It's Terminal, It's Incurable!

Badly corroded cylinder

Badly corroded cylinder before boring. 32 HP Reeves.

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c/o Tree House Farm, 1425 Everett Lane, Hopkinsville, Kentucky 42240

I tell people to be careful about getting into steam. It is terminal and incurable.

It has been a year and a half since I bought a 32 HP Reeves double simple #4246 that used to be at the Reynolds Museum in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

The boiler is a U.S. boiler and therefore a lap seam, but this does not bother me. It is in excellent condition and I keep it here on the farm.

This winter (fall) at the end of October, I thought I would tear into this engine and get all the piping and bearing work done and have it ready to paint, come spring. Things like new water tanks and all the stuff that normally goes into getting an engine all fixed up, so long as the boiler is excellent and needs NO work. There were no surprises in the boiler, and my 30-minute inspection that I made after a 2,200 mile drive proved to be accurate. Then I went to take the heads off the cylinders and my heart sank to my toes!

Both cylinders were over half full of mouse droppings and urine. A good 60 to 70 years of it, near as I could tell. When the debris was cleared I had pits covering several two to three square inch areas that were up to a quarter of an inch deep. Of course they were on the bottom of the cylinders; the tops were just like new.

The valves and all else were excellent. These mice were quite organized. The pre-heater chamber was for fresh food storage, and there was lots of grass seed there. The passageways were kept clean and only the cylinders were the outhouse of the whole engine. It appears the mice went into the boiler and through the front flue sheet hand hole up to the exhaust nozzle and through the exhaust pipe to the pre-heater and up through the valves to the cylinders. The engine had been stopped with both pistons at the rear of their 14' stroke and one crank bearing up and one crank bearing down.

With the bearings opposing each other, how could I get any slack between the piston and the crank bearing? The pistons were seized up like nothing I have ever seen. The crank bearings had recently been poured (recent to the last time the engine was run), and there was no slack available in the wedge adjustment. So in order to move one piston forward, I took the bearing cap off of the other crank bearing.

The bearing cap had to stay on the one so I had a place to beat on!

After two weeks of building dams and soaking everything, the left piston moved. I then got it out with a lot of fuss. This cylinder had the worst corrosion.

The right piston was another matter. I soaked and soaked, for three months. I called everyone I knew who might know something. Then one evening I called Joe Graziana again and said I was ready to destroy the piston and be done with it. He came up with this: 'Since you are going to bore and sleeve the cylinders anyway, drill a series of holes beside the piston.' I did. At 21 quarter inch holes spaced a quarter of an inch apart along the bottom of the piston, it came loose. These holes were half in the piston and half in the cylinder wall. Nothing had ever penetrated that rust even one millimeter. The rust was harder by far than the cast iron on both sides of it. I had an oak beam suspended from the trusses in the shop, 16 feet long, three inches by eight inches on two ropes, and it made a very good battering ram against that bearing cap on the crankshaft.

I would go out in the evening and count 500 licks-enough for tonight.

It never moved. That ammonia really did a job in that space between the piston and the cylinder wall. I've never seen anything so tight.

The drill got it loose and out it came.

In St. Louis, Missouri, there is an old business called Multiple Boring Tool, and they have these boring bars for rent that match the date of my steam engine perfectly, made about the same time, and equally crude in design, but functional. The bar goes down into the bore and thus there is enough room to do the work in the 28' between the face of the cylinders and the dome of the boiler. The cutter head then travels down this bar and bores the hole.

Tool adjustment is done by loosening the tool and moving it out a little with NO accurate way to measure this little bit. It took two hours each time to mount and center this tool preparatory to boring. The dead center at the far end of the bore had to be absolutely stable so I would epoxy it and put it into the piston rod hole. Thus it did not move even one thousandth of an inch.

I have never bored any cylinder in my life. I've done very little machine work and know next to nothing about it. But, with great patience and some friendly encouragement, anyone could fix even such a serious problem as this on an engine.

I had to press the sleeves in with a hydraulic jack with a hole in it. This way I could run a bar from the back side of the cylinder to a plate that was machined to fit the sleeve and slowly jack the sleeve into the bored cylinder. It was about a one thousandth interference fit on an eight inch bore. It went hard, I thought, but having never done it before, what is easy or hard?

The new cylinders were then dressed up to size (7.625') and honed and they look so good! I do not think of the hours it took to learn to use this boring bar. I was so concerned about taking too much of the cylinder wall off that I ended up having to remount the tool on one cylinder five times.

This ninety three year old cast iron was very hard. My cutter tool would wear away .004' on each 18' pass. This always made the bore get smaller as it went deeper. Those new sleeves just cut so easy, and the tool was nearly the same after one pass, as when it was just sharpened.

The rest of the work on this engine is pure gravy after these cylinders. I was surprised when I started boring to see how out-of-round the cylinders were. The steam ports are on one side of the cylinder and evidently the entrance of the steam pushes the piston over and so the bore gets worn to that side. They were .050' out-of-round and I don't see how any ring could seal that. This is no doubt part of the reason I've heard engines at shows that just make a lot of whooshing noise as they run. Those cylinders are just too worn! Oval shaped at that.

I can't think of any other double cylinder engine where I could have done this boring with the engine on the boiler. The dome would be too close.

I'll write again when I get this all done.

May this story be an encouragement to someone. Praise God.