Farm Collector

Fourteen Years in the Making

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.

Now the Weimer engine would be built. John finalized the
technical drawings; George created the molds. But the greatest
challenge of this project was now at hand. Who would pour the cast
iron? The brothers discovered the Cattail Foundry in nearby
Lancaster County, which would pour the iron castings. Finally,
engine parts were machined and finished for assembly and numerous
engine details were completed.

Fourteen years later, in the fall of 2005, the engine was
complete and presented to the membership of the Hay Creek Valley
Historical Assn. Powered by compressed air, the miniature engine
whispered along with a gentle chug, chug, chug. In good humor the
brothers bantered a bit during the presentation, but genuine smiles
of satisfaction were expressed as they revealed this unique
mechanical accomplishment.

George, now 86, and John, 82, are members of the Hay Creek
Valley Historical Assn. and demonstrated this rare engine during
the Hay Creek Fall Festival, Sept. 8-10, 2006. The 31st Annual Hay
Creek Fall Festival will be Sept. 7-9, 2007. You can also see daily
metal casting demonstrations (with some designed molds crafted by
George) in addition to traditional crafts, food, children’s
activities and entertainment. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily
with free shuttle and parking. Adult admission is $8 and children
12 and under are free. Visit for all the details
or call (610) 286-0388.

Contact Mark Yorgey, Hay Creek Valley Historical Assn.
at P.O. Box 36, Geigertown, PA 19523; (610) 286-0388;

  • Published on Jun 1, 2007
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