The Big Wheelock Engine

The big Wheelock engine

Courtesy of the Lake Region Pioneer Threshermen's Association Dalton, Minnesota 56324

Lake Region Pioneer Threshermen's Association

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The big Wheelock engine is sitting in place on the Dalton, Minnesota threshing grounds awaiting the finishing touches to what has been a very big project. What else could you call a project that involved 6 semis hauling over 200,000 pounds of stationary steam engine 500 miles to its new home, but bigvery big.

The Wheelock was used in a zinc factory in La Salle, Illinois. It drove a series of rollers directly off the crankshaft. Unused for many years, the engine was donated to the Lake Region Pioneer Threshermen's Association by the plant's present owners, the Carus family of Perum, Illinois.

The engine was set in a pit a couple of feet below the level of the main floor. This allowed the outboard bearing to be set on the main floor level. The pit for the flywheel was about 14 feet deep and it always had a couple of feet of water in it. One of the problems that faced us on our several trips down to Illinois to work on the engine was the rainstorms that always seemed to show up about the same time we did. The rain was usually quite heavy and the roof did leak in places; mainly it seemed to be where we were trying to work.

The Wheelock is bolted together in three sections: the main frame, the crosshead frame, and the cylinder. The flywheel is bolted together in 12 sections. Each section consisting of a spoke and a portion of the flywheel rim. The spokes fit between two large disks on the crankshaft and are fastened to the disk by three large bolts. At the rim each spoke is fastened to the next by two bolts and eight dog bone-shaped keepers. There are 2 dog bones in each hole or four in all on each side of the connection.

The keepers had to be removed first. After steam cleaning the joint, the keepers were heated to stretch and loosen them for removal. Most of the outside keepers came easily but the inside ones were tough. We had to make special tongs and pries to get them loosened up and pulled out. Incidentally each keeper and each bolt had been marked at the factory with a mark that corresponded to one on the flywheel so they would be put in the right place when the engine was assembled. This must have been necessary because of the exactness of some of the fits. Ninety-six dog bones later we were ready to go on to the next step.

Next we had to tackle the bolts that held the spoke to the central disk and the bolts that held the spokes together at the rim. To loosen the nuts holding the spoke to the disk, we were able to use an overhead hoist that ran on tracks above the engine. We just fastened the hook on to the end of the wrench and pulled away. Fortunately we were able to find a wrench that fit most of the nuts on the engine somewhere or another around the factory if we kept looking long enough. Then the bolts were forced part way out of the disk by a hydraulic jack pushing against the wall of the flywheel pit. They couldn't be pushed too far out or they would hit when we had to rotate the wheel, but they were much easier to start moving when the spoke was pointing down and we had something solid to push against.

Next the wheel was turned to allow loosening of the bolts holding the spoke that we were working on to the two adjoining spokes. This usually took two or three men and about 20 feet of pipe on the end of the wrench. After the nuts were removed, the bolts were pushed out with a jack.

Then the flywheel was turned again so the spoke was about 15 degrees past perpendicular. This was necessary to give the crane more room to work since there were overhead beams and tracks in the way. Of course, this made it much more difficult to pull the spoke than it would have been if we could have made a straight pull.

With a combination of porta-powers, come-alongs, jacks, sledge hammers, and shafts, we forced the bolts the rest of the way out of the disk. Then the crane worked the spoke out and set it down where it could be carried out by a forklift.

One down and eleven to go! The flywheel was turned and the spoke opposite to the first was removed to keep the flywheel in better balance. With each spoke weighing about 10,000 pounds, this was very necessary. The operation continued in this way until all the spokes were out.

In the meantime the coupler to the rollers and the bearing caps were removed. A simple job. Comparatively!

Removing the cylinder was a job too! The piston rod had to be unscrewed from the crosshead, but to do this we had to turn the whole piston. After oiling the piston up, we were able to work it from side to side a little bit using our ever-present 20 foot pipe on the end of a 48' pipe wrench. That was the start of a long afternoon for two men on the end of the pipe to unscrew the 12 inches of fine (of course) thread connecting the rod to the crosshead. Most of this time was spent jumping off a 3-foot platform and sinking slowly to the ground hanging on to the end of the pipe. The stroke of the wrench was limited by the size of the opening in the crosshead frame, which added to the slow going. The next day when the piston started to move easier, we fabricated a socket from a piece of steam pipe to fit the nut on the end of the piston. By putting a sturdy metal rod through a hole in the end of the socket, we could take a longer stroke and finished unscrewing the rod in a short time. This left only cutting off the exhaust pipe, unbolting the exhaust elbow from the bottom of the cylinder, cutting off the intake p, removing the intake, unbolting the cylinder from the crosshead frame, and lifting it up and away.

Next, the crosshead frame was unbolted from the main frame and removed. Only the crankshaft, the main frame and the outboard bearing left to go!

The crankshaft was next. By using the crane on one end and the overhead hoist on the other, we were able to inch the shaft up and over the frame to the main floor. There we set it on a cribbing of railroad ties on top of I beam runners. Then we hauled it out of the building with a large Cat.

The outboard bearing was worked loose with bars, blocked up, a cable placed around it, and was lifted off its anchor bolts. The nuts on the bearing were very stubborn and had to be cut off with a torch. Incidentally, we had to be extremely careful whenever we had to use the torch since there was a lot of grease and oil around from the years of use of the engine. Of course the grease and oil was also a blessing because it lead to our getting the engine. A junk man had been in the factory and had cut up most of one engine. He had also cut part of the valve mechanism off of our engine. Then he started a fire and was asked to leave.

This left only the main frame, and we had probably saved the worst 'til last. We had hoped to be able to jackhammer out holes under the frame just large enough to get our small porta-powers in and gradually jack the frame off the bolts. This wasn't possibly because after the engine had been originally placed, most of the hollow main frame had been filled up with grout. The grout held too well and we couldn't budge the frame at all.

Then we had to go to our secondary plan. This was to use the jackhammer to expose the anchor bolts and cut them off with the torch. After seemingly endless hours of jack hammering the hardest cement that any of us had ever seen, we were seriously considering a third plan dynamite. Well, we finally got enough of each bolt exposed to cut them off and it was time to load up the last piece along with the several tons of cement that remained inside it.

The assembly of the engine was actually completed during our '82 show. It was temporarily hooked up to a 25 Nichols & Shepard, and we were able to turn it over about 30 times before we ran low on steam. Since then we have brought two large boilers to the grounds and one or both of them should be hooked up in time for the '83 show. Hopefully we will be able to put a building over the engine in the near future.