1895 Rider-Ericsson Hot-Air Pumping Engine
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One of the biggest challenges? Much of the lining for the firebox was missing.
“Each brick in the box was numbered,” he says. “They fit together like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. But half of them were gone.”
The firebox consists of two pieces, so Steve made a couple of molds.
“I made wood patterns to fit each half, made a batch of fire clay (actually, several batches, learning by trial and error), and poured a liner for each half,” he explains. So far, it’s worked. “It’s held up for five years,” he says.
The transfer piston also presented a problem. The Rider-Ericsson has two pistons in one cylinder. One, though, was rusted and gone. “We have a good sheet metal guy in this area,” Steve says. “He formed a new shell for the piston, using 16 gauge sheet metal, and I heli-arced it together. It’s just as good as the original.”
Other than the piston and the firebox, the rest of the restoration was pretty basic, he says: “The engine itself is simple enough. It’s pretty straightforward, how it went together.”
More than 100 years after it was manufactured, Steve’s Rider-Ericsson “runs pretty well,” he says.
“The biggest problem I have with it is that I get to talking to people at shows, and I let the fire go out,” he says. “It’s very temperature dependent: It’s got to have a fire going under it.”
Steve’s is set up with a wood burner, although the original stove would burn wood or coal. To keep the engine running steadily, he needs to add a piece of wood – generally he uses oak – every 20 minutes.
One great engine, of course, is never enough. But Steve’s second Rider-Ericsson takes a different course: It’s a fully operational 1/3-scale model of his big Rider-Ericsson.
“It’s kind of neat to have a little guy that can sit next to the full-size engine,” he says.
The model, just recently completed, has a 2-inch bore and 1-inch stroke, and is 16 inches tall at the top of the flywheel. The kit engine was composed mainly of aluminum castings of the major components. All the brass, bronze and steel parts were made from stock material. The model is constructed and operates exactly like the full-size engine, including the burner. More ornate legs on the model are the only difference. Propane is used to fuel the model.
“I’d had the kit for a long time,” Steve says. “Basically the first Stirling engine I’d ever seen was that model.”
Building the model – the second one he’d done – was not exactly a day at the beach.