Connecticut Antique Machinery Association Preserves Skinner Engine

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View this page: in place at Rocky Hill Veterans Hospital powerhouse.
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Loading out from the second-floor engine room.
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All pieces in rough position in Kent.
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The steam feed up from the first floor to the engine on the second floor.
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Removing grout from the outboard bearing.
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Jacking of upper flywheel above crankshaft.
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47 Clinton Avenue Westport, Connecticut 06880

For collectors and preservers of old machinery, what a wonderful
world it would be if mass, money and manpower were of no
consequence when gathering treasures. Alas, in the engine hobby,
and particularly for those of us in the non-profit museum arena,
machinery is usually large, funding is limited, and our workforce
is primarily volunteer.

Disassembly is under way. John Stauffer and Ray Dewley are
removing the eccentric straps (note the ear protectors; it was
noisy in the powerhouse!).

It’s my hope that those of you familiar with these obstacles
might be encouraged by this article to undertake saving the larger
engines. It can be done! I know it can, because here at Connecticut
Antique Machinery Association (CAMA), we’ve done it.

We are proud to have among our displays a fully-operable Skinner
Universal Unaflow steam engine, along with the alternating current
generator it powered. The engine is a right handed side crank
engine, with an 82 inch diameter flywheel. Normal operating speed
is 225 rpm, and alternator capacity suggests that the engine is
probably about 250 horsepower. The 187 kVA, 2300 volt, 60 hz three
phase alternator was built by Crocker-Wheeler in Ampere, New
Jersey. The 7.5 kW 125 volt direct current Crocker-Wheeler excitor
dynamo is driven from a pulley located on a section of the engine
crankshaft that extends beyond the pedestal bearing. The entire set
takes up 12 x 16 feet of exhibit space.

Until 1994, the engine and generator were housed on the second
floor of the powerhouse of the Rocky Hill Veterans Hospital here in
Connecticut, under ownership of the Veterans Administration.
Installed new in 1938, the engine was last used regularly in 1975,
but had been maintained for standby service to back up the
hospital’s Terry steam turbine driven generator set.

When the time came to take the engine fully out of service, the
Veterans Administration was persuaded to transfer its ownership to
CAMA’s landlord, the Connecticut Bureau of Parks and
Recreation. The VA also granted permission to our volunteers for
disassembly of the engine in the working powerhouse.

With that permission granted, CAMA members found themselves in
an uncomfortable position: this was not just some ‘basket
case’ we were rescuing–we would actually be tearing apart a
well-cared-for and operating piece of machinery.

Members began arriving at Rocky Hill around 10:00 a.m. on
February 4, 1994 to document on videotape the Skinner’s final
run in its soon-to-be-former home. The power plant staff didn’t
ease any of our pangs of conscience as they noted that, ‘Look!
The exciter is still putting out current!’ and the like. With
the able Conrad Milster of Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute operating
the camera, we got what we needed on tape and were ready to leave
by 1:00 p.m. Next task: to dismantle the engine (carefully!) and
get it ready for the trip to its new home in Kent.

From the start of the entire process, we made certain that each
step was completely documented on film. This photo record, along
with field notes and sketches, was done to document the engine and
relationship of various component parts so that the engine could be
put back together. In effect, we were creating the assembly manual
as we disassembled the engine.

We literally took over the engine room. It was a winter job, the
engine room quite warm and very noisy. They had several steam
turbines running the whole time we were there. We did not work
without wearing ear protection at all times. The electrical
switchboards next to the engine were in use as we worked, but we
really took over with blocking, cribbing, and rigging everywhere.
We met on Saturdays; the process of taking the engine apart,
prepping it, and mounting it on skids for the move took ten of
those Saturdays, with an average crew numbering four.

The hardest piece was the last. It was the cylinder and main
frame assembly. We had to use jackhammers to break up the grout
which held this piece, and then it had to be jacked up above the
foundation studs. Then we jacked it even higher, in order to build
a set of wooden skids under it. After that it was again jacked so
that a plank floor could be laid under the skids, and we added
rollers in between.

The door that everything must go out; watch that first step,
it’s twenty feet down. The second floor machine in the left
foreground is a turbine generator, which was constantly on–what a
noise it made while generating electricity!

We then had to roll this largest piece out and, as it was
rolled, turn it 90 degrees to line up with the alley out to the
door. At the beginning of this move, this heavy piece had to span
and roll over the planked-up flywheel pit to line up with the alley
and doorway.

Once all of the engine pieces and all of our gear were removed,
we went back to the powerhouse with a transit and a level. There we
measured all of the dimensions between the foundation bolts and
made a set of drawings so we could pour a new foundation for the
engine at our museum.

Moving day from the Rocky Hill hospital was the most exciting.
The trickiest piece to move was the cylinder/frame assembly. It was
heaviest at the cylinder end, which came out last from the doorway.
The rigging company (Industrial Riggers) are members of CAMA, as
are the owners of the trucking company. The large engine pieces
filled up the trailer.

A couple of days later, we began the unloading process at CAMA
grounds in Kent, where we put a forklift to work placing the pieces
above the newly-poured foundations.

We then reversed the process undertaken at Rocky Hill, and
reassembled the engine using our photos and field notes for
guidance. When we got stumped, we had the good fortune to be able
to call Mitch Koral, Field Engineer, Retired, Skinner Engine
Company, who lives in North Carolina. We called him several times
during the disassembly and reassembly, and his help and guidance
speeded up the process and helped to insure that the engine would
run again.

Engine reassembly took the same number of people in the crew
approximately 20 days, spread over a two-year period. We leveled
and aligned the main frame, cylinder, and outboard, with the
crankshaft set in and leveled and squared. The stator cage was
moved over to encircle the rotor. With the help of a gantry frame,
we were able to put the flywheel halves in place and bolt together
and install the governor controls. We cleaned and installed the
eccentric straps and valve rods, then the exhaust valve cages, and
then repiped the pressurized lube oiling system. When in Rocky
Hill, the engine was on the second floor of the powerhouse and the
steam line had been attached from the floor below; thus we had to
remove the steam intake manifold from the cylinder casting and
invert it so the steam supply is directed into the manifold from
the top of the engine. Finally, after attaching the steam feed and
exhaust lines, the engine was ready for testing.

The big day, the main event of our year, came on September 28,
1996, when the Skinner engine was first run, at CAMA’s fall
festival. It has been operable ever since.

Still to be done is the connecting of the condensate lines and
finishing of the concrete floor around the engine.

The Skinner Universal Unaflow engine, the ultimate in steam
valve construction, is the most efficient of steam engines. The
Unaflow valve design means the steam enters not just one side of
the piston and then the other, but both sides at once. The trick is
an imbalance in the pressure. A little more on one side so the
piston travels toward one end and then runs into the lesser
pressure at the other end, rather than no pressure, and uses
compression to slow the inertia and help to push the piston back
when the valve changes direction and the piston reaches the end of
travel. After the valve changes the steam pressure, the piston is
pushed back, according to the high speed design. The flywheel has a
governor balance system on it that regulates the eccentrics, and
consequently the steam inlet, faster than the main valve can take
effect. This is required to maintain the generating speed. The
Skinner Engine Company, located in Erie, Pennsylvania, manufactured
and sold steam engines into the 1950s. The company survived,
although they’ve diversified, and can still produce a steam
engine today as a special order.

Organizations should not be put off by large projects, but
should carefully analyze them to determine their historical
significance and their viability, both in financial terms and in
terms of their impact on the organization’s volunteer base.
These projects can be done, but will take volunteers away from
other duties they are already performing, and a large project could
burn them out.

To combat burnout, on each work day set small goals so the crew
can finish the day with a sense of accomplishment, feeling good
about what they are doing.

This job couldn’t have been done without the financial
backing of the Dibner Fund, the support of the officers, directors,
and members of CAMA, and all the contributions of the volunteers
who worked so hard to not only save but also set up this engine and
fit it back together so it is able to run again for other
generations to see.

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