The History Of An Old Model F Peerless Portable Engine

Portable Geiser Peerless steam engine

March 1987, Winchester, Virginia. This is where I bought the portable Geiser Peerless steam engine.

Content Tools

Submitted by A F. Harker 300 Bella Street Hollidaysburg, PA 16648

It all began in early March 1987. We were on a trip to Berryville, Virginia, to get two upright boilers that were used in a honey extracting business. We traveled in two pickup trucks, one driven by Mr. Red Helsel and the other by Ray Helsel. Passengers in Red's truck were A. F. Harker and Charley Smith, while Ray's passengers were W. T. Reese and Elmer Keith. I was with Ray and as usual we were talking show stuff and watching for old equipment along the way. For once I wasn't driving. Ray said to be on the lookout for a flatbed truck that could be used to haul a tractor to shows. Ray has a nice 1948 Allis Chalmers WC tractor. Just north of Winchester, Virginia, I spotted some trucks over on a hill. It was decided after we got the boilers loaded that on the way back we would take the lead and check out the trucks, which we did. The old cannery trucks were in pretty tough shape, but for sale. While we were talking to the fellow about the trucks, his dad, Mr. Whitacre, wanted to know what we were going to do with the boilers. One thing led to another and he said 'I have a boiler up in the country a few miles.' It was talked about for a while. After he saw Mr. Harker was interested he said get in the car and we'll take a closer look. We went up a country road past more old tired iron and an old mill. Then we turned onto a lane leading up to his homestead farm. Of course, Mr. Harker and Mr. Whitacre were talking shop. This fellow had a real nice apple orchard along the lane to his farm. Mr. Harker before retiring from the PRR as a locomotive fire man and engineer with 49 years of service also had an apple orchard that he worked.

A little farther up the lane we stopped by this old shed. Back in the weeds at the end of the shed she sat. What a sight! The old portable had no wheels. They had been taken off many years ago because they were wooden and put underneath the shed for protection. First look over it, I discovered it was a Peerless, but had no markings other than a small F on the valve cover. Most Peerless's are marked with a large R, S, T, TT, etc. It also had an S spoked flywheel. What a sight! It had sunk down to where the fire door was level with the ground and had acquired a groundhog as an occupant.

The Peerless had set for at least 30-40 years. After a general look-over, guess who left their camera in the truck? But Mr. Whitacre had his and took a picture of Art standing beside the Peerless. After this we returned to the trucks and headed home, with thoughts of how this would look restored instead of her nose in the dirt.

A couple of weeks later, arrangements were made with Mr. Henry Dull (he used to have a show at Alum Bank, PA--the Allegheny Mountaineers) to bring the Peerless home. In the process of loading the portable, a 11/2 HP International gas hit and miss, was discovered upside down behind the shed. So, it was dickered on and loaded along with an Emerson Brantingham horse-mower which had to be pulled out of where it had settled down in the dirt from many years of snow, freezing and thawing with each season putting it a little deeper down.

After the engine was delivered to Art Harker's home in Hollidaysburg, PA, the restoration (or more appropriately recycling) was begun so that it would be ready for the September show of the Nittany Antique Machinery Association at Penn's Cave.

The boiler was found to be rusted through inside and out on the left side of the firebox and the crown sheet was cracked and had a patch bolted over it. Mr. Harker then contacted L & M Boiler Works of Montoursville, Pa., to come to his home and make the necessary repairs to the boiler.

While sandblasting was being done, a patent date of 1875 was discovered on the smokebox door. Also a feature which may help date the machine is a cast iron two piece steam dome which bolts together around the middle and also to the top of the boiler to allow access to the crown bolts.

While the boiler was being repaired, Mr. Harker being only 87 years old wanted to keep busy so he made some patterns and had Ben King of Lancaster County cast bushings which Art put in a set of old steel wagon wheels and fitted them to the axles to make it portable again. In the meantime, the major parts of the engine were removed and taken to Dick Markle's shop in State College to be rebuilt as follows:

The cylinder was bored to clean up the pitted places and the piston was built up and machined and fitted with new rings. New stainless steel valve and piston rods were made and installed, also new stuffing boxes and nuts were made for each one. The cross head and guides were built up and machined to a neat running fit and a new oversize pin made and installed. The crank pin was badly pitted and out of round and required being shaped up and the connecting rod bearing was built up and bored to fit. Luckily the main crankshaft bearings were in fairly good shape and required only cleaning up and shims removed. This was probably due to their being cooled by the feed water being circulated through them, a feature we have never seen on any other engine. The valve seat was milled flat and the valve was surface ground and scraped to a good fit on the seat.

When the boiler work was completed and the wheels and tongue put on, it was given a hydrostatic test and inspected and passed for 110 lbs. operating pressure. It was then taken to Markle's shop at State College for final assembly about June first.

Since the firebox door had been confiscated for someone's backyard fireplace, an old hot air furnace door was adapted by making a door frame from flat steel bar stock. A new stack and top half of the hinge joint were fabricated also. New grate bars, ash pit bottom and parts for the ash pit door were fashioned and installed.

The governor had been stripped of all the working parts with nothing left but the valve body so a new valve spool was made and the rotating parts from a larger Pickering governor were fitted on by making a special adapter plate. A new injector and all new pipes were installed along with a new 11/4' throttle valve supplied by Jim Stiffler. A Manzel oiler and drive rod was rigged up to provide lubrication.

When this point in the project was reached we decided to give her a little test run. This was accomplished by hooking up a steam hose from Dick Markle 's 40 HP Case which had been steamed up for another purpose. When the throttle was opened the old girl took off and ran like a top creating a lot of happy faces.

Mr. Harker spent many long days driving the 45 miles (one way) to and from his home and helping to get the engine finished by September show time.

In a few days it was moved to the Penn's Cave Show Grounds at Centre Hall, PA, in time for the fall show. That was the first time in many a year since her long rest on the farm that the Peerless ran using her own steam. Those helping to restore the engine were as follows: A. F. Harker, owner, Hollidaysburg; Jim Stiffler, Altoona; Jim Hakins, Altoona; R. T. Markle, State College; Terry Imler, pin striping, Altoona; L & M Boiler repair, Montoursville, Pa.; Dennis Walls, Tim Reese, Hollidaysburg, Pa.

After the show the engine was returned to Markle's shop for some finishing touches after which it was fired up and hooked to a dynamometer where it developed 16 belt horsepower running at 300 RPM and 110 lbs. steam pressure.