Ajax Portable Engine Restoration

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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.
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Trees from the adjacent forest were slowly enveloping the Farquhar Ajax portable engine when Wayne Murphy rescued it in 2004.
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Wayne Murphy’s cousin Scott Fitzmorris made moving the Ajax possible with the use of heavy equipment he maintains for logging and excavation work.
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With the Ajax safely unloaded at its new home in Barnstead, N.H., Wayne Murphy and Scott Fitzmorris removed ancillary equipment to begin the engine restoration.
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The Ajax after loading in Bethlehem, N.H. The handbrake currently fitted to the engine is clearly visible, but what isn’t clear is whether this engine was originally supplied with a foot brake.
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A cut from an 1899 Farquhar catalog shows an Ajax portable very similar to Wayne’s. Details on Wayne’s engine, including the governor, suggest it was manufactured about 1907.

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.

In the 40 years it sat idle, trees grew up and through its works; the Ajax portable engine had been stationary so long the surrounding forest was slowly enveloping 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

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

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.

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