Submitted by Larry Evans  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Starting a 1911 50 hp. Fairbanks Morse type RE engine.  This is a 2 cylinder vertical engine running on gasoline.  Engine is a standard 4 stroke cycle, equipped with ignitors and uses compressed air for starting.  This engine is located in the power house where it was originally installed and is directly connected to a 120 VDC 40KW generator.  It supplied electrical power for the astronomical observatory located at Mt. Wilson, California.

  1. Start electric air compressor to fill storage tanks.
  2. Hook up garden hose to cooling system to fill water jackets.  Make sure drain valve is closed and then turn on water.  Keep filling until the overflow water is heard running in the adjacent shower room. Originally this was the only source of warm showers on the grounds.
  3. While the air tanks and water jackets are filling start climbing up on the engine with pump type oiler in hand and start lubricating everything that moves that is not lubricated by one of the built in systems.  There are many different linkages, pivot points, etc. that need attention.  While up on the engine also turn the grease cups on the valve rocker arms in some.   Also check that the reservoir for the drip oiler system has sufficient oil.
  4. Open the proper shutter in the air intake system depending on weather conditions.  The engine can draw air from outside the building, inside the building or from a housing around the exhaust manifold for heated air.  Also close the shutter that is used as a choke.
  5. Open valve in oil supply line from the overhead tank that feeds the 13 dripper manifold.  Open the flipper on each dripper and check for proper drip rate in each of the 13 sight glasses.  Allow to run for a few minutes to pre-lube the bearings then close the main valve but leave drippers open.
  6. Check that the spark advance lever is in the retard position for starting.
  7. Open vents in the fuel system at level of intake manifold and then use manual lever on the cam driven fuel pump to fill glass fuel bowl.
  8. After two minutes of pumping and nothing happens then remember to open vent on fuel tank and also the valve between tank and fuel pump and try again.  Stop when fuel bowl is full.
  9. Open needle valve for each cylinder appropriate amount for starting.  The needles happen to be ground to different tapers so it is not the same for each one.
  10. Move "air start" lever to start position.  This converts one of the cylinders to an air operated motor for starting by changing the valve timing.  The intake valve is kept closed all the time and the exhaust valve opens every time the piston moves up.  There is an additional valve on this cylinder that admits compressed air every time the piston is just beyond top dead center when it is open to rotate the engine.
  11. Open the compression release valve on each cylinder.
  12. Manually turn flywheels until pistons (they move simultaneously) are just past top dead center.
  13. Close compression release valves.
  14. Turn on switch that supplies power to the small motor that turns the low voltage generator that supplies the ignitors and close the knife switch for each ignitor.  
  15. Open valve in oil supply line.
  16. Open compressed air valve and engine should start turning over.
  17. If all is well after a few revolutions the "non converted" cylinder should fire.
  18. Close compressed air valve.
  19. Move the air start lever to the "run" position changing this cylinder back to an internal combustion mode.
  20. Move the ignition advance lever to the "run" position.
  21. Open the choke.
  22. By now the engine should be running on both cylinders and you should twiddle (technical term) the needle valves to achieve smooth operation.
  23. Open the cooling water valve.
  24. Step outside and enjoy the sound of 2600 cubic inches firing through a 6 inch straight exhaust pipe.
  25. For shut down, close needle valves and kill power to the ignitors and then shut off oilers, cooling water, fuel, etc.