Banking on Steam Engine Restoration

Indiana man builds steam engine restoration business

| March 2001

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    A 20 hp Minneapolis undergoing complete restoration.
    Bob Crowell
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    A 40 hp Case receiving a patch in the bottom of the barrel.
    Bob Crowell
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    New contractor's tanks and bunkers, constructed onsite. "In this area, in the 1940s and '50s, steam engines were still use a little bit in threshing," Bob says. "People were cutting off the front steel wheels and putting on pneumatic tires. We've undone a lot of that. We make a lot of bolts, so we can duplicate the look of the original. It just adds a lot to the appearance of the engine. Some people think that's a waste of time, but to me, it's the aesthetics of the thing."
    Bob Crowell
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    Detail from an Aultman Star undermount engine awaiting restoration at B&B.
    Bob Crowell
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    Brian Vaughn (left) and Bob Gold. Brian has worked for Bob for about six years. Brian's fascination with steam dates to boyhood, when he attended his first steam show. "Ever since then, I've been interested in having a steam engine of my own." He bought a 22 hp Keck Gonnerman in 1989. "I don't drink, and I don't smoke," he says, "so supposedly I have money left over for stuff like this."
    Bob Crowell
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    Bob Gold making a pattern for parts. "When I got out of high school, I worked in welding at repair shops; now that's almost a thing of the past," Bob says. "As we pick up the tooling, we'll pick up fabricating jobs. If I didn't enjoy doing this, I would be working in fabricating."
    Bob Crowell
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    Employees Brian Vaughn (right) and Brian Walterman (inside) setting new stay bolts on a boiler.
    Bob Crowell

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At the dawn of a new millennium, state-of-the-art technology is the hallmark of most professions. For an Indiana man, though, it's the obsolete technology of steam engine restoration that pays the bills. 

In a shop just southeast of Indianapolis, Bob Gold and two full-time employees restore steam engines built nearly 100 years ago. They'll tackle just about any job.

"Whatever somebody wants us to do, we'll attempt it," Bob says. "What we do is as simple as putting in a set of tubes, to taking an engine that looks like a refugee from the scrap yard, and making it a running engine again. We do repairs to fireboxes, make tanks and bunkers, and we'll do oddball jobs. We do a good bit of boiler repair. That's heavier work, and harder, but it's something that most people don't feel confident doing themselves."

B&B Steam Restoration was founded about seven years ago by Bob and partner Barry Moorman (who's no longer with the company). Bob's involvement with steam engines, though, goes back more than 20 years.



"I've been going to steam shows for as long as I can remember. My grandfather was very mechanical, and he was a steam enthusiast," Bob says. "He had been an operator of steam engines in the 1920s and 1930s. He always talked about wanting an engine ... well, he finally bought one, but he never saw it run."

That engine - a 1919 60 hp Case - is Bob's now. The vintage steamer is up and running now, but Bob seldom has time to play.