Another 'Rescue' of Old Iron

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Box 2256, Bracebridge, Ontario P1L 1W4

Muskoka Pioneer Power Association in Bracebridge, Ontario heard that an abandoned sawmill in the Rankin area (near Pembroke) still had a steam engine inside. The mill had closed operations about 1963 and the building had collapsed. The owner was contacted and indicated the property was to be sold and that he had considered selling the engine for scrap.

In the Spring of 1991, four club members journeyed to Rankin and had a look at the engine to determine if it was feasible to buy, and whether they could get it out of the collapsed mill. The engine was seized, as the men were unable to turn the flywheel at all, but they came home enthused. They were full of ideas for the engine and had a plan for removal. An offer to purchase was made to the owner, and accepted.

Now the challenge to remove the engine and transport it to its new home. A fund was set up and before you could 'blink', over $500 was contributed. As is usual with these challenges, all kinds of 'advice' and 'should do's' were offered.

A second trip to the site was arranged in early July to strip the engine and develop a final plan for removal. The building held many interesting artifacts, and a family of raccoons. The old mill had a 'ghostly aura' and the men had no difficulty imagining what it must have been like in its 'hey-day'.

The third trip came in the Fall of 1991. This time winches, ropes, a 'Bobcat' crawler, several men, a heavy trailer and a video camera were canvassed from the membership, and this time it was a weekend jaunt. On Saturday, the men secured the building and cleared a path through the rubble, in order to winch the 4500 lb. engine on roller ramps to the waiting trailer. This was accomplished slowly and carefully. When it was safely loaded, the men couldn't resist trying once again to turn the flywheel, but to no avail.

The men left Rankin after lunch on Sunday, and drove to Bracebridge. At one of their many coffee breaks, they were checking the load and noticed that the flywheel had moved. Obviously all the jostling and shifting during the drive had freed it up. It could now be turned rather stiffly, but at least it was now free.

Back in Bracebridge, the engine was carefully unloaded, covered and left until the following spring when it would be an even bigger challenge to get it restored and running.

Research began right away. Up to this point, the compound engine didn't have a name. No identifying plates or marks could be found, although it did have Pickering governors. All leads were followed, and eventually contact was made with Roy Belshaw of Brantford, Ontario, a 47 year former employee of the Waterous Engine Co., and self-appointed company historian. We obtained an excellent company history, even though Belshaw couldn't give us details on the exact engine we have.

We determined with virtual certainty that we had a Waterous steam engine. Belshaw assured us that he would continue his research, and eventually we hope to determine the year of manufacture and specifications on the engine.

A description and photographs were shown to Owen Swann of Huntsville, Ontario, an engine restorer who has owned Waterous engines. He too, is reasonably certain we have a Waterous engine and perhaps a McEwen type. The McEwen is a high speed automatic engine specially designed for close governing under excessive load fluctuations, such as an electric service, mine haulage or crane work. Since the Waterous in question was not purchased new for the Grife Sawmill in Rankin, it is possible that it could be a McEwen, purchased at a good price to replace a smaller engine no longer capable of handling the load at the mill. Attempts to contact someone who might have worked at the mill, when this engine was in service, are still ongoing.

If any reader can help with more information about this engine, the writer would be most interested to hear from you. We would also like to hear from other Waterous steam engine owners in order to compile a registry.

Muskoka Pioneer Power Association is a young eight-year old club based in the heart of cottage country in central Ontario at the 45th parallel. We are in the midst of planning our eighth annual show to be held in Bracebridge on July 11 and 12, 1992. All are most welcome. We hope the steam engine can be on display, although not yet restored.