25054 Lehigh Dearborn Heights, Michigan 48125-1639
In its July/August issue, IMA was kind enough to print
my letter which asked for help understanding the brass tag on the
boiler of my 1910 Leader engine. The replies were rather sparse,
however one of them was just what the doctor ordered.
I received a reply from Mr. Tom C. Spires of Lancaster, Ohio, a
gentleman who is one of the previous owners of this engine. Tom was
able to give me the history about this Leader dating back to at
Several folks have said that the ‘HSBCO’ designation
probably stands for Hartford Steam Boiler Company, Ohio. Likewise
the ‘TBCO’ probably represents The Brownell Company, Ohio,
a conclusion supported by the smoke box door ring which reads,
‘The Brownell Company, Dayton, Ohio.’ I’m told the
‘NB’ stands for the National Board number of the
Some of the history of the engine is as follows. In 1955 the
Schwilk brothers from near Lancaster, Ohio, purchased the engine
from a widow near’ Centerburg, Ohio. Tom believes that it was
the husband of this widow who either re-boilered the engine or had
it done sometime around 1938. The original was probably a lap seam
boiler, as the boiler on Tom’s all-original 18 HP Leader is lap
seam. The barrel is 32′ diameter with fifty-five 2′ flues,
as the most part of the 230 square feet of heating surface.
The engine had seen use as part of a threshing outfit, and when
they bought it it was buried over its rims while in service at a
sawmill where apparently it had been for some time. Mr. Spires
bought the engine from them in 1961 and owned it until 1968. For
some years during that period he also owned the aforementioned 1906
Leader 18 HP. In 1968 he sold the 20 HP (my engine) to Mr. Charles
Deeds, also of Lancaster, Ohio. As of this writing Tom still owns
his 18 HP Leader.
Mr. Deeds owned and showed the 20 HP until sometime in the late
’80s/early ’90s. In the mid-’80s he had new bunkers
made for the Leader. They hold a total of 110 gallons. Sadly,
Charlie passed on to his reward not long ago. His wife was kind
enough to supply many pictures taken during his stewardship. In the
early ’90s the engine changed hands at least twice, going first
to Chardon, Ohio, and then to Elyria, Ohio, where I found it. In
the late fall of 1996 it came to its new home in Hartland,
The Leader is a single cylinder simple, with a wet-bottomed butt
strap boiler. It is a side mount design. The drivers are 20′
wide by 70′ in diameter. The lugs had been removed to allow
rubber tires to be mounted, back when it was used for
The Schwilks took off the rubber and put the cleats and skid
rings back on. They probably didn’t have all of them so they
only put on every other one in the outside rows. This seems to be
the best explanation for the missing cleats. I am having a pattern
made to cast replacement parts. At some time after Mr. Deeds sold
the engine the pre-heater was removed. At this time I have no plans
to replace it.
The motor is a 12′ stroke with about a 8′ bore. I have
had no reason to remove the head, so the bore will be a mystery for
some time. Tom’s 18 HP is 12′ stroke by
85/8‘ bore. A Gardner 2’ governor
designed to hold the speed at 235 rpm is mounted on the valve
chest. When I got the Leader, I found that the balance valve from
this governor had at some time in the past fallen off and into the
valve chest, where it was reduced to a handful of pieces by the
valve. Fortunately I was able to measure up the rubble and machined
a new balance valve.
The valve had been adjusted to avoid hitting the scrap and this
yielded a single acting engine. The talented ear of Mr. Stan Miner
of Howell, Michigan, picked this up the first time we fired the
engine. Stan is a well seasoned steam man, and was instrumental in
helping me get the Leader running smoothly in proper double-acting
fashion. Stan is a well-spring of good information and I can’t
thank him enough.
Some of the other features include friction clutch, Lunkenheimer
2′ x 8′ whistle with ‘ valve, Penberthy ‘ injector,
an American #4 injector, Madison-Kipp oiler and the original
Ashcroft/Leader 300 lb. steam gauge with Ashcroft siphon.
While I had to attend to hundreds of smaller details, some of
the larger ones include rebuilding the canopy along with new tin,
scraping off many pounds of dirt, grease and paint, and spending
untold hours cleaning out the boiler.
To add to peace of mind, the steam gauge and the pop off valve
were sent out for rebuilding and recalibration. The pop off is a
1′ Lunken heimer and is set at 150 lbs. The boiler is rated at
I would also like to pass on what may (or may not) be some good
ideas. I let my boiler cool overnight before blowing it down. It is
still at about 125 degrees or so, but this is not enough heat to
dry it out, plus hosing down the insides cools it even more. After
draining and opening all hand holes, I set my 55,000 BTU kerosene
(torpedo) heater to blow into the firebox. After about an hour the
crown sheet, flues and barrel are bone dry, yet the temperature
never comes close enough to endangering the fusible plug. I also
set the heater beneath the boiler, and let it warm the wet bottom
for about three hours.
The thing that REALLY makes this work is a small, 100 cfm
squirrel cage style electric blower. This has a 2′ outlet which
readily fits the hand holes.
Running this blower during warming and for about six hours
afterwards gives me a completely dry boiler in 10 hours for only a
couple of dollars of kerosene and about four bits electric.
This little blower also does a great job of drying out the
bunkers (no heat). I know that dry bunkers last longer, so this
must hold true for boilers as well.
The dry scale which results is easily removed with another
gimmick, a wet/dry shop vacuum. This does a really great job of
cleaning out the bottom of the boiler and is equally handy in
cleaning out the ash pit and smoke box as well.
Whether or not these are ideas anyone else has come up with, I
don’t know. I do know I would like to see from you readers more
good, practical ideas for all of the everyday maintenance of an
engine. Most of you folks are well versed in the steam hobby, but
some of us newcomers need all the education we can get. I am aware
of the value of such things as a clean sight glass, a wire brushed
fusible plug, clean flues and firebox. I do my best to observe
safety at all times, and hope to prove to be a good engineer.
The Leader enjoys excellent room and board. It stays in a good
dry barn, removed from the dirt floor by thick rubber matting. It
fires easily on the red oak which I have in abundance.
As promised in my earlier letter, I have supplied photos taken
during a steam-up on Independence Day, 1997. The weather was just
glorious with a light breeze and temperature in the mid 70s. The
engine performed very well, and the governor work which I did
seemed to pass muster. The only real test I could do at this time
was to get it on one of my steeper hills. The motor seemed to
maintain speed beautifully and the Leader barked a fine tune on the
hill. All in all, friends and I enjoyed the engine, the weather,
and the outing very much.
Before long, I hope to have the Leader inspected and ready to go
to shows in the Michigan/Ohio area. Thanks for all of the wonderful
stories and photos which you contribute to IMA; it’s a
real bimonthly shot in the arm. See you at the shows!