a fair price. There was no hint as to where the engines were but a remark was made that it was awfully dark and there was no lifting equipment. Apparently there were several engines. While I had no intention of trying to interfere with their find, my curiosity was aroused once again.

Less than two hours later the fellow called with the nameplate information: 'Fairbanks-Morse' Type Z, Style C, self oiling, 6 HP @ 600 rpm--7 HP @ 700 rpm.' 'The engines turn free and appear in good condition.' A late engine, not quite as nice as that fleeting vision, but a good find nevertheless! I told him what they'd found and my estimated value. Just how do you value a new-old engine?! Still no hint of the whereabouts of the engines, but certainly less than two hours distance from the shop--little did I know! Some engine buddies and I spent many a bull-session wondering where these engines might be. Best guess was a civil defense or military warehouse. We were stymied.

A few weeks later, a shiny red Cadillac came wheeling in the driveway towing a two wheeled trailer with--my gosh!--a new Fairbanks-Morse Z-C engine in a rough, open framed crate with the shipping tags fluttering in the wind!! Talk about engine shock! It was the ex-county official and he explained that he'd purchased one of the engines and wished to hire me to get it running. We skidded the engine off the trailer and after leaving his phone number, he hurried off leaving me to savor his find.

It was a brand new engine alright, slightly weathered with faded paint, but no serious rust. The hand crank and fuel filler tube was strapped to a skid. Shipping tags indicated that the engine had originally been shipped from Fairbanks-Morse and Company, 315 Whitehall St., S. W., Atlanta 3, Georgia, to Kester Machinery Company, Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Also attached was an inspection ticket marked 'ok May 1951.' More of mystery; how had the engine gotten back to the outskirts of Atlanta?


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