Saturday, April 15, 2017

Fairbanks-Morse Stationary Engines

In the dog eat dog world of corporate mergers and acquisitions, Fairbanks-Morse has to be counted a survivor. The company traces it’s origin back to 1832 when Thaddeus Fairbanks patented a design for a platform scale and formed a company to manufacture and market them. By the time this engine was produced in 1925, the firm was already ninety-three years old and the company is still going strong today.

Fairbanks commercial scales were a success and were marketed around the world. During the 1870’s Charles Morse was an employee who became a partner in the firm as a result of his role in acquiring the Eclipse brand windmills and pumps. Under the banner of Fairbanks-Morse Co. the product line continued to diversify. The 1890’s saw expansion into internal combustion engine production with a naphtha burning engine in 1893, kerosene in 1900, coal gas 1905, semi-diesel 1913 and finally to the subject of this post , the true high compression full diesel stationary engine in 1924.

The model Y semi-diesel engine was offered with one to six cylinders producing 30 to 200 horsepower in 1914. By 1924 the Y-VA, their first full diesel model was in production. It was upgraded and rebranded as the Model 32 in 1925.
This engine is powering a sawmill at the Richland Creek Antique Fall Festival at Saluda, South Carolina in November 2016. The sign mounted beside it describes it as a 50 horsepower diesel that prior to 1940 ran a cotton gin in Chesterfield, SC. That was about all the information that was available since I didn’t see any data plates on the engine but if it was manufactured in 1925 it’s reasonable to assume it is a Model 32.

The Model 32 was available in two sizes: a 1696 cubic inch displacement engine with a 12” bore and 15” stroke producing 40 to 50 horsepower that was offered with one to three cylinders and a 2617 cubic inch version with a 14” x 17” bore / stroke yielding 60 to 75 horsepower in one to six cylinder configurations.
The following weekend I photographed this Fairbanks-Morse engine while attending the Cumming Steam, Antique Tractor and Gas Engine Expo. This example illustrates how the cylinders could be ganged together to meet the horsepower requirements of the application.

These engines were remarkably simple in design which in turn made them very reliable. Economical operation and a long service life made them a popular choice for powering a variety of industrial applications in the days before widespread electrification.

They also saw service powering refrigeration equipment and generating electricity. There is a photograph of a Type Y engine powering an electrical generation plant in Southwest Florida posted at that looks very similar to this engine that is owned by the City of Cumming, Ga.

Finally, here’s a brief video clip of the Richland Creek engine powering a sawmill demonstration.


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