We had a very unique display at the Midnight Sun Cruise-In a few weeks ago. Alan James of Fairbanks brought his 1906 Fairbanks-Morse engine to the car show and talked about how these big machines were used to power the wireless transmitters along the Washington-Alaska Military Cable and Telegraph System. He then gave a lively demonstration on how to start the engine, which was similar to this description I found on-line:
"A kitchen match was loaded into a special plunger, and then screwed into a portal in the combustion chamber. After rotating the flywheel to bottom dead center of the compression stroke, the primer cup was filled with some gasoline, along with a little in the match hole for good measure. The match holder was then screwed into the match light portal and the flywheel was given a good heave in the reverse direction to compress the charge. The operator then hopped off at just the right time, hit the match plunger, and BLAM!!! Away it went!"
Alan discovered two of these Fairbanks-Morse engines in 2001 at the old Fort Gibbon site near the village of Tanana on the Yukon River. The engines were mounted on concrete platforms and housed in a two-story building that burned in the early 1950s. Alan had the engines barged to Nenana and shipped by rail to Fairbanks, where he restored the one pictured above. The other, a 1907 Type N-20 Special Electric, is on display at the Fountainhead Museum. These Fairbanks-Morse engines are very impressive to see. The flywheels are 6 feet in diameter and the entire unit weighs over 10,000 lbs.
Many thanks to Alan for sharing his engine at the Cruise-In!