Tuesday, April 20, 2010


It's not a baseball report. It's something that staggers the imagination. Let's say you needed a prime mover for a waterworks -- a really large waterworks, 19 million gallons a day -- and let's say it's 1926 and you live in a country with a lot of coal and a strong engineering tradition. And let's say you wanted it utterly reliable.

Of course you'd build a matched pair of 62-foot tall, 1000-bhp, triple-expansion steam engines atop directly-driven piston pumps, wouldn't you? The Brits did -- and at the time, the mammoth installation really was the best choice.*

But it is stunning. Staggering. All the more when you consider the pair of engines remained in service until 1980! And why not; they worked.

Best of all, after the engines were honorably retired, steam enthusiasts adopted them! It took a new boiler and an enormous effort, but one of the engines runs again, under steam -- and yes, they have public demonstrations.

I have been a big admirer of steam enthusiasts ever since I met the crew who rescued the old locomotive from Broad Ripple Park; but this effort is on a truly heroic scale.

...And in a few days, I'll link to another engine, earlier but just as ambitious and built, in its unique way, in a similar scale.
*This was to change, soon after -- and they followed the technology, as you'll see.


  1. When I was a kid I had a little steam engine toy, a static gadget with a boiler heated by Sterno and a piston-driven flywheel. I loved that thing!

  2. There's an annual Threshers and Collectors Show near Albert City IA. They have a couple of operating stationary engines including a huge Fairbanks-Morse 3 cylinder Diesel and a Corliss steam with a 6 or 7 foot flywheel.

    A fun weekend, with all sorts of large and small engines, farm machinery, even ice cream churned with a small John Deere stationary engine.

  3. How about an 1860s-vintage 47-ton balance-beam? And look at the Victorian ornamentation! (more pictures beyond that one)

  4. There's a Steam Engine Museum in RI and they have steam meets. And to top it off they have a wireless museum with a working spark gap transmitter, that they do fire up on *special* occasions. (FCC allowing)