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Fairbanks Morse oil engine

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The 25-hp Fairbanks Morse oil engine in Charles Cochran's Florida backyard once powered an entire paper plant in Sanford, Fla. The Elm Street Paper Co. there produced fancy tissue used to wrap boxed fruit. Charles and a silent partner, the late David Glass, bought the engine 30 years ago, after David turned it up at the closed plant on one of his regular 'engine hunts.'

Fairbanks Morse built the 'Y'-type oil engines from 1912 to 1938. In a historical sketch about the company, the company's chief engineer wrote that experiments with oil engines began in 1912, and although some changes were made early on, the basic engine was very successful and remained the same for years.

The company reportedly experienced problems with the engines in 1913 and 1914, retrofitted all those already sold and incorporated the needed improvements in all engines manufactured from 1915 onward.

During 1924, the 25-hp model was modified too: compression was raised from 150 to 290 psi and the bore was raised from 10 to 10-1/2 inches but the stroke remained at 13 inches, and in 1925, the Y-type horizontal engines were renamed 'model 39.'

Charles says his Fairbanks Morse 'pulled everything in the paper plant,' including papermaking machines, dryers and winders. It was housed in a separate building, with an 80- or 90-foot line shaft off the side that ran under the plant. Belts then ran up through the floor to run the machinery.

Charles said he and David went down one day to size up the job of bringing the 6,000-pound engine home; it wasn't an easy task, and they had to plan the move well in order to accomplish it in a single day, as both men worked full-time jobs.

To get the engine, the men took the end out of the building in which it was housed, repaired the roof where the smoke stack had been, winched the engine out and onto a heavy-hauling truck, and then replaced the end of the building. That was in either 1969 or 1970; Charles can't remember for sure after all these years.

At the time, he says, they were told the engine hadn't run since 1953, which was when the paper company shut down. 'It was basically in good shape (because it had been under cover),' he recalls. 'It just needed a little work on the injector and on the oil counter, and it needed something under it.'

They took it home, cleaned it up, got it running and made the iron skid it remains on today.

About 1972, Dave turned up a near twin that he and Charles also bought. It dated to 1921 or 1922 and did not have a lip on the base like the older one, but everything else was the same. The second engine had powered a sawmill in Claxton, Ga.

Charles and David restored it too, and in about 1977, sold it to another Floridian, Bud Josey, who ran a horseless carriage shop in Dunedin.

Originally both engines were a 'battleship' gray, but soon after they acquired it, Charles and David painted the older one pure white. The last time Charles repainted it, he thought he had white paint again but it turned out to be very pale gray. He went ahead with the project but says next time around, he'll paint the engine white again.

Both men were original members of the Florida Flywheelers Antique Engine Club, and for years, Charles says, their 1919 Fairbanks Morse was the biggest and most-photographed engine at the Flywheelers' shows. In recent times, though, the group has had its own 150-hp Fairbanks Morse, and now has acquired a whopping 100-ton Snow engine.

Still, Charles fondly describes the 25-hp Fairbanks Morse as 'a nice engine.' Years ago, he handled the challenge of moving it from place to place with ease. Until 1975, his family own a wrecking yard, and after that, he worked for a construction firm; both places stocked equipment that could handle the job.

In 1996, though, he retired, and now he no longer has easy access to such tools. As a consequence, he's had the engine up for sale, off and on. Recently, he learned the twin engine bought by Bud Josey 25 years ago, had been sold too, to another Florida engine fan, B.Z. 'Cash' Cashman of Mayo. Reportedly, Cash went to see Bud two or three years ago about a tractor and came home instead with the engine.

- For more information on Charles' 1919 Fairbanks Morse engine, contact him at 1920 E. Church St., Bartow, FL 33830; (863) 533-8465.