Antique Oldenburg Engine: 1928 Fairbanks-Morse 80 hp Diesel
An Indiana antique machinery club restores the powerhouse of a Catholic academy and motherhouse
Bob Kiefer, in plaid shirt, and Roger Pettit, in white cap with red bill, keep the restored Oldenburg engine fired up at last year's Franklin County (Ind.) Antique Machinery Club Show in Brookville.
The 1928 Fairbanks-Morse 80 hp diesel engine spent its working life producing electricity for an Oldenburg, Ind., Catholic academy and motherhouse.
Then, idled by alternating current technology, the 80 hp diesel engine sat silent for 16 years mostly in a barn with only varmints for company.
Today, though, it’s restored and running again – thanks to members of the Franklin County (Ind.) Antique Machinery Club. They plan to have it fired up for their annual show, Sept. 26-29, at the Franklin County Fairgrounds in Brookville.
Back on April 12, 1928, the sisters of St. Francis in Oldenburg signed the original contract to purchase the engine and its generator from Fairbanks, Morse & Company of Cleveland. The cost was $8,726 (nearly $92,000 in today’s terms).
The sisters planned to use the machinery to provide electricity to the Oldenburg academy, which they operated, and to their motherhouse.
The outfit they bought included the 80 hp VA diesel engine with an attached 50 kw DC generator. The engine had two cylinders, which ran at 300 rpm; a 12-inch bore and 15-inch stroke; and a type “H” two-stage air compressor belt, which ran at 3 hp. It also had a type “DH” 115-volt DC motor and a switchboard that met the National Electric Code. The gross weight was 21,175 pounds
Fairbanks-Morse company installed it and a 12,000-gallon fuel oil tank, which had a hand-operated gear pump to transfer oil from the storage tank to the engine’s fuel tank; FM engineers supervised the installation for $15 per day.
The sisters requested that the unit be tested two eight-hour days, after which the company was notified in writing of their approval of the purchase. They operated the engine on the fourth shift, which was at night; the sisters ran four 6-hour shifts daily and used coal-fired boilers in the daytime.
In 1928, according to their records, fuel oil produced 39,310 kilowatt-hours at 8 cents per gallon, with an additional $125 paid for a 250-gallon drum of lubricating oil. The cost per kwh worked out to 0.0123 cents, for a total of $484.87. Steam, on the other hand, had a cost of 0.05 cents per kwh, for a total of $1,965.50.
As the years passed, though, purchasing appliances that used direct current became more difficult, and eventually, the sisters had to switch to alternating current. By the early 1970s, the engine had been phased out – although it remained in its longtime location in the academy’s boiler room.
In December 1983, though, Dennis Schrank of Oldenburg purchased it, and before he moved it, he had it started “one last time.”
Then, with help from family and friends, he rolled the engine 30 feet on four treated, round poles to two steps and then used jacks to lift it up the steps and out of the building.
Two wheel tracks, 10 inches deep, were dug into the ground to lower the drag on the trailer, making it as easy as possible to load the engine for transport from that point.