Heyday of the Stirling Hot Air Engine
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The engine was originally used to spin a postcard display at a drug store in nearby Willmar, Minn. Similar engines were widely used in varied retail applications, drawing the customer’s eye and interest. Essex engines were built in the early 1900s by W.H. Smith & Co., Buffalo, N.Y.
Ventilating fans were another good match for the Stirling hot air engine, which ran quietly and worked anywhere. When missionaries traveled to hot climates in undeveloped locations, a fan powered by a hot air engine helped provide relief from the heat.
The British-made Ky-Ko fan is a classic example. The fan could be dismantled and stored in a box when not in use. It ran on widely accessible kerosene, and it operated quietly. Wesley’s collection includes about 20 similar fans made all over the world.
Vintage fans are rarely found in good condition and typically need almost as much restoration work as the antique engines used to provide power to them. Three-quarters of the fans Wesley finds are missing guards; safety was not always a top priority a century ago.
In 1919, Lake Breeze Motor Co., Chicago, produced several models of fans designed for use with Stirling engines. To accommodate hoteliers, the company manufactured fans bearing the name of various hotels. Prices started at $22.
Pulling the load with a Sterling hot air engine
Stirling hot air engines made life easier on the farm and railroad, in hotels and factories, where pumping water was a never-ending chore. Hot air engines were the ideal power source for pumps because the engine did not need watching. Once the Stirling-type engine was started, it would pump water while other chores were tended to. Coal or wood provided the heat source.
Wesley has several Stirling-type engines specifically designed to pump water, including two Rider-Ericsson engines (5-inch and 8-inch), an English-made Robinson 7-inch rated at 1/4 hp and a 10-inch DeLamater-Ericsson manufactured by DeLamater Iron Works.
Hands-on hobby: collecting antique engines
Some hot air engine enthusiasts collect antique engines; others handcraft intricately detailed replica engines. Some replicas are working models; others are for display only. Among Wesley’s favorites is an engine built by George Tibert, Pisek, S.D. “I really like the linkage, the shape of the parts and the way everything fits so tightly together in a small space,” he says. Tibert machined all of the parts but did no polishing. “It was really rough,” Wesley says. “So I took it apart and polished everything. He said he figured I spent more time on it than he did. I worked on it so long that after a while I felt like I knew him.”