Following the Leader

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25054 Lehigh Dearborn Heights, Michigan 48125-1639

In its July/August issue, IMA was kind enough to print my letter which asked for help understanding the brass tag on the boiler of my 1910 Leader engine. The replies were rather sparse, however one of them was just what the doctor ordered.

I received a reply from Mr. Tom C. Spires of Lancaster, Ohio, a gentleman who is one of the previous owners of this engine. Tom was able to give me the history about this Leader dating back to at least 1955.

Several folks have said that the 'HSBCO' designation probably stands for Hartford Steam Boiler Company, Ohio. Likewise the 'TBCO' probably represents The Brownell Company, Ohio, a conclusion supported by the smoke box door ring which reads, 'The Brownell Company, Dayton, Ohio.' I'm told the 'NB' stands for the National Board number of the manufacturer.

Some of the history of the engine is as follows. In 1955 the Schwilk brothers from near Lancaster, Ohio, purchased the engine from a widow near' Centerburg, Ohio. Tom believes that it was the husband of this widow who either re-boilered the engine or had it done sometime around 1938. The original was probably a lap seam boiler, as the boiler on Tom's all-original 18 HP Leader is lap seam. The barrel is 32' diameter with fifty-five 2' flues, as the most part of the 230 square feet of heating surface.

The engine had seen use as part of a threshing outfit, and when they bought it it was buried over its rims while in service at a sawmill where apparently it had been for some time. Mr. Spires bought the engine from them in 1961 and owned it until 1968. For some years during that period he also owned the aforementioned 1906 Leader 18 HP. In 1968 he sold the 20 HP (my engine) to Mr. Charles Deeds, also of Lancaster, Ohio. As of this writing Tom still owns his 18 HP Leader.

Mr. Deeds owned and showed the 20 HP until sometime in the late '80s/early '90s. In the mid-'80s he had new bunkers made for the Leader. They hold a total of 110 gallons. Sadly, Charlie passed on to his reward not long ago. His wife was kind enough to supply many pictures taken during his stewardship. In the early '90s the engine changed hands at least twice, going first to Chardon, Ohio, and then to Elyria, Ohio, where I found it. In the late fall of 1996 it came to its new home in Hartland, Michigan.

The Leader is a single cylinder simple, with a wet-bottomed butt strap boiler. It is a side mount design. The drivers are 20' wide by 70' in diameter. The lugs had been removed to allow rubber tires to be mounted, back when it was used for threshing.

The Schwilks took off the rubber and put the cleats and skid rings back on. They probably didn't have all of them so they only put on every other one in the outside rows. This seems to be the best explanation for the missing cleats. I am having a pattern made to cast replacement parts. At some time after Mr. Deeds sold the engine the pre-heater was removed. At this time I have no plans to replace it.

The motor is a 12' stroke with about a 8' bore. I have had no reason to remove the head, so the bore will be a mystery for some time. Tom's 18 HP is 12' stroke by 85/8' bore. A Gardner 2' governor designed to hold the speed at 235 rpm is mounted on the valve chest. When I got the Leader, I found that the balance valve from this governor had at some time in the past fallen off and into the valve chest, where it was reduced to a handful of pieces by the valve. Fortunately I was able to measure up the rubble and machined a new balance valve.

The valve had been adjusted to avoid hitting the scrap and this yielded a single acting engine. The talented ear of Mr. Stan Miner of Howell, Michigan, picked this up the first time we fired the engine. Stan is a well seasoned steam man, and was instrumental in helping me get the Leader running smoothly in proper double-acting fashion. Stan is a well-spring of good information and I can't thank him enough.

Some of the other features include friction clutch, Lunkenheimer 2' x 8' whistle with ' valve, Penberthy ' injector, an American #4 injector, Madison-Kipp oiler and the original Ashcroft/Leader 300 lb. steam gauge with Ashcroft siphon.

While I had to attend to hundreds of smaller details, some of the larger ones include rebuilding the canopy along with new tin, scraping off many pounds of dirt, grease and paint, and spending untold hours cleaning out the boiler.

To add to peace of mind, the steam gauge and the pop off valve were sent out for rebuilding and recalibration. The pop off is a 1' Lunken heimer and is set at 150 lbs. The boiler is rated at 180 lbs.

I would also like to pass on what may (or may not) be some good ideas. I let my boiler cool overnight before blowing it down. It is still at about 125 degrees or so, but this is not enough heat to dry it out, plus hosing down the insides cools it even more. After draining and opening all hand holes, I set my 55,000 BTU kerosene (torpedo) heater to blow into the firebox. After about an hour the crown sheet, flues and barrel are bone dry, yet the temperature never comes close enough to endangering the fusible plug. I also set the heater beneath the boiler, and let it warm the wet bottom for about three hours.

The thing that REALLY makes this work is a small, 100 cfm squirrel cage style electric blower. This has a 2' outlet which readily fits the hand holes.

Running this blower during warming and for about six hours afterwards gives me a completely dry boiler in 10 hours for only a couple of dollars of kerosene and about four bits electric.

This little blower also does a great job of drying out the bunkers (no heat). I know that dry bunkers last longer, so this must hold true for boilers as well.

The dry scale which results is easily removed with another gimmick, a wet/dry shop vacuum. This does a really great job of cleaning out the bottom of the boiler and is equally handy in cleaning out the ash pit and smoke box as well.

Whether or not these are ideas anyone else has come up with, I don't know. I do know I would like to see from you readers more good, practical ideas for all of the everyday maintenance of an engine. Most of you folks are well versed in the steam hobby, but some of us newcomers need all the education we can get. I am aware of the value of such things as a clean sight glass, a wire brushed fusible plug, clean flues and firebox. I do my best to observe safety at all times, and hope to prove to be a good engineer.

The Leader enjoys excellent room and board. It stays in a good dry barn, removed from the dirt floor by thick rubber matting. It fires easily on the red oak which I have in abundance.

As promised in my earlier letter, I have supplied photos taken during a steam-up on Independence Day, 1997. The weather was just glorious with a light breeze and temperature in the mid 70s. The engine performed very well, and the governor work which I did seemed to pass muster. The only real test I could do at this time was to get it on one of my steeper hills. The motor seemed to maintain speed beautifully and the Leader barked a fine tune on the hill. All in all, friends and I enjoyed the engine, the weather, and the outing very much.

Before long, I hope to have the Leader inspected and ready to go to shows in the Michigan/Ohio area. Thanks for all of the wonderful stories and photos which you contribute to IMA; it's a real bimonthly shot in the arm. See you at the shows!