Rare Engine: the Taylor Dry Steam Engine

A rare engine — the only known dry steam engine — is getting well again in Maryland.

Rare Engine - Dry Steam - Bob and Joe

Bob Frederick and Joe Rogers posing in front of their Taylor dry steam engine. It's such a rare engine this is the only verified example.

Photo: Farm Collector Magazine Staff

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If anyone out there knows of another Taylor dry steam engine — or another American 'dry steam' engine, period — Joe Rogers would like to hear about it. He won't be holding his breath, though. As far as he can tell, it's such a rare engine only one is known to exist.

'I've heard rumors that there's one in the Carolinas somewhere,' he said. 'And just maybe there's one in Paris, France.'

Joe is the caretaker at the Carroll County Farm Museum in Westminster, Md. He and his grandfather, Bob Frederick of Cockeysville, Md., have spent the past several years restoring the museum's Taylor steam engine as a volunteer project.

Patented in 1875, the engine was built in Westminster by the Taylor Manufacturing Company. The company moved to Chambersburg, Md., in the early 1880s.

'They first opened in 1852 as the Union Agricultural Works,' Joe said. 'They made saw mills, threshing machines, plows, hominy mills. As I understand it, this engine spent its life powering hominy mills. It's called a dry steam engine because the piston is encased in steam.'

Joe said there are still many things they have to learn about the engine though. 'There's a number stamped on the boiler that reads 01-01,' Joe said, 'but we don't know if that's a serial number. I'd love to know more about it.'

Joe's fascination with steam engines began when he was just a toddler and went with Bob to steam shows.

Bob stumbled upon the hobby a little later in life. 'I retired from the Baltimore County Fire Department in the 70s and wanted something else to do,' he remembers. 'So I got involved with flea markets. I wasn't a collector, but I went to a lot of steam shows and set up (a table), which is how I got interested in the engines. It's so good for the younger generation to see all this equipment. It teaches them how things were.'

Bob regularly attends the Mason-Dixon Historical Society's annual steam show event at the Carroll County Farm Museum, which opened in Westminster in 1966. The Taylor dry steam engine was one of its earliest exhibits. In 1975, the museum purchased the engine from owner Jesse Byers of Littlestown, Penn., for $5,000. That was the last time it was operational. Sadly, the engine would be mostly forgotten for two decades, until Bob and his grandson went looking for it in the museum's storage area.

'I knew it was back there somewhere,' Bob said. 'It had been sitting for more than 20 years. We were just going to free it up. The grease was hard in the grease cups. The piston was stuck. It took a lot of oil and elbow grease. The stack was full of birds' nests. There was five bushels of hay and sticks in there. We had to take the stack off to get it cleaned out.'

Joe was attending high school in Timonium, Md., at the time, but traveled with his grandfather to Westminster often, using every spare hour to work on the project. He said he has learned all he knows about steam engines by looking and listening.

'You keep your eyes open and your mouth shut,' he said. 'At shows I'd see things and learn from them. Last year I went to the Tuckahoe Steam and Gas Association steam school. It's a one day workshop on steam - it's all practical stuff. That's the only training I've had. I've learned by watching and asking questions.'

Joe spent a lot of time researching steam engine restoration and has been able to acquire some 19th century catalogs to add to his knowledge. He remembers every detail of the project.

'We matched the paint the best we could and painted it,' he said. 'All the wheels were bad so we took them to the Witman Coach Shop in New Holland, Penn. They specialize in buggy parts and wooden wheels. The wheels are cast hubs and wood wheels. Some spokes had to be replaced. The back wheels are 80 percent original and the front wheels are 50 percent.'

Joe said he had the state inspector check out the engine and learned the boiler was unsafe.

'I had not fired it,' he said. 'The boiler plate is one eighth of an inch thick which means it could blow up. I use a secondary steam source pumped directly into the engine. September 1998 was the first year we ran it for the Mason-Dixon show. We've had it belted to a thresher and it works wonderfully.'

Since the Taylor is rare, finding parts has been a real challenge for Bob and Joe. The engine is missing one of its two flywheels, and neither the governor nor the oiler are original equipment.

'The governor is a Pickering,' Joe said. 'The oiler is a Manzel. They're both old. The governor dates back to the teens.'

For Bob Frederick, the adventure of repairing the Taylor has been a great experience — and not only because he's gotten the chance to put some work in on some rusty iron. 'Joe is a grandson, but he is also a friend,' he said. 'We had a lot of fun. We got dirty together. You should have seen us the day we cleaned the firebox.'

Dottie Freeman, administrator for the Carroll County Farm Museum, said she was delighted that Joe and Bob undertook the Taylor restoration project.

'They asked permission and, of course, we said yes,' she said. 'We didn't want it to just sit there and rust. The steam engine is so much a part of the Steam Show Days.'

While trying to find information about the Taylor, Joe found an old Iron Men Album Magazine article from 1967, by Jesse Byers, the original owner of their Taylor, which, he wrote, was the only dry steam engine made in the United States. He also stated that the 'horse-drawn model Dry Steam Portable engine' was a prizewinner at the Paris Exposition in 1878, which explains the rumor that there may still be a Taylor steam engine somewhere in France. Joe Rogers would really like to know. FC


Jill Teunis is a frequent Contributor to Farm Collector. She lives and works in Damascus, MD.