Crowell Manufacturing

Looking at the history of Greencastle engines and Crowell Mfg.

The old Crowell assembly building, which now houses an antique store

The old Crowell assembly building, which now houses an antique store.

Photo courtesy Mike Rohrer

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Editor's note: Regular contributor Mike Rohrer, Smithburg, Md., recently sent us some photographs of the old manufacturing facilities of Crowell Mfg. Co., Greencastle, Pa. Amazingly, the original buildings still stand. 

Looking at Mike's photos jogged a memory of Greencastle no. 159, the only known surviving steam traction engine produced by Crowell. The engine's history is known, having passed through four owners before being purchased by Bill Waters in 1961. Bill restored the engine, and wrote about his efforts and the known history of Crowell Mfg. in the November/December 1966 Iron-Men Album. His article is reprinted here, followed by Mike's photographs of Crowell Mfg. as it appears today. Willis Able bought the engine from Bill in 1998. 

The Greencastle line of machinery was built by the Crowell Mfg. Co. of Greencastle, Pa., located about 8 miles from Waynesboro, the home of Frick and Geiser. The company was founded sometime in the 1800s by a Mr. Crowell, who was joined by a Mr. Henry B. Larzelere, either as a partner or as machinist and designer.

We have been unable to find out how many Greencastle engines were built. The Greencastle Chamber of Commerce thought only a couple were built along with 13 threshers. Twelve of the threshers were returned to the factory because of imperfections with only one being paid for. This one was burned in a barn fire, and insurance paid for it.

My guess is that there were about 12 traction engines built, judging from old timers who remember hearing of such engines. Crowell Mfg. Co. also built the Greencastle grain drill, which I believe was their specialty. Farm Implement News Buyers Guide of 1890 lists the company as building threshers, portable sawmills and portable engines.

The Crowell Co. went into receivership in the late 1890s under the reign of the Rahauser Family. The Geiser Mfg. Co. of Waynesboro bought the plant about 1901, using it to build gas engines, tractors, etc. The buildings are still standing and you can see Emerson-Brantingham painted on the west side of the main building. E-B gained control of the Geiser Co. about 1913.
Mr. Larzelere was a mechanical engineer born in Willow Grove, Pa. Mr. Larzelere moved to Greencastle in 1882, probably from Doylestown, Pa. In about 1887 he moved to Muncy, Pa., and with the help of Mr. Brocious started the Muncy Traction Engine Company. The Muncy engine was an exact copy of the Greencastle engine, judging from pictures. The Muncy Co. was apparently unsuccessful. Mr. Larzelere spent his later years with the A. B. Farquhar Co. of York, Pa., selling and installing sawmill outfits.
Three patents were issued to Mr. Henry B. Larzelere relating to steam engines. Patent  no. 299,484, dated May 27, 1884, and no. 300,270, dated June 10, 1884, were on steam portable engines. Patent no. 300,271, dated June 10, 1884, was on a boiler leveling device. It was a sort of jack screw built into the kingpost of the engine, raising and lowering the front of the engine by a crank as necessary for leveling the engine while in the belt. These patents were assigned to the Crowell Mfg. Co.

Sometime about 1885, three Greencastle Engines were shipped to Woodstock Virginia. One of these engines,  no. 159, is the only known Greencastle engine in existence.

Engine  no. 159 has an 8-inch bore by 10-1/2-inch stroke. It is a side crank engine, using two crank discs. The left disc operates the reverse and valve movement. The crankshaft has three bearings, the reverse is rotating eccentric, non-variable cutoff.
The Greencastle engine has several unique feature, also some weak points. The boiler design is odd. It has a “wash boiler” shaped dome and the water level is carried above the barrel of the boiler, up in this dome. Possibly this was in order to have the crown sheet and tube covered with water up hill and down. The dome is stayed up and down and sideways and has truss bars and a baffle near the top. The boiler holds about 200 gallons of water at working level. The steam space is about 50 gallons. The crown sheet is rather high and is rounded rather than flat as in most boilers, being about 4 inches below the wagon top. This fills the 24-inch boiler nearly full with 37, 2-inch tubes 70 inches long. The boiler plate is stamped “Central Iron Works, Harrisburg, Pa., C-H.” This could mean charcoal hearth. The plate seems to be heavier than most boilers and is very well put together. We tested it to 180-psi hydrostatic pressure. It is an open bottom with a boiler-plate ash pan fitted very tight.

Another odd feature is that the traction wheels are rubber mounted in the hubs, gaining a spring mounted effect. The king post is coil spring mounted with a set screw for locking. The gearing is single, using a sliding gear on the crankshfaft instead of a clutch and a bevel-gear differential with a wheel lock if needed. There is a brake, which acts on the flywheel.

The water tanks hold about 100 gallons and an ample coal box is provided under the platform. It has an exhaust heater. An old picture showing a Greencastle engine shows a feed pump operated by a tail rod on the piston rod. Engine no. 159 has a plug in the cylinder head where the packing gland was and also shows where the brackets holding the pump were broke off the cylinder head.
No. 159 had been stored since about 1920, when I bought it from a Mr. Pettit of Louisa, Va. Many parts were missing and broken. Three years spent getting it running again. The intermediate pinion gear was missing so a new one had to be cut. The slide valve was missing, also. Mr. Orrin Seaver of Michigan helped me on this job. I made a pattern and had one cast. It seems to work very well. A new crank pin was made also, and seven bearings babbited. The valve seat had to be milled to seat the valve properly. A new set of boiler tubes was all the boiler work required.

The engine was shown at the 1965 Maryland Historical Society’s annual reunion in September. Restoring this engine was quite an experience. I am now working on a 60 HP 9-1/2-inch bore, 10-inch stroke Geiser. This is similar to the 22 HP class UU. This is a spring-mounted engine. It is owned jointly with Mr. W. E. Hall of Burtonsville, Md. It is also a rare engine, as we know of no other 60 HP Geiser around. It is numbered 18263, and is the last engine built for the year 1921.

I am one of the young engineers, being 30 years old, and work as a stationary engineer. I hold a Maryland stationary engineers certificate. The above history of the Greencastle is correct as I know it, but I will be glad to hear from anyone with corrections or additional information.

Many thanks to the engineers and machinists who helped me with the difficult problems. There are too many of them to be able to list them all, but I wish to give special thanks to Mr. H. Clyde Davis, of Frederick, Md., and Mr. Percy Beck of Mechanicsburg, Pa., for their time and labor. I also want to thanks Consula Wood Products of Mechanicsburg, Pa., for rebuilding the wood wheels on the front of the engine, and Mr. F. Hal Higgins of California for historical information.

Any Correspondence will be welcomed, especially on oil, water and gas well drilling machinery, tools and experience before 1930.

Courtesy of William U. Waters, Jr., 8640 Main Street, Damascus, Maryland 20750. 

Cowell Manufacturing Today 

The photos in the photo album were taken by Mike Rohrer, and show the Crowell works in Greencastle, Pa., within the last few years.

The photos show three of the Crowell buildings, including the pattern building, the main office building (which is now an apartment building – you can see that it has Emerson-Brantingham still painted on it from when Geiser Mfg. Co. owned it) and the Crowel assembly building, which now houses an antique store. The buildings appear sound, and safely preserved for the foreseeable future. 

Steam enthusiast Mike Rohrer collects antique farm literature and original Frick and Geiser drawings and memorabilia. Contact him at: wmrohrer@myactv.net.