Steam Driven Machine Shop in Indiana

Machine shop

Machine shop 45 years ago.

Don Jackson

Content Tools

4461 West 34th Street, Indianapolis, Indiana 46222

We thank Dick Philippi, Editor of Steam Power Quarterly, 12020 Rives Ave., Downey, California 90242 for his permission to use this story in our magazine. It was sent to us by Glenn R. Hamilton, Capt., USA. Ret., 2913 Foltz Street, Indianapolis, Indiana.

Here is a true story that is quite different and unusual. It's about steam engines of various kinds, both past and present, and about the man who has lived a good part of his life with steam engines, steam cars and locomotives.

He is Captain Glenn Hamilton of Mars Hill, a suburb of Indianapolis. He is now retired from the military but still runs his machine shop which is now 40 years old. I have known him almost that long, otherwise I could not write this story about him and his engines, or get the photos to go with it.

While he was still a school boy, his father owned a steam powered machine shop in Paris, Illinois. They did railroad locomotive repair work, including boiler repairs. That was where he fell in love with steam.

We both got into World War I and after the war we both signed on as toolmakers at the old Martin Perry Company which was to be absorbed into General Motors. It is now a huge truck parts plant.

While he was in the service, his father sold his Paris, Illinois, shop and came to Indiana and bought 900 acres of timber. Glenn came home from the army and he and his brother set up a sawmill which was powered by a big Russell traction engine. This engine pulled logs to the mill and then they put it on the belt and sawed all the usable timber on the 900 acres. This same land is now a part of Morgan-Monroe Indiana State Park.

He had a longing to go West, so after the lumber job he wound up running old No. 60 on the Colorado and Southern R.R. hauling silver ore out of the Rockies somewhere in the vicinity of Durango, Colorado.

However, this job didn't last very long as he did a 'Casey Jones' and volunteered for an emergency run up the mountains in a zero-cold blizzard with 8-foot snowdrifts. He ran out of sand on the way up. As there was no turntable up in the mountains, he had to back down and it ran away with him. He tried everything, even reverse steam, which only made it go down faster. The big drifts helped slow it down some and it never left the rails, but after that ride he got 'chicken' and came back to Indiana.

Somewhere along the line he learned the machinist trade and was now a toolmaker specializing in roller dies and that is where I met him. He was by then married to Inez and they raised four big boys.

While at the old Martin Perry plant he got his machine shop started as a sideline, which later became a full time operation.

Our paths separated for a while and during this time he built a steam car using a 1903 Locomobile engine. It didn't last too long as one of the boys had the bad habit of racing police cars, and he dismantled the steamer because the State Police were going to put the young man in the pokey.

Let's get back to the shop. Mars Hill was a small workingman's suburb back in the early days and Glenn could not get enough electric power, so he ran the shop with an Essex engine till it gave up. He then got a Waukesha 4-cylinder stationary engine and this engine pulled that shop for 20 years.

He always wanted to run the shop with steam, and as the Waukesha was getting pretty old by now, he put in a stoker-fired water tube boiler and as an experiment he belted a Stanley engine up to pull the shop. It did a good job, but was not heavy enough for year-round work, so the hunt was on for a heavier upright engine. He bought 2 or 3 but never used them as they needed too much work, but his luck changed when he found the present piston valve Claridge engine. A boiler explosion in a paper mill in Southern Indiana blew this engine through the wall and they never put it back, and there is where he found it. He made some new parts and changed the valve set-up for 300 lbs. steam pressure. It runs every day, no fuss, no noise, just sits there and pulls the shop all day long.

Later he found a Brownell boiler in Ohio that had been made for the Baker Steam Tractor, but was never finished. He hauled it home and put flues in it and I helped him test it after he put the brackets and dome on it. It has a stoker, or can be hand-fired with wood or coal, and he set in brick with a fire arch and feed water heater in the smoke box. It has steam and electric feed water pumps and is all automatic except for the whistle. The engine exhaust goes up the stack. The old Waukesha was about done by now. One Monday morning it failed to start. Glenn put in an International in its place while he finished the new boiler. As I remember it he didn't get all the automatic stuff on the new boiler when the International quit. He gave the Waukesha to the factory at Racine for a museum piece.

He told me some time ago that this outfit would keep up steam all day and hold enough steam all night to start in the morning and use about 250 lbs. of Indiana steam coal per day. He has a customer that has plenty of wood that won't pass inspection, so during the summer they saw it in short lengths and haul it over and dump it in the alley for him. I have seen this boiler keep steam all day and all night on about 1 bushel of coal plus a few 6 to 8 in. diameter chunks of wood put in by hand. This is real economy. He had a leak or two one time from some welds, but otherwise this outfit never gave any trouble until one night the sight glass let go and his Boxer dog Sandy almost tore the house down trying to get him awake to see what the noise out in the shop was all about. When the water bottle let go, it, of course, lost pressure and the pump and stoker both came on and that's when he found the safety switches were in line with the hot water and steam. It got to be quite a problem before everything was stopped.