LaBelle Engine Works


| September/October 1994

802 Shady brook Holland, Michigan 49424

Most of us have various stories as to when our interest in steam really started. Mine started when I was six or seven.

Every summer always included a couple weeks stay with my Grampa (Bill Deachin) over in Ubly, Michigan. One particular summer, Grampa took me to a steam show. It was one of the groups over in the Thumb of Michigan area. We had a blast, while Gramma patiently (I think) waited in the car. The next few summer stays were spent cruising to various local shows and to the few remaining engines in the area. One summer I arrived and was led into the neatly packed garage (Grampa was a pack rat) to see a 1 HP McCormick Deering resting under his bench. His dad had bought it new, but it was left behind when the farm was sold a few decades earlier. On a whim, Grampa visited the present owner and they went for a walk to one of the old out buildings. There, under an old oil cloth, sat the old engine. A deal was made and the farmer dropped it off for us to play with. We had a good time learning and playing with the old engine. When he passed on, it came my way and still remains in my archives.

In junior high, MY first engine came along. Dad had located an old Fairbanks Morse 5 HP 'Z' at a deer camp up near Alpena, Michigan, where I lived until recently. It was in pretty rough shape. You know no mag, cracked water jacket, rusted in piston, valves frozen, brass pieces missing. A pretty much 'standard as-find' condition.

Dad kind a figured it would end up being 'a good learning experience' (i.e., it'll never run), but my first restoration was under way! Not knowing what it really was missing, I kept on cleaning and painting. About the time I was realizing that I now owned a painted up piece of useless cast iron, the deer camp owner showed up with an old Dupont dynamite box with the pieces that were missing off the engine. He'd removed them years earlier to fix a few worn parts, but never put them on, and consequently lost track of them. A month or so later, the ol' Fairbanks barked to life. I also discovered the painful correlation between bad ignition timing and hand cranks. Ouch!

Through high school, five other one-lungers followed in its skid marks across the work shop floor. One afternoon, while the latest restoration was barking in the backyard and the smell of burning Rust-Oleum was in the air, I came to realize that these engines, though fun to restore, were about as much fun to operate as an electric motor. (Sorry, internal combustion fans.) It was about then that I decided to abandon the gas hobby and concentrate on my real yearning: steam.