Steam engine

Content Tools

Reprinted from 'The Press Mentor,' published Illinois.

Submitted by Dale E. Robinson, Newton, Illinois 62448.

Dale Robinson (right) demonstrates the model steam engine he spent several years constructing. Cliff Shaffer and Clarence Chronic look on. Chronic, a retired engineer, helped design the engine.

As a registered engineer with the state of Illinois, Clarence Chronic helped design a number of steam engines and troubleshoot for several companies that manufactured them.

Clarence's love for steam engines helped draw him to his rightful 'calling' as an engineer when he was a boy of 12 as, even then, he daydreamed about building the steam-powered machines. As he approaches his 94th birthday in September, that love for steam engines and the era they represent is still present.

The knowledge stored in his head has resulted in the construction of yet another steam engine, more than 20 years after his retirement.

The steam engine in question is correct in design down to the smallest detail. However, there is one difference from the engines that used to power threshing machines and saw mills in the early 1900sthis one is a model at approximately scale of the originals.

Over seven years ago, Dale Robinson, a former school teacher and himself a steam engine lover, got the idea of building a model steam engine and immediately sought out the help of Chronic, now a resident of Newton Rest Haven.

Clarence provided the scaled drawings of all the major parts needed and Robinson provided the hours of precision work (part-time over a period of between 7-10 years). Their efforts resulted in the model one-cylinder, firebox-type boiler engine Clarence used to dream about at the age of 12.

Robinson himself is no stranger to steam engines. He operated one for numerous years and still owns one today which operates a saw mill.

The steam engines that the two men used to work with were fueled by wood and coal. Robinson's model is powered with charcoal, but that's really about the only deviation from the way it was.

Clarence was kept informed of the progress of Robinson's project, but had not really had a chance to see it operate (complete with steam-powered whistle) until given the opportunity one afternoon.

A troubleshooter for manufacturing companies before he took his first fulltime engineering job in 1917, Clarence has 'engines in his blood,' recalls longtime friend and work associate Cliff Shaffer.

What does Clarence think of the engine he designed and Robinson built in this day of nuclear power advances never dreamed about in the heyday of the steam engine?

'Considering what it is made out of,' Clarence joked, 'it turned out very well.'

Spare parts would be a nice way to describe the pieces selected to form this little bit of historic machinery, but 'make and form junk' might be closer to the truth.

The little steam engine probably won't wind up in a museum or as the featured attraction in a country-wide tour (even if the steam engine should make a comeback in these days of threatened energy shortages).

It will most likely remain in the backyard at Robinson's house or in his work shop in his garage. However, this is not to say that the project that took so long to complete will not serve a useful purpose.

It will undoubtedly provide countless hours of steam engine talk and memories for Clarence and others like him who remember how it was and allow them, when they hear the steam-powered whistle blow, to close their eyes and relive those days when the steam engine revolutionized the power industry all across the nation.