We Need A BIG Engine!
Bob Elliott, left, and Ron Norrie with the 1,200 pound flywheel, which had been taken off and replaced with a V-belt pulley.
12353-212 St. Maple Ridge, British Columbia, Canada V3Z 1G3
My story started on one hot summer day in June of 1988. I was
sitting with an old school buddy, Ron Norrie, a fellow engine
collector who I got hooked into the hobby. We were discussing what
a pain small engines are. You are always wrestling with them, in
and out of the truck at meets and back home again. They may be
small in size but not in weight. We both agreed what we really
needed was a BIG engine on a tandem trailer. We then formed a 50/50
partnership. The search was on.
There are not very many big engines in our area of British
Columbia. In Vancouver, B.C. I knew there was a 40 HP Fairbanks,
Model N. After checking it out we discovered it was too big. What
we really wanted was an engine of 15-25 HP, so that we could tow it
around. Weeks went by and many phone calls later we came up
empty-handed. Nothing! I then phoned an old friend, Lee Hetterly,
in Everson, Washington to find out if he knew of any engines for
sale and he did.
Off we went to see Lee. Lee has been an engine collector for
years. We arrived to find him working on his 1947 Diamond T truck,
on which he has mounted his 1?, 6 and 10 HP McCormick Deering
How about the engine? Lee tells us he has a 25 HP Superior side
shaft engine. Can we see it? Well, not really... the engine is
still in the Sunburst Oil Fields, near Shelby, Montana. 800 miles
The engine is still sitting in the engine house where it was
installed in 1925. The engine was used to pump oil from 10 wells
until the mid-1930's when power came to the fields. The
original owners of the engine took off a flywheel and replaced it
with a v-belt pulley and removed the rod and piston. They ran it
with an electric motor still using the rod line and pumps. Lee
assures us that this is a good engine. So, we decide to take it. A
price is agreed upon. Now when can we get it? Lee says we should
wait until late summer, early fall when the weather cools down a
bit. We decided to go on the Labour Day weekend, which turned out
to be the hottest time of the year. Three months of planning our
trip and wondering, how do we get that flywheel back on? How are we
going to get the engine out of the engine house? What condition is
the engine really in? Time will tell.
August 3, the Puget Sound Antique Threshing Association Annual
Threshing Bee. We meet Lee and finalize our plans and figure out
what we need for the job ahead.
Before we know it September is here and Ron and I are on our way
to Everson. Montana next stop!
About sixteen hours later we arrive in Shelby, a small town
about twenty miles from the oil field. We get a motel, have some
breakfast and change into our work clothes. We then head for
Sunburst to meet Frank. He once owned the engine and will go to the
oil fields with us. Frank was also the owner of Lee's Diamond T
truck. After introductions, we follow Frank. When we pull off the
highway I spot a tin shed about a hundred yards off the highway
with a stack sticking out of the roof. Sure enough, Frank headed
straight for that tin building. This is it! Finally after sixteen
hours driving and three months of planning, we're there! The
first thing we see when we pull up is the flywheel lying out front.
I couldn't get the door open fast enough. There it was. Nobody
had been in the shed for a very long time. Looking around the
building we see the engine is still as it was when it was installed
some sixty years ago.
There are spare parts laying all over the place. Just at a
glance I see two magnetos, two pistons and rods, three governors,
piles of rings, gaskets, a new exhaust cage and a set of side shaft
gears. Frank says we can have anything in the shed. We don't
have enough room!!! But now we have to get to work and get the
engine out. Ron and Lee discuss how we are going to do it. They
have a plan, sounds easy. We'll see!
The first thing we have to do is get off the 5' v-belt
pulley and put the flywheel on. The pulley came off easy but now we
have to lift up the flywheel and roll it back into the engine
house. Well, I'll tell you that that flywheel is heavy. It was
all the four of us could do to lift it.
We cleaned the crankshaft, filed out the flywheel hub, but there
was no way it would go on. When they originally took off the
flywheel they beat it off. They beat on it so hard there was a flat
spot on the hub. We filed and filed but not really making much
progress. Out comes the 20 pound hammer, Ron's favorite tool.
We blocked the flywheel until it was lined up. Ron got it started,
I held a block of wood on the hub while Frank and Lee steadied the
wheel, and Ron beat it on! It went on ? inch and stopped. Now what?
Lee put the bolt back in and tightened it up. They say it won't
fall off. Boy, I hope they are right. It's scary rolling the
engine out on those flywheels. Now we disconnect the natural gas
line, the cooling lines, take off the clutch pulley and anchor
bolts. We have to jack the engine up high enough to get the pipes
under the base and get it over the anchor studs. The engine would
not break loose! We started digging around in the dirt and grease
and found that they had cemented over the base of the engine. The
cement has to be broken away from the base. Then it comes easy. We
get the pipes underneath and the engine starts to roll easily. Lee
backed the trailer to the door and we blocked the ramps on the
trailer, hooked up the winch, and out it came. It rolled easily on
those big flywheels. It only took about three hours from the time
we arrived until we were loaded. Not bad. After loading up the
spare parts we headed out for a cold beer.
While we were sitting in the tavern, Frank told us the story of
how the field got started. Gordon Campbell drilled the first well
in northern Montana. It took eighteen months until completion, but
on March 14, 1922 at 4:00 a.m., oil and gas gushed forth and the
Kevin Sunburst Field was born. Sixty years, 4,000 wells and 73
million barrels of oil later the Sunburst field is still going
It was pretty wild in the early days. Some wells yielded 5,000
barrels a day. Frank remembers one gusher that got away from the
crew and flowed over the road off the lease where a neighbor
hastily put up a dam and sold several thousand barrels out of the
pond. Frank recalls in the 1920's when crude was 65 cents a
barrel and you couldn't sell all you had. He says, 'We
thought we were lucky when it went up to a dollar a barrel in
1936.' The Kevin Sunburst Field shows no signs of dying, just
slowing down a bit, like anything does when it gets older.
Now, if you get eight to ten barrels a day you are doing well.
Frank says this field is the closest thing to a functioning oil
museum one will find. Even today some of the technology of the
1920's is in use in the form of rod pump houses powering a
circle of well heads. Some of them still use 12 HP Fairbanks Model
ZC's running on natural gas, which they have used for over
Well, it's time to go. We thank Frank and head back to
Shelby for supper and much needed sleep. We have been up now for 33
Sunday morning, bright and early we have a good breakfast, drop
off the trailer and head back out to the field at Oil mount which
is in between Sunburst and Shelby.
The first thing we see is a 50 HP Superior. Lee climbs up on the
flywheel and it turns over easily after all these years. We went
through about thirty engine houses. We found only one complete 25
HP Superior (not for sale) and another 50 HP still in beautiful
shape. This engine looks like it was hardly ever run. In some of
the engine houses you could see where they just dragged the engine
right out through the wall. Pieces of engines lying all over the
claim. There are still quite a few Fairbanks ZC's in the field,
some still in use. Well, it's time to head back, pick up the
trailer and head home.
After a long slow trip, we arrive back at Lee's. Now we have
one more obstacle. We have to clear customs to get back into
Canada. Lee offers to pressure wash, sand blast and primer the
engine for us. We decide to take the engine to customs first and
Lee can take the engine back with him to the United States. He will
bring the engine to us the next weekend. At customs, I tell them
our plan. They are more interested in the engine than us. What is
it? Where did you get it? What did it do and so on? The customs
officer who helped us get the engine cleared was great. He looked
through his book until he found a listing... no duty. What a
relief. He tells us because the engine was used for pumping oil and
exploration, it was duty free.
We went home and Lee headed back to Everson. On the following
Saturday, Lee showed up right on time. We rolled the engine off the
trailer on the flywheels using the winch for a brake. The engine
now sits on a couple of 14 inch timbers in my garage.
We now have the engine completely stripped. The only problems we
have encountered are a stuck exhaust valve and finding someone to
hone that 12 inch cylinder. We hope to have the engine restored and
mounted on a trailer for our first meet in the new year. I would
also like to hear from anyone who has any information on Superior