Second Wind for 1912 Frick Eclipse

Volunteers coax a century-plus Frick Eclipse steam engine back to life.


| October 2015



Howard Horne

Howard Horne inside the firebox. The opening on the firebox door measures all of 13 inches.

Photo by Bill Friday

More than a century after it was built, and decades since it had last run, a 1912 Frick Eclipse recently got a second wind, coaxed back to life by a crew of volunteers. The history of the 7-inch x 10-inch double-cylinder engine (serial no. 16043) is unknown. The Eclipse predates the time when the Frick Co., Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, began to maintain records; no records exist for it at the Frick Engine Club repository in Julian, North Carolina.

After Bill Drake bought the Eclipse, in about 1970, he took it to his farm near Huntsville, Alabama. He made some initial efforts to restore it, but soon gave up. The Eclipse needed an enormous amount of work. The crankshaft, valvetrain, clutch, reverser, cross shaft and axle were rusted solid. The engine’s background is unknown. If Bill – since deceased – told anyone where he got the engine, we’ve yet to hear of it.

Bill’s brother, Tom Drake, is the current owner of the Eclipse. In October 2014, he gave the green light for restoration. Tom has faithfully supported the effort with his presence, encouragement and footing bills for replacement parts. Burton Marsh, Greenbriar, Alabama, directed the project, and I became an assistant. Maurice Thompson, Somerville, Alabama, joined the crew as a regular co-worker. Ray Ferguson, Harvest, Alabama, and Walter Clement, Old Salem, Tennessee, worked as our machinists, and Walter has been our main steam technical advisor. Others (including Mike Rodgers and Brad Jennings, both of Huntsville, Alabama) have contributed to this dirty and often difficult job. Most of us have declared it a highlight of our lives, outshining many other projects involving antique equipment.

First step: Start the chainsaws

The initial goal was to free the engine and run it using a smaller, separate boiler. Chainsaws were used to remove maple trees from under the front axle (the wood was later burned in the boiler). All of the peripherals were removed: the original Frick/H. Belfield Bourdon tube pressure gauge, 2-inch Pickering governor, 1-1/2-inch American Steam  Gauge & Valve Mfg. Co. pressure relief valve, McCullough steam lubricator, water level sight glass and Penberthy steam injector. Connecting rods and valve linkages were disconnected and removed, as were the cylinder heads.

With lots of penetrating oil and a 10-pound hammer applied to the crossheads, the pistons were finally dislodged. Rings on the right side were worn thin and broken. Those on the left were hardly worn at all, but a complete new set was purchased from David Reed at Otto Gas Engines in Elkton, Maryland – except that in each of the four 5/8-inch ring grooves now rest a pair of 3/8-inch and 1/4-inch rings, since the wider ones were much less available and these serve very well. In the past, wood sliders were crafted and placed under the cross heads, possibly from the factory. A new set was cut from maple blocks.

The crankshaft and flywheel finally yielded to a long pry pole chained to the spokes and, with lots of penetrating oil, eventually spun freely. The valve eccentric also came free, and its linkages were exercised (both valves use the one eccentric). The steam chests were opened and the D-valves examined. The valves were worn, but completely intact and serviceable, though leaky, as we later learned.