Ajax Portable Engine Restoration

After decades of neglect, a Farquhar Ajax portable engine patiently awaits an engine restoration.

Ajax Portable Engine Restoration - enveloped in trees

It took several hours of cutting to clear a path so the engine could be pulled into a clearing and prepped for transport to its new home.

Wayne Murphy

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On Sept. 11, 2004, I traveled with my cousin Scott Fitzmorris to Bethlehem, N.H., to pick up a vintage Ajax portable threshing machine manufactured by A.B. Farquhar Co. Ltd., York, Pa. I purchased the engine from Daniel Tucker and his brother George Tucker Jr., who inherited it from their late father, George Tucker Sr. The engine originally belonged to the LaFlamme family of Littleton, N.H., and was auctioned off in 1972, which is when George Tucker Sr. purchased it.

After a few hours of cutting, we removed the Ajax from the trees. While taking stock of all the parts and preparing it for transport, we discovered the main support for the front axle (the support, or pivot, was often called a "fifth wheel") had grown quite weak. The 160-mile venture to its new home in Barnstead, N.H., was taken with great care.

More Questions than Answers

The Ajax is now comfortably settled. As we embark on an engine restoration, we are asking the steam community for knowledgeable help about this particular unit. We are in need of certain details of the operational mechanics of this machine, and in fact are still trying to nail down the size and the precise year the boiler was constructed.

From my experience with boilers, the number of tubes in this boiler (36 2-inch tubes) and the size of the flywheel (4-foot 6 inches) suggest this engine could be a 50 HP or larger. This is just an educated guess; I have nothing to base it on other than prior knowledge of regular steam boilers.

We need to know what kind of gauges and what type of steam whistle was on the machine. We are missing the driver's seat, along with the action it would have had to control the rear brake mechanism. The brake mechanism that is there now can be set by hand, but an operator would have to be able to control braking when using oxen or horses to transport the machine. We would be interested in learning what type of pad actually pushed against the wheel; was it made of leather or of a man-made material of some sort along with wood?

The engine's Pickering governor was made in Portland, Conn., and shows a manufacturing date of 1907. We have little information on this particular governor, and we'd like to confirm when Pickering governors of this type were produced. To the best of our knowledge the governor is fully intact. However, a tension guide runs from the governor to the main flywheel, and we need to confirm the length of the arm and the length and size of the strap, along with the correct pulley or controlling arm that was on the side of the governor.

The Ajax's ash pan is also in need of full replacement. It sat close to the ground for many years, and the potash deteriorated it. We understand that when re-tubing these engines most people are using steel, but we're curious if anyone has ever re-tubed with stainless steel? Further, this model had supports at the rear and at the front of the machine to hold the stack when it was laid down; we don't know what they looked like. The hinged cast iron lid the stack attaches to is fully intact, but we will have to replace the stack itself. We are trying to confirm what the spark arrestor should look like.

The original damper still resides inside the main flue underneath the stack lid, but we don't have any idea how the handle or mechanical mechanism for the flue would have been operated or controlled; was it mechanical, or did it have weights? We are also looking for a good, clear picture — or perhaps a measured drawing — of the original front smokebox door. The boiler measures 36 inches in diameter and the boiler steel is 3/8-inch thick.

Some portables had a rear deck where an operator could stand or stack wood (it was really more of a standing platform), and some machines had a platform halfway up the boiler on the driver's side; we're unsure if the Ajax was originally so equipped.

The sight gauges are gone, as is the whistle — anything that had brass on it seems to be stripped off this machine. Some parts of the piston housing are made of bronze; perhaps this information will help date the machine.

Farquhar offered straw-burning fireboxes on special order, but we know this engine burned wood and was purchased by the LaFlamme family in the 1930s to handle a Bell sawmill. Farquhar also made sawmills, but we have yet to locate anyone in the Northeast who has a Farquhar sawmill.

Some of the parts on this engine carry the marking "LB." The hubs on the wheels are marked LB 148, and some parts on the boiler are marked LB 180, LB 181 and LB 182. We are trying to find out what LB stands for. Also, we do not know if the tongue was designed for two or four horses. Coming from the White Mountains of New Hampshire, as it does, we feel the rugged terrain where the sawmills were running would have required a minimum of four horses to pull the Ajax. But here again, we are not 100 percent sure.

The rear stub-axles are mounted on springs. Each axle has a coil spring with an adjustment, and we are under the impression the adjustment nut and bolt would have been cranked down when the machine was stationary and loosened when transporting across open roads and trails. We will most likely end up with more questions as we continue this project.