| July/August 1981

  • # Picture 01

  • # Picture 01

At the 1980 Berkshire Gas and Steam Engine Show, George Pearce of Wenham, Massachusetts exhibited this little gem with a historic background. It is a 5 HP 4 x 4 Baxter patent steam engine built by Colt Manufacturing Company of Hartford, Connecticut, and George came up with the following information: Colt realized the manufacture of firearms peaked with the end of the Civil War and looking for a product to keep its shops going, decided steam engines would be in demand to power the expected after-war industrial boom. Accordingly, they bought the rights for the Baxter engine and from 1866 to 1895 built many thousands in sizes from 5 to 20 horsepower.

The Baxter design placed the cylinder and valve gear on top of the boiler and more or less in the steam dome claiming better utilization and efficiency. In any case, the engine shown is a real nice running engine with this bit of history. It was used from 1868 to 1882 belted to an electric generator to light the Minot Ledge Lighthouse at Boston, Massachusetts. This was the first light house on the East Coast to be converted from oil, sperm oil or kerosene, both were used at the time, to electricity. This rock-ledge about a mile offshore has a traumatic history.

Numerous early attempts to maintain lights here either by ships or buoys were not successful and 40 or more ships were wrecked before a supposedly permanent-type light-house was built on the actual ledge. Being offshore and entirely surrounded by shallow but often violent ocean, it was felt an open skeleton-type tower would offer the least resistance and stand up to the severe wave action. Thus a tower with eight outer legs and one center leg all anchored in solid ledge was built and started operating in 1850, and just one year later a five-day storm toppled it with the loss of two lives.

A lightship was then anchored nearby while a new one was being constructed using the original anchors and by dowelling massive blocks to each other a 40' high solid masonry section was constructed. Then a thick wall masonry section for operating and living quarters was constructed with the center of the new lantern at 85' above sea level. At first oil was used, then from 1868 to 1882 this little Colt engine supplied the power for what was then the most modern light on the coast. When commercial power took over the engine was put in storage for approximately 50 years and then sold to a proprietor of a wood working shop. After about seven years it became part of the owner's estate and in the settling of the estate, George bought the engine unseen and to his surprise found he had a very rare engine in mint condition.

Perhaps history repeats itself for the Colt Firearms Company also known as the Colt Manufacturing Company by merger with other companies became Colt Industries and in recent years acquired Fairbanks Morse Company famous for its scales and engines. So Colt Industries is now producing diesel engines by the thousands.


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