350 HP Wetherill

Minnesota Club's Steam Attraction Features Rare 1887 Engine

| May / June 2005

In the summer of 1987, one hundred years after this giant Wetherill 350 HP Corliss steam engine was built, the Stearns County Pioneer Club (SCPC) of Albany, Minn., got it back up and running. In between, the 15-ton steam engine had quite a ride.

Built by the Robert Wetherill Co. of Chester, Pa., in 1887, the engine was first used in a Louisiana sawmill. Although exact dates are scarce, at some point it was moved to a Ford Motor Co. plant, and in 1951 Kimberly Clark Corp. (manufacturer of Scott paper towels) bought it to use in one of their plants. In the 1980s it ended up in Eland, Wis., intended for use in a new Small Business Administration-funded sawmill operation.

Bob Hawn, chief engineer of the SCPC, says the club first heard about the giant engine in 1981 from a couple of their Wisconsin members, Dale and Vern Gunderson. "The party who was going to incorporate the engine into the sawmill had an ornate designed building with old lattice work on the eaves, a very attractive building."

That, however, wasn't enough to keep the business concept from floundering. The engine was in the basement, and had never been put together after being hauled there. "The engine was partially assembled on a 7-foot pedestal," Bob says, "with the flywheel, crankshaft and backbone in place. None of the valve or connecting rod, or crosshead pieces had been assembled onto it."

The real challenge was taking the 16-foot diameter flywheel apart. Along with several other members of the club, Bob says, "We tied come-alongs and chain hoists to the upper half of the flywheel, then jacked and blocked, and lowered the bottom half of the flywheel off the crankshaft, slid that out, then put a saddle and bolt assembly to hold the upper half to the crankshaft." Using come-alongs and chain hoists, they rotated the flywheel so the top half went to the bottom, and using the same procedure as previously, jacked and lowered that half of the flywheel down.

After that, the crankshaft was hoisted out of the main bearing saddles and set down on the pedestal, slid over to the edge and lifted off with a heavy-duty forklift. The same procedure was used on the backbone and steam chest of the engine. When all the pieces were on the floor, a boom truck loaded them onto lowboy trailers for the several-hundred-mile haul back to Albany, Minn.