Letting Off Steam

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Much as I love winter, I’m looking forward to spring. I don’t know about the rest of you, but my humble workshop is pretty hard to keep warm when the temperature gets much below 30 degrees, and after awhile I find myself itching to get out of the house and play with some of my projects.

One of those is a scale Huber return-flue, pieces of which have been languishing in my shop for the past year or so. I inherited the Huber from a local steam enthusiast, who started the process of building the scale years ago, but never quite found the time to finish it.

During a spring cleaning, he finally came to the conclusion that he’d never finish the Huber, so he offered it to me. Rather than see it relegated to the scrap pile, I dutifully collected the pieces and took it home.

I have to say straight off that I’ve always been intrigued by return-flue engines. Theoretically more efficient at making steam, thanks of course to the extra pass the exhaust heat makes as it works its way back to the rear-mounted stack, they also had (and have) the drawback of concentrating extra heat around the engineer. I would guess that plowing with a return-flue engine would be even more tiring than with a standard engine, which probably explains why so many return-flue engines were used for belt work.

The problem is, the Huber hasn’t progressed much since I brought it home. At present I have a boiler, firebox, exhaust stack, axles, wheel rims and, importantly, most of a clutch and compensating gear. Equally important, however, I have no engine, and the pieces I do have are at various stages of completion.

I’m betting many of you have similar projects, whether full-size traction engines, threshers, water wagons or, as in my case, unfinished scale engines. Many of these projects never get finished, and yet the promise of completing them is so compelling, we just can’t quite let go. The result, of course, is we end up with piles of what look, to the uninitiated, like scrap metal, even though we know there’s something special under all that iron, just waiting to be brought to life.

At this juncture it’s hard to predict if I’ll ever get the Huber finished, but I’m not quite ready to let it go. I figure I’ll keep it around, and if I haven’t gotten to it in a few years I’ll look for someone else who can appreciate the promise of what it could be.

In the meantime, I’ll keep pondering its potential, working around it as it sits in my shop, content with simply having it there, finished or not.

Richard Backus



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