Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village 20900 Oakwood Blvd. Dearborn, Michigan 48121-1970
To all the old-time steam men out there, we at Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village need your help. Please consider the following:
For many years, out behind the old boiler repair shop at Greenfield Village sat an engine. More specifically, a 19 HP Port Huron compound 'Longfellow.' With a tattered canopy, broken smokebox door and rusted out water tanks, the old engine was slowly settling farther and farther into the ground. For company she had the yearly robin or sparrow's nest built somewhere on her, and she also had one of her kin, too, a Port Huron portable engine, mounted on trucks, number 8620, for solace. Not a very dignified ending for what was once her owner's pride and joy. But at least she had beaten the fate of so many engines, the scrapper's torch.
Then, in the early 1980s, the venerable 19 was given a new lease on life. She was hauled from her long time resting spot down to the machine shops of Armington & Sims. Many hours were spent cleaning away the accumulated rust and grime and deterioration of twenty years' inactivity. Water tanks, smokebox door and canopy were repaired; valve, governor and throttle reconditioned; and the boiler inspected and tested. Gallons of red and black paint were carefully applied, and the reborn 'Longfellow' was ready for operation.
Annually she took part in the summer's 'Pageant of Power,' and in the fall was belted up to a 28' x 46' Nichols & Shepard Red River Special separator to demonstrate how things were done when she was new.
And just when was this engine new?
For the past five years, the writer of this article has been relieved of his regular duties of repairing and maintaining old steam locomotives, and permitted the honor of operating the Port Huron when it was to run at scheduled events. Starting as an out-and-out 'green' engineer, and not remembering to have 'punched' the tubes, I couldn't for the life of me figure out why, after two hours of firing, there was no draft or pressure! But experience is a wonderful teacher, and with some advice from an old-time thresherman or two, keeping a steady pressure and water level is now getting to be a much easier thing.
Between threshing demonstrations are the usual questions of 'How heavy?' 'How much water?' 'How much coal?' and 'How old?' This last question posed a real problem. Just how old is our engine? Guesses put the year of construction at the mid to late teens but those were only guesses. Somehow it seemed like the ol' 19 deserved better.
Late last summer an earnest effort was begun to determine just when the engine was built, and where it had come from. Many hours were spent in the archives and registrar's files and, unlike almost all other items in the museum's collection, there was absolutely no record of when the engine was acquired or from whom.
Several articles written by LeRoy Blaker for IMA suggested that as late as the mid-1960s, apparently very detailed records of the Port Huron Engine & Thresher Company were still in existence, and in October '93, the current owner of the records was located. Given either the boiler serial number, or the builder's plate number on the smokebox door, the identity of the engine could be traced. And so, based on the builder's plate number, the records show that the engine was completed on December 22. 1916. and shipped to Joseph Freund (the spelling of the last name may not be correct) of Westphalia, Michigan, on July 14, 1917. At some later date the engine was returned to the company and then resold April 24, 1924 to Earl Lidel, of Maybe, Michigan.
The boiler construction record also showed that the boiler serial number, (based on the builder's plate number), should be 5244. However, a close inspection of the backhead shows that the ACTUAL boiler number is T 93119. Located in the usual spot, just above the hand hole near the top of the backhead, the stamped-in letter T and 93119 show every bit of being original and unadulterated. Further examination of the backhead showed no other numbers. Inquiries were made at a local and well-respected boiler repair company, to the Hartford Steam Boiler Insurance Company, and to the local State of Michigan Deputy Boiler Inspector, and no one from any of those agencies had ever heard of a 'T' number. Can any of you old-time engineers or traction buffs shed any light on this?
To further complicate matters, there is some question as to whether the builder's number plate currently on the engine is the original one. Without being able to cross-reference to the boiler number, the true identity of the engine is still up for grabs. Evidence at this time would indicate that the number plate is original, but just to make sure, we would like to know if any of you ever remember seeing the engine when it sat derelict out behind the old boiler shop. In the 1960s, as an adjunct to the NTA reunions at Montpelier and later at Wauseon, one-day excursions to the village and museum were run, and it would seem that somebody, sometime may have taken a picture or jotted down an engine number. If you did, we certainly would like to hear from you. Once the identity has been established, and armed with the correct construction records, the engine can then be restored to look as it did when it was new.
The accompanying photos show the engine during the early part of its restoration, and it is hoped that the picture may jog someone's memory.
The museum and I are grateful to the Iron-Men Album for printing this and to your readers out there who may be able to help. If you send photographs, they will be returned if requested. I can be reached at the following:
Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village, 20900 Oakwood Blvd., Dearborn, Michigan 48121-1970. Attn: Thomas Fisher, Historical Operating Machinery Dept., phone 313-271-1620, ext. 723, weekdays 7 to 3.