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Fourteen Years in the Making

Fleming Brothers Recreate Weimer Blower Engine

| June 2007

  • WeimerEngineNameplate
    Above: A closeup of the Weimer engine nameplate.
  • WeimerEngineNameplate-1
    Right: John (left) and George Fleming with the 1/8-scale working model P.L. Weimer blower engine. (Photos courtesy of Hay Creek Valley Historical Assn.)
  • 1_8-scaleModelWeimerEngine
    The 1/8-scale model Weimer engine outside the blower house.

  • WeimerEngineNameplate
  • WeimerEngineNameplate-1
  • 1_8-scaleModelWeimerEngine

In 1991, brothers John and George Fleming were following with great interest the archaeological excavations at Joanna Furnace, near Morgantown, Pa. This cold blast furnace was in operation from 1791 to 1898, and after many years of abandonment the Hay Creek Valley Historical Assn. became the new owners of this historical treasure during the 1970s.

Excavations were taking place at the furnace site almost every weekend, and among the many discoveries were the remains of huge bolts and cylinders from what they believed was an engine. John and George were encouraged by the findings and made their way to the library of the Hay Creek Valley Historical Assn. in search of patent gazettes on engines from the 1800s.

Gradually the information came together, with the discovery that a major engineering change took place at the furnace in the later years of operation, with a transition from the Colonial cold blast system to hot blast. Captured hot blast gases from the furnace stack were mixed with fresh air and pumped by a P.L. Weimer blower engine into the base of the bosh, at 800 to 900 degrees, quadrupling the production of iron. The Weimer engine was powered by steam from a separate boiler system, which also utilized the hot gases from the furnace. The engine was manufactured by the Weimer Machine Works in Lebanon, Pa.

With basic dimensions in hand and some aged sketches of the engine, John and George spent four years developing engineering prints, with specific measurements related to cylinder bore, piston stroke and casting details. Final plans were developed to recreate a 1/8-scale working model. The original engine was 15 feet high, 9 feet wide and 17 feet long with an estimated engine weight of 4-1/2 to 5 tons, resting on a casting base of 1 to 2 tons.

John and George were a perfect fit for this special project. Raised in Geigertown, just a few miles from Joanna Furnace, the talents and skills of their father (and his patient instructions in their years of youth) set in motion a lifetime of devotion to mechanical trades. They were surrounded by everything mechanical with a sawmill, wheelwright shop, picket fence mill and cider press on the family farm.

Their father taught John how to repair the Model T, which proved beneficial for his mechanical test to join the Army many years later. Both brothers served their country during World War II, shipping out and returning home within days of each other. George was always fond of wood and could always be found tinkering with small wooden water-wheels, which would be tested in the creek that ran through the mill. Eventually, George became a journeyman experienced in pattern making for metal casting molds at Birdsboro Corp. in Birdsboro, Pa.


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