He's All Steamed Up About Engines For 50 Years a Labor of Love

Shiny new engine

TINKERING William C. Luss Sr., 79, puffs contentedly on his corn cob pipe while he tinkers with a shiny new engine he has built from scratch. On his workbench are several small gasoline and steam engines he put together with scrap metal. His hobby has l

Wm. C. Luss

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This article appeared in the daily paper, The Buffalo Evening News, Hamburg, New York 14075. We thank the Buffalo Evening News for giving us permission to reprint the story and picture as it appeared on June 30, 1970. We thank Wm. C. Luss, 44-50 S. Buffalo St., Hamburg, N. Y. 14075 for sending it along.

The workshop at 50 S. Buffalo St. is a local landmark in the village of Hamburg because it represents the half-century-long love affair between William C. Luss and the steam engine.

'Yes sir, steam,' he nods with conviction, 'there's nothing like it smooth, quiet and clean.'

That passion for machinery in motion has led Mr. Luss, 78, to collect more than 50 ancient steam and gas engines. He has put each of them in working order.

All 50 can be found heaped amid the rubble of the workshop on S. Buffalo St.

'We get them from all over,' explains his son, William J. Luss, 53. 'Time was when these engines were a handy source of portable power for farm work. They could be rigged up to do anything from hauling water to sawin' wood,'

Grandson Also Helps

A grandson, Albert, 20, also hangs around the shop and tinkers with the engines side by side with the two previous generations. All three scout deserted farm buildings and old junk yards in search of the rusting antiques.

'It's sure a thrill to me,' William J. says, 'when you pick up an old hulk with its flywheels bent in and all, and then you start to work. You tear it down, piece by piece, clean it, fix it, put it back together again, start her up and listen to her run for probably the first time in 40 or 50 years.'

An occasional odd job is taken, in at the workshop but it is used mostly as a hobby shop now.

The elder Mr. Luss operated a combination locksmith-gunsmith and general machine shop there for nearly 40 years.

Busy World War II Days During World War II he and his son did tool and die work for Bell Aircraft and Curtis Wright.

'This place really hummed in those days,' Mr, Luss recalls.

He started collecting steam engines about 20 years ago as they became scarcer and scarcer. Gasoline engines replaced steam, much to Mr. Luss's dismay, shortly after the turn of the century. Electricity later replaced gasoline.

He now has reconditioned antique steam and gas engines of every size and description.

'Take this beauty,' his son says, pointing to a massive hulk of red metal and shining brass. 'She's six feet long and weighs two tons. And just look at that flywheel. She used to run a whole canning factory. we got it when they tore the building down.'

Real Pretty Sound Mr. Luss says engine collecting isn't as easy as it once was. People are learning the value of their discarded machinery, he said.

'Used to be we could pick up some fine ones for a couple of bucks. Or maybe a farmer would let us have an old engine just to get it off his place. Now a fellow wants $50 or more, because he knows he can get it,' he said.

The hobby has become the pastime for hundreds of collectors in recent years.

'We've got national magazines and newsletters, and, of course, there are the local meets. The next one around here is in Alexander next September.

'It's just like a big old county fair. You get two or three hundred of us together and we get all those old engines fired up and man, that's a real pretty sound.

Praises Stanley. Steamer The Lusses don't have transportation yet to carry their biggest engines, but three miniatures built from scrap and mounted on a five-foot board have drawn interest at several gatherings.

The elder Mr. Luss belongs to several engine clubs including the New York Steam Engine Association and the Western New York Pioneer Gas & Steam Engine Association Inc.

He believes that manufacturers will soon rediscover the value of that pollution-free source of power.

'Detroit is already experimenting with a steam-driven car' he said. 'Of course, there never was a car as fine as the Stanley Steamer. No limit to the speed you could get out of it.

'They'll be back. You watch. I just hope I'm around to see it. First steam car that rolls off the line, I want it.'