Steam Engine Heaven at Mineral Beach in Finleyville, Pennsylvania

Mineral Beach in Finleyville, Pennsylvania has been the home of the Tri-State Historical Steam Engine Association

Mineral Beach steam engine

This issue's cover picture is a 1910 35 x 120 HP Nichols and Shepard #11149 as seen at Mineral Beach in September, 1999. This is only one of four 35 HP Nichols left in existence. Ken Martin of Library, Pa., is engineer.

Photo by Kevin M. Small

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There is a place called Mineral Beach in the beautiful hills of western Pennsylvania. What does a beach have to do with steam engines you ask? Well, for the last fifteen years, Mineral Beach has been the home of the Tri-State Historical Steam Engine Association, featuring engines such as Gaar-Scott and Aultman Taylor. Mineral Beach is a public swimming pool facility that is owned by Willis R. Abel and family, located twelve miles south of Pittsburgh in Finleyville, Pennsylvania. Mineral Beach, built in 1924, got the first half of its name from a well containing mineral water that was initially used to fill the pool. The 'Beach' part of the name came from the sand that once surrounded the pool. Many steam engine shows across the country are known by the name of the town in which they are located, but I like to call this show 'Mineral Beach.'

There are 30 steam engines at Mineral Beach. Steam engine friends from all over the United States come to Mineral Beach every September to be a part of this wonderful gathering of steam engines, friendships, good times, and laughter. The memories I have of this show will last a lifetime.

At the 1991 show, there were 10 steam engines, (all un restored) that Willis had acquired from Colton, Washington, earlier that year. These engines were owned by Chris Busch at one time. Chris was associated with the early steam shows of the Pacific Northwest before his death in 1964. He had steam shows near Colton in the 1950s and early 1960s. Some of these 'new arrivals' at Mineral beach in 1991 were a 25 HP Aultman-Taylor, a 25 HP Case (with 36' drive wheels), a 60 HP Case, a 15 HP Case (with an original steerable tender), an 18 HP Gaar Scott, and a 22 HP Gaar Scott. A very rare engine also is a return-flue bevel gear drive Aultman-Taylor tandem compound. I did not think these engines would run for the 1991 show, but Austin Monk, John Schrock, and Vic Johnson thought they could and so, they went to work on the 18 HP Gaar Scott. Carlos Reyes gathered up some valves, a steam gauge, hand hole gaskets, injector, and steam cylinder oil. Whatever John and Vic needed, all they had to do was yell 'Hey Carlos!' I was the engineer on the 110 HP Case that year. When I noticed these steam engine guys around these engines, I parked the 110 and went to see what they were up to. It did not take me long to figure out they were going to make the 18 HP Gaar Scott run.

I wanted to help them with the Gaar Scott, (who wouldn't?) so I crawled into the firebox to remove the old brick arch. John and Vic were working on the piping, oil pump and the engine. I also cleaned out the dirt and scale in the boiler and then put the hand hole plates back in. The engine was stuck, but it did not take long before it was fired up. Soon the water wagon arrived and the boiler was filled with water and wood, and the fire was lit in the 18 HP Gaar Scott. With 80 lbs. of steam, this engine moved under its own power for the first time in 40 years! The best part of all was the crowd of people watching us work on the engine that would soon be coming back to life. We were all very happy with the 18 HP Gaar Scott.

The very next day, they went to work on the 22 HP Gaar Scott with the same intentions and results, too! Although, John had to find more parts for the 22 HP because he took some of those off to use on the 18 HP the day before! The 22 HP engine was belted to the Baker fan and did not disappoint anyone! That was the highlight of the 1991 show for sure! Between the 1991 and 1992 shows, the 25 HP Case had some boiler work done. But that was all that was done. At the 1992 show, John and Austin went to work again on the 25 HP Case.

And, like the 18 and 22 HP Gaar Scotts, the 25 HP Case was a crowd pleaser. The friendships I've made at steam shows are what I treasure the most. However, friends like to play tricks on each other at these shows, too. Not so long ago, Red Falconer, from Virginia, was trying to get steam up on the 25 HP Russell he was firing that day. He had a good fire in the Russell, but no steam, after an hour or two. Upon opening the smoke box door and finding a bucket (with a hole in it) jammed up in the smokestack, the accusations began to fly! Here is Red trying to enjoy himself at a steam show and someone is making it harder for him to do so! And so the guys from Michigan are blaming the 'other' guys from Virginia (you know who you are). The 'other'' guys from Virginia are blaming the Michigan gang, and Red is pretty much blaming everyone between Lake Michigan and the Atlantic Ocean! I guess our friend was not too upset. He took the Russell up to the picnic pavilion for some steam-cooked sweet corn. If those 'unidentified' persons pull any more pranks on Red and his Russell, we will have to use another engine to cook the sweet corn!

The 25 HP Russell was the first engine that Willis restored in 1966. The second engine he restored was the 1912, 110 HP Case #28668. He has owned this 110 for over 30 years. It was the last 110 traction engine built in 1912. Only 50 more would be built in 1913. Originally owned by the Nims brothers, they used it for plowing on their Lisbon, North Dakota, farm. One of the biggest engines Willis owns is a 1910 35 x 120 HP Nichols and Shepard built in Battle Creek, Michigan. This engine is a double cylinder side mount, 77/8' x 11' bore and stroke. The late George Neal of Easton, Maryland, was the owner of this 35 Nichols when it appeared on the cover of the July/August 1980 issue of IMA. This engine came to Mineral Beach in 1985. There are only four 35 HP Nichols that are known to exist. Another 35 HP Nichols was on the cover of the May/June 1971 IMA. This engine (at that time) was owned by Floyd Perlberg of Wilmar, Minnesota. N. B. Martinson of Dalton, Minnesota, owns a 35 Nichols #11715. I believe this is the Perlberg engine. However, I could be mistaken. I believe Willis' 35 Nichols #11149 was in Minnesota at one time, also. Don Roen of Comstock, Minnesota, owns a 1910 35 HP Nichols #10891. He has owned it since 1942.

George Hoffman of Surrey, British Columbia, owns a 1908 35 HP Nichols #10135. Willis' 35 has a Broderick Canadian Special boiler and is dry bottom. I would guess that fewer than 50 of these 35 HP engines were ever built. If any of the IMA readers know the histories of #11149 and #11715, please write about them in the IMA.

Another big engine at Mineral Beach is a 1910 36 x 120 HP M. Rumely #5675. This is a 7' x 14' double cylinder engine. It also has a Canadian Special boiler. This engine came from Dawson Creek in the Northwest Territories of Northwestern Canada. This engine was restored and first shown in 1983. It is one of only seven 36 HP engines that exist today. The Geiser Manufacturing Company of Waynesboro, Pennsylvania built a class 'ZZ ' 35 x 120 HP engine in 1910. This engine is an 8' x 10' double cylinder engine that runs on 160 lbs. of steam. The engine #12135 was found on a mountaintop in Idaho thirteen years ago. Several new castings had to be made to restore the engine. It was first shown at Mineral Beach in 1989. I believe there are only five 35 HP Geiser engines known to exist.

There are two 32 x 110 HP U.S. cross-compound Reeves 8' x 14' x 14' at Mineral Beach. These two engines began their lives in Montana where Reeves reigned supreme. The 1910 32 HP Reeves was first restored and shown in 1993. The 1908 32 HP was restored in 1996. The 32 HP Reeves was very successful and was considered by many to be the best plowing engine ever built. There are twenty-five 32 HP Reeves engines in existence in the U.S. and Canadian models combined. Max Tyler of Moore, Montana, is a authority on the 32 HP Reeves engines. It was an honor to have Max give me an education on the 32 HP Canadian and U.S. model Reeves one summer day in August of 1996.

In closing, on behalf of all the guest engineers, family and friends, I would like to thank Willis Abel for his kindness and generosity shown to all of us who come to Mineral Beach every year. IMA