Museum Needs Our Help!

1 / 2
From the Collections of Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village.
2 / 2

Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village 20900 Oakwood Blvd.
Dearborn, Michigan 48121-1970

To all the old-time steam men out there, we at Henry Ford Museum
and Greenfield Village need your help. Please consider the
following:

For many years, out behind the old boiler repair shop at
Greenfield Village sat an engine. More specifically, a 19 HP Port
Huron compound ‘Longfellow.’ With a tattered canopy, broken
smokebox door and rusted out water tanks, the old engine was slowly
settling farther and farther into the ground. For company she had
the yearly robin or sparrow’s nest built somewhere on her, and
she also had one of her kin, too, a Port Huron portable engine,
mounted on trucks, number 8620, for solace. Not a very dignified
ending for what was once her owner’s pride and joy. But at
least she had beaten the fate of so many engines, the
scrapper’s torch.

Then, in the early 1980s, the venerable 19 was given a new lease
on life. She was hauled from her long time resting spot down to the
machine shops of Armington & Sims. Many hours were spent
cleaning away the accumulated rust and grime and deterioration of
twenty years’ inactivity. Water tanks, smokebox door and canopy
were repaired; valve, governor and throttle reconditioned; and the
boiler inspected and tested. Gallons of red and black paint were
carefully applied, and the reborn ‘Longfellow’ was ready
for operation.

Annually she took part in the summer’s ‘Pageant of
Power,’ and in the fall was belted up to a 28′ x 46′
Nichols & Shepard Red River Special separator to demonstrate
how things were done when she was new.

And just when was this engine new?

For the past five years, the writer of this article has been
relieved of his regular duties of repairing and maintaining old
steam locomotives, and permitted the honor of operating the Port
Huron when it was to run at scheduled events. Starting as an
out-and-out ‘green’ engineer, and not remembering to have
‘punched’ the tubes, I couldn’t for the life of me
figure out why, after two hours of firing, there was no draft or
pressure! But experience is a wonderful teacher, and with some
advice from an old-time thresherman or two, keeping a steady
pressure and water level is now getting to be a much easier
thing.

Between threshing demonstrations are the usual questions of
‘How heavy?’ ‘How much water?’ ‘How much
coal?’ and ‘How old?’ This last question posed a real
problem. Just how old is our engine? Guesses put the year of
construction at the mid to late teens but those were only guesses.
Somehow it seemed like the ol’ 19 deserved better.

Late last summer an earnest effort was begun to determine just
when the engine was built, and where it had come from. Many hours
were spent in the archives and registrar’s files and, unlike
almost all other items in the museum’s collection, there was
absolutely no record of when the engine was acquired or from
whom.

Several articles written by LeRoy Blaker for IMA
suggested that as late as the mid-1960s, apparently very detailed
records of the Port Huron Engine & Thresher Company were still
in existence, and in October ’93, the current owner of the
records was located. Given either the boiler serial number, or the
builder’s plate number on the smokebox door, the identity of
the engine could be traced. And so, based on the builder’s
plate number, the records show that the engine was completed on
December 22. 1916. and shipped to Joseph Freund (the spelling of
the last name may not be correct) of Westphalia, Michigan, on July
14, 1917. At some later date the engine was returned to the company
and then resold April 24, 1924 to Earl Lidel, of Maybe,
Michigan.

The boiler construction record also showed that the boiler
serial number, (based on the builder’s plate number), should be
5244. However, a close inspection of the backhead shows that the
ACTUAL boiler number is T 93119. Located in the usual spot, just
above the hand hole near the top of the backhead, the stamped-in
letter T and 93119 show every bit of being original and
unadulterated. Further examination of the backhead showed no other
numbers. Inquiries were made at a local and well-respected boiler
repair company, to the Hartford Steam Boiler Insurance Company, and
to the local State of Michigan Deputy Boiler Inspector, and no one
from any of those agencies had ever heard of a ‘T’ number.
Can any of you old-time engineers or traction buffs shed any light
on this?

To further complicate matters, there is some question as to
whether the builder’s number plate currently on the engine is
the original one. Without being able to cross-reference to the
boiler number, the true identity of the engine is still up for
grabs. Evidence at this time would indicate that the number plate
is original, but just to make sure, we would like to know if any of
you ever remember seeing the engine when it sat derelict out behind
the old boiler shop. In the 1960s, as an adjunct to the NTA
reunions at Montpelier and later at Wauseon, one-day excursions to
the village and museum were run, and it would seem that somebody,
sometime may have taken a picture or jotted down an engine number.
If you did, we certainly would like to hear from you. Once the
identity has been established, and armed with the correct
construction records, the engine can then be restored to look as it
did when it was new.

The accompanying photos show the engine during the early part of
its restoration, and it is hoped that the picture may jog
someone’s memory.

The museum and I are grateful to the Iron-Men Album for
printing this and to your readers out there who may be able to
help. If you send photographs, they will be returned if requested.
I can be reached at the following:

Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village, 20900 Oakwood Blvd.,
Dearborn, Michigan 48121-1970. Attn: Thomas Fisher, Historical
Operating Machinery Dept., phone 313-271-1620, ext. 723, weekdays 7
to 3.

Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment