5228 Clarks Mill Road, Louisville, Georgia 30434-4700
About thirty years ago, noticing a 3 HP Fairbanks-Morse model Z
in a scrap pile at a shop that repaired heavy machinery, and asking
the owner if he would sell it, I soon made up my mind when he asked
only twenty-five dollars, although at that time such things were
probably not so sought after. Being kept busy farming and trying to
pay all the bills, I put the restoring of it on the back burner
until semi-retirement three years ago.
It had no magneto but everything else was there, so with the
cylinder honed, new rings installed, and fuel system cleaned it
seemed to be in very good shape–but still no ignition system, even
though we had tried to find a mag, but could not at a decent
I began to wonder, if a few million air-cooled engines could be
sparked by a piece of magnet passing an armature, why the same idea
wouldn’t work on an eighty-year-old Fairbanks-Morse.
I mentioned the problem to the local small engine shop manager,
and so, he gave me a flywheel from an eight horsepower engine, and
sold me an armature to match it. I cut the magnet part out, leaving
enough on the ends to bolt it to the rim flange of a flywheel, and
the armature to match it at the right place.
Of course, both parts need to be ground to the right circle and
miss by ten-thousandths of an inch. If anyone should try this, they
will find the fitting of the two parts properly will be rather
tedious unless you have a well-equipped shop for precision
At 79, with a little arthritis, blood clots, and by-pass
surgery, I didn’t feel like cranking it the usual way, as it
must turn rather fast to spark well. No doubt a person in their
prime would have no trouble starting it by cranking it.
We rigged up a three and a half Briggs engine to a counter-shaft
to which flanges were secured, to which six-inch lawn mower wheels
were bolted, and the whole assembly presses against the engine
flywheels by pulling a lever. This system works fine, and needs no
troublesome battery to bother with.
We use this engine with what we call a mini-saw rig to
demonstrate at antique shows how we buzzed wood before chain saws
and automatic heating systems became the ‘in’ thing. A
number of old engine men have told me at the shows they have never
known of this type of ignition being used on old antique engines.
But, of course, it may have been, even though most of us hadn’t
heard of it.
If anyone should try this, good luck to you and be patient,
because it will work–even for me who does not claim to be the best
We used eight grade bolts through the magnet which weighs about
a pound and a half, fixing it at the end of a spoke, and soft
copper wire from a motor rewinding shop wrapped at the end of the
opposite spoke for counter-balancing.
We put on some wire, ran it, then more, until it seemed to be
the right amount, then covered it with good quality electric
I have a couple of grandsons who take to old engines so, should
the Lord tarry, they and their sons may be using this saw-rig after
I’m gone and nearly forgotten, as it appears to be good for
another eighty years. At present we are getting it ready to paint,
so it may look different in ’99 than in ’98.