Steam driller

Photo by Dorothy Yagodich.

Dorothy Yagodich

Content Tools

Charleroi, Pennsylvania

This steam driven Keystone #3 drilling rig has held a place of honor at the National Pike Steam, Gas and Horse Association, the Tri-State Historical Steam Engine Association and the Canfield Fair of Canfield, Ohio, since its restoration in 1967 by Dean Red.. This Keystone #3 drilling rig was purchased by my grandfather, John H. Redd in 1916. My father, Thomas Redd, drilled with it as well as my uncle and myself. I drilled with this machine up until 1955; it has successfully drilled many, many wells in Washington County, with the deepest well at 550 feet. In the early 1940's the driller was converted to gasoline and in 1967 converted back to steam.

In 1983 the Tri-State Historical Steam Engine Association featured the Keystone machines at their annual show. These Keystone machines are a rare item at any steam show throughout the U.S.A.

The first Keystone driller was constructed in 1879 and drilled its first well for the Economite Society at Economy, Pennsylvania. The second Keystone driller was the first one manufactured for sale. It was sold in April 1879 to W.E. Ross of Valencia, Pennsylvania, and drilled as much as 50 feet per day.

Robert M. Downie and his brother, John, were the founders of the Keystone Driller Company. The manufacture of Keystone drillers began in a small shop at Fallston, Pennsylvania, in 1882. A force of 12 men was employed and the output of the plant was two machines a month. In 1887, a new and larger factory was erected in the neighboring town of Beaver Falls, and this became the permanent establishment of the company. A department for the manufacture of steam boilers, adapted for drilling machines, was added and the Keystone Cross Tubular, or 'Inverted Porcupine', type of boiler was put on the market. The distinguishing feature of these boilers was that tubes, with inner ends welded, and with outer ends threaded to gas pipe size were screwed into the fire box shell. This construction eliminated all bother of cleaning flues; and, the tubes being free to expand and contract under variations of heat, all expansion strains were removed and the easy replaceable tubes gave little or no trouble.

Boiler code rules were gotten up and enforced upon the factory in the different states which made it practically impossible to continue making their cross tubular boilers. They were thereupon most regretfully compelled to resort to upright flue boilers with their partly exposed flues running from the crown sheet to the head. The boilers constructed were of the very best material and each one perfect, inspected, and insured before leaving the factory. They were the best that could be made under the conditions imposed by the state laws.

Frankly, there is an inherent fault in this form of boiler. Each tube is, for a distance of 12 or 15 inches at the top, entirely unprotected by water. Hence, when the boiler is being first fired up, the upper part of these tubes will heat and expand lengthwise. This compels the red hot tube to either force itself through one of the heads, or to bulge the head itself, or to otherwise kink the tube. This will not cause the boiler to explode, but it may, after some use, cause the flues to leak at the point where they are expanded into the upper head. Much of this trouble can, however, be avoided by noting carefully the following remedies:
1.  When first firing the boiler in the morning use a slow fire and preferably one which will not send a solid flame up through the flues, until after steam is formed. The steam will keep the flues cool.
2. In firing the boiler avoid, as far as possible, quick changes of temperature in the fire box. To open the door while there is a brisk fire in the fire box produces a contraction of the tubes and tends to loosen them at the upper end.
3.  After some time, should the tubes leak, the upper ends should be 're-calked' or 'beaded.' This is done by emptying the boiler, and with a beading tool which we furnish, re-set the bead on the upper end of the tube by using a light hammer. The shape of the beading tool and the form of the bead will readily suggest the method of doing the work.
4.  After a time the tubes may have to be 'expanded' or 're-rolled' with a 2-inch 'flue expander' and the services of a boiler maker may be required to do this. This expander may be had from us or any machinery supply house.

The factory apologized to have inflicted the above precautions upon the users of their boilers; however, they were not needed with the Keystone Cross Tubular boilers. And as stated, were only made necessary by ignorant and arbitrary legal interference.

The business grew steadily and healthily until it became, probably, the largest of its kind in the world. The plant covered 12 acres and included complete facilities for the manufacture of all parts of the rigs produced.

In 1907, the company acquired the established business of the Downie Pump Company, and moved it to their plant. Large numbers of deep well pumps under the trade name of their own were produced and shipped throughout the world.

In 1912, Leroy P. Clutter of Washington, Pennsylvania, built upon or applied to the chassis of a Keystone traction steam driller, a Keystone excavator, in the shop at Beaver Falls. He sold his patent to the company and the first excavator sold was on April 14, 1913 to a contractor, S. B. Markley of Rochester, Pennsylvania.

The 10-ton traction excavator instantly found favor with the market, and found its way in large areas of the world. In short, the machine became a skimmer shovel, a back hoe or a clam shell.

The company ceased operations in 1956.