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A Gaar-Scott Portable Steam Engine

Collector finds and restores a Gaar-Scott portable steam engine after visiting the Pioneer Engineers show in Rushville, Indiana.

| September 2012

  • Gaar Scott Steam Engine Today
    Calvin Whitaker's early gaar-Scott portable 10 hp steam engine.
  • Gaar Scott Old Ad
    The 76th annual catalog of Gaar-Scott & Co. Abram Gaar and associates began building machinery for the woolen trade in 1836, evolving to threshing and portable steam engines in the 1850s.
  • Gaar Scott Steam Engine Originally
    The 10 hp Gaar-Scott as found was a bit of a project. The engine's governors, flywheel bearing, smokebox door and bracket, and drain cocks were missing.

  • Gaar Scott Steam Engine Today
  • Gaar Scott Old Ad
  • Gaar Scott Steam Engine Originally

In May 1954, while visiting with a man who regularly attended the Pioneer Engineers steam show in Rushville, Ind., I asked if he knew of any steam engines in the area. He said he didn’t think there had been any steam engines in the area for years.

We visited for another half hour before I headed for the car to leave. Then he said that there was an old Gaar-Scott portable steam engine in an orchard about 1 mile from his home. He said it had been sitting there for years and was nothing but a pile of junk; it was in real bad shape. That was what I wanted to hear, and I took off. Sure enough, there it sat, a 10 hp Gaar-Scott portable steam engine, probably dating to the 1870s. I asked if he was interested in selling, but he said no, the engine had been in the family for years. I wasn’t disappointed; I had something to work on in the future.

As time passed, I continued to make occasional visits to the man. Eventually I purchased the Gaar-Scott for $100. A few days later, a friend of mine, Keith Mauzy, and I left for Hendricks County, Ind., in Keith’s old 1940 Chevrolet truck. We got the engine home and I started working on it. I used a hammer and coal chisel to break out concrete from the smokebox. The boiler had gone bad and someone had poured concrete in the smokebox, providing support for the crankshaft. That in turn allowed the operators to run the engine from a nearby boiler, providing power for a large cider mill and a sorghum mill. Later, I made a replacement smokestack.

One day, as Keith and I were moving my Case 65 hp engine home from Martinsville, Ind., I spotted an old military wagon in a barn lot. A few days later I returned to purchase the wagon. The wheels just fit the Gaar-Scott, solving another problem. As time went by, I lost interest in the Gaar-Scott and began working on other projects. But I always intended to finish it.

In the mid-1990s, I went to work on the Gaar-Scott again. I purchased the governors and a firebox door and a friend did machine work for me. I made the tri-cock drain and the smokestack bracket that fastens to the boiler and welded three large pieces of 3/8-inch curved iron in the bottom of the firebox. The flues in the firebox were egg-shaped and I had to use several copper ferrules. I welded a liner in the smokebox to reinforce it and I built a new door for the smokebox. The water heater had frozen and broken, so I welded it and threaded it in the broken weld to put the exhaust pipe in.

I prepared to fire up the engine and check the crosshead pump to see if it would work. In the meantime, I gave the boiler a cold water test at 70 pounds (in order to run it at 50 pounds). When I fired the engine, everything went well, including the crosshead pump.


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