Recovery and Restoration of a 25-Ton Bucyrus Steam Shovel

The Ohio Valley Antique Machinery group shares the story of their efforts to restore a Bucyrus steam shovel in time for their annual show.

Bucyrus Shovel before restoration

This is what it looked like when we found it.

Photos courtesy of the Ohio Valley Antique Machinery group

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Editor's note: This story was submitted by the Ohio Valley Antique Machinery, Inc. group of Georgetown, Ohio. 

It was a nice brisk January day in 1974 when Joe Martin and I decided to check on the condition of a steam shovel that was located in Remington, Ohio. I had seen the steam shovel some fifteen years earlier. It may not be there now, for a lot can happen in that period of time.

As we drove up in the driveway of an old 2-story red brick house, we could see off in the distance some 500 feet what appeared to be some rusty angle iron and structural steel. The dead weeds and green honeysuckle were so thick you couldn't be sure what it was you were looking at.

We immediately parked the car in the drive and proceeded to investigate. Finding no one home at the house, we walked in the direction of the rusty iron. When we got within 100 feet of it, our pace quickened, for sure enough it was still there, but much more deteriorated than fifteen years earlier.

The roof was gone. Some of the piping had been removed and weeds, briars and honeysuckle had grown up all around the shovel. After climbing up on it and looking it over for about half an hour, we wondered where the owner was, if it was for sale and what he would want for it.

We walked back to the old red brick house to seek information. When the lady answered the door, she told us to go up the road five more houses to see a widow by the name of Mrs. Charles Link. We drove up there, but nobody was home, so we headed back home, planning to contact Mrs. Link at a later date.

That evening I decided to look in the phone book to see if there was a telephone listing for Mr. Link. Sure enough there was, and a phone call was made.

Mrs. Link said that she didn't own the steam shovel anymore even though it was still on her property. A man named Richard Carmel had bought it about eight years before and was planning to restore it. I told her that we (OVAM) were looking at it. Then Mrs. Link gave me the telephone number of Richard Carmel.

The next night I called Mr. Carmel and we talked for about an hour. We both knew a lot of the same people, but we had never met each other.

Richard had bought the shovel to keep it from going to the scrap yard, and with dreams of restoring it. He had corresponded with the Bucyrus Erie Company and had some prints on it, along with letters from other people around the country that had experience and advice to give him on steam shovels.

Mr. Carmel was head engineer over the Reading, Ohio electrical power plant, run with steam turbine. His work was so demanding of his time that he hadn't found time to get the steam shovel moved so that he could really get into the restoration of it.

Richard told me that he had other chances to sell, but still had dreams of restoring the shovel, so I gave him my telephone number and told him to give me a call should he change his mind.

About two weeks later Richard called one evening and said he had decided to sell the shovel. The reason for selling to OVAM was that it was close and he would get to see it operate.

OVAM had a meeting at Earl Pringle's House on February 10, 1974. Discussion was brought up regarding purchasing a steam shovel. I had put together a folder with polaroid pictures of the shovel, listing of items that Mr. Carmel had at his home and the price. A committee was formed, consisting of Stanley Mack, Joe Martin, Jimmy Gifford, Herb Limining, Earl Pringle, Wilbur Shaffer and David Dunn to go look at the shovel at the end of the meeting.

After the committee reported back to me later that evening, Mr. Carmel was called and I confirmed to him that OVAM would take the shovel. After a discussion was held among some of the members of OVAM, it was agreed  that the shovel would have to be disassembled in order to move it. Earl Pringle went down and took a roll of pictures of the shovel from various angles so that we would have some reference pictures when we put it back together.

A group of members, Herb Limming, Jimmy Gifford, Lannie Redman, went down in April, 1974 and removed the smokestack and other parts that could be lifted by hand. Don Conley, a contractor from Sardina, Ohio was called and contracted to haul the shovel to Georgetown, Ohio.

Another group of members of OVAM consisting of myself, Joe Martin, Earl Pringle, Wilbur Shaffer and Glenn Hill met Don Conely down at the shovel to disassemble it further. Mr. Conley had taken his Case backhoe down and used it to remove the boiler, bucket and boom with the Krouter engine on it. The boiler was taken to Earl Pringle's house, the boom to my house and the bucket to Bill Stevens' house.

We had made a lot of progress that day, but the hard part was yet to come. The track and turntable assembly was still intact with both the swing engine and hoisting engine still on it. We estimated that the weight of what was left to be twelve to fourteen tons. We greased the wheels of the track and sprayed all of the joints of the track with kerosene and called it a day.

About three weeks later, Mr. Conley took his Bantam gasoline crane down and used the winch on the main drum to pull the shovel around. We had to move the shovel about fifty feet around a 90 degree bend in order to get lined up with the drag. After breaking a couple of steel cables, the shovel was in position to be pulled up onto the drag. This became quite a task for the drag was only eight feet wide, while the track was ten feed wide, outside to outside. This meant it had to go up on the drag almost dead center or it would slide off. It took about four tries before we made it. One of the reasons for all the trouble was that one track rolled about twice as easily as the other side. Mr. Conley worked parts of three days before this feat was accomplished.

On Monday, May 20, 1974 the shovel left her home on Link Road where it had been for approximately forty years and went to Georgetown to Director Herb Limming's used car lot.

To a few local people at Georgetown, it looked like a piece of junk, and there was doubt in their minds that we would ever get it back together. I would have to agree with them that it didn't look like much and it would make you shudder to think of the hours of work ahead of us.

During the next few weeks, Earl Pringle  cleaned the rust scale and mice nest out of the boiler and put the hand plates in. David Dunn and I went over and put a hydrostatic test of 210 lbs. on the boiler. Other than a couple of pipe plugs and a hand plate leaking a few drops of water, the boiler seemed to be O.K.

Herb Limming had immediately set to work putting a new section of steel in the water tank. We had to stop activities on the shovel then and spend all of our spare time putting the 1974 show on because it was coming up on Aug. 9, 10 and 11. During the show, Mary Mack had placed on the grand stand a display board with various pictures we had taken during the dismantling and moving of the shovel.

In September of 1974 Mr. Hill came out to my house and cleaned the valve and piston rods on the Krouter engine then repacked them. Mr. Hill, I and Earl Pringle fired up the 20 horsepower Farquar Steam Engine and hooked a steam line to the Krouter engine. The steam was turned on and in a matter of minutes, the engine was running. Mr. Link, who was the original owner, was always known to oil everything down with oil and we were glad that he did.

On December 29, 1974 a group met up at the shovel and removed the swing engine and base. This group consisted of Stan Mack, Earl Pringle, Joe Martin, myself and Bruce Hauck. These parts were taken over to Earl Pringle's house for cleaning, making two bearing caps and a valve stem rod.

One day when Earl Pringle was over at my house cleaning on the boom and other various parts, orange paint was detected under one of the brackets. So it was decided that orange and black would be the colors of the shovel.

Toward the end of March, 1975, a group consisting of Earl Pringle, Herb Limming, Larry Back, Dwight Bogart and Bill Stevens spent a whole day steam cleaning the base and track assembly.

On April 25, 1975 we had the boom swing engine and boiler painted and ready for assembly. So on Saturday, April 26, a group went to Georgetown to assemble parts of the shovel. Charley Meyers, a Brown County Commissioner and contactor was called on to bring his high loader over and within four hours we had assembled the boom, swing engine, boiler and water tank back on the shovel. That four hours made the biggest improvement in the looks of the shovel that was ever made. The rest of the way was a slow process.

We then called on Gene Talley to come over and paint primer on the parts of the shovel that still weren't painted. Herb Limming and Earl Pringle took to the task of putting the roof and siding on, while I and David Dunn put the piping on the boiler. We installed a 1-inch leader and a 1-inch Penberthy injector. Tom Kautine donated three tricox and a new 1-inch whistle base. We fired the boiler on May 24 to see how the injectors and valves would work. The safety valve had been reworked by Richard Carmel. It went off at 60 lbs. pressure, so we reset it three or four times until we got it to pop off at 125 lbs. Then we tried the injectors and they both worked, so we called it a day after blowing the whistle a few times.

During the next three weeks, we spent all of our spare time repiping all three engines. Glenn Hill came up and cleaned the valve stems and piston rods and then repacked them. Mr. Hill is a young man of 90.

Toward the end of June we thought we would fire the shovel and run it around the lot. But little did we know how much work was still to be done. We tried the swing engine first. David Dunn and Earl Pringle kept adjusting the valve on the engine that we had put a new valve stem in. We got it to go around on the track. Everybody had a grin from ear to ear. When we started the big engine and engaged the clutch to propel it on the ground, all we got was water coming out of the smoke stack about 20 feet high. We were only running a third of a glass of water, but it certainly pulled over.

We decided that the oil and grease that Mr. Link had put into the boiler to keep it from deteriorating twenty years ago were causing it to foam. Earl Pringle went up a couple of days later and kept the boiler hot for twelve hours with caustic soda on it, then flushed it out with clean water for a couple of hours.

The next weekend we tried again. This time, we were able to move it but found out we had a drive chain that was stretched so badly that it was climbing the sprocket. Earl Pringle, Stan Mack and I took the chain home and bored every link out and bushed it, then put all new pins in it. This was quite a job because the chain had 82 links in it.

The boiler was still pulling over a little bit. I called Lou Brown (Engineer over the locomotives at Kings Island) and Richard Carmel and told them about the problem. They came over to the shovel in a few days and looked it over. They suggested that the water column was a little bit too high for the vertical boiler.

After this alteration, the shovel seemed to be working fairly well. Tom Buller had finished welding the three-quarter-yard bucket and it was also attached. George Britenbacker, with a half-dozen other members, finished the painting of the shovel, with John Metcalf doing all of the lettering. We had made it with about ten days to spare before our show time.

On Saturday August 2, 1975 we moved the shovel from Herb Limming's car lot to the fair grounds, a distance of about two miles. We had about 30 of the officers, directors and members on hand that morning at 6:00 a.m. We moved it about 50 feet on its own power and decided it would be easier on all of us if we towed it down to the fair ground. Now you don't pull a 25-ton steam shovel down the street with a pick-up truck. We called on Charley Myers again with his 4-wheel drive loader, and Carl Swofe (a local tractor dealer) with a 4-wheel drive 150 hp diesel tractor. The units together could pull the shovel rather easily. The City of Georgetown furnished one of their trucks with a bucket to lift the low wires over the shovel. The shovel was moved down old Route 68 through the main section of town and past the County Courthouse. People of all ages were watching the huge piece of equipment being moved. By 11 a.m. we had reached the fair grounds.

The shovel was on display and under steam all three days of the show, August 8, 9, and 10.

We were all rewarded for the many hours that were put into the shovel by the many nice compliments given us by spectators at the show.