My First Steam Engine

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Glantz Engine
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Glantz engine

626 North Minden Avenue, Minden, Nebraska

LeRoy Blaker was a childhood playmate of mine. After leaving our
community the family moved out of the state. I lost track of the
Blakers. One day looking through our daily paper I noticed an
article that LeRoy Blaker had been elected National Thresher
President of a Threshers Association. Since then we have kept track
of each other. Mr. Blaker and his wife and sister, who was also a
schoolmate, visited us last fall. I trust this article will be of
interest to your publication

I WAS AWAKENED BY A hissing noise. Looking through the attic
window where I had been asleep I saw a black monster, which proved
to be a steam traction engine. It seemed so large to me but I was
just a boy of nine or ten years. It was too early for me to get up
so I sat by the window until it was my usual time to arise. Here
before my very eyes was a steam engine. Now what do you suppose
makes that thing run? Somehow I was determined to find out.

Being summer and no school I could spend the day watching this
engine at work. I had heard of some of the boilers blowing up. One
water hauler had been killed. That sort of scared me but I would be
cautious so I found myself standing about 100 yards away. I was
careful that nothing was in back of me, if that boiler should blow
up it would give me a better chance to take off. The engineer in my
opinion was a brave man. He seemed to have lots of faith in the
boiler. The engine was laboring heavily under its load. The exhaust
was very exciting. But why did it have to make that puffing noise?
Without any warning the safety valve popped off which made
considerable noise. I thought that must be the boiler blowing up so
I took off. A farmer’s horses hitched to a wagon had been
frightened and were running away. The crew stayed around the
machine and no one ran away or seemed to be concerned so I started
back to the engine.

I was now close to the engine. I was getting more courage. At
last I had one of my hands on the drive wheel. The engine was
laboring quite heavily as it was rocking back and forth. It seemed
to be determined to pull its load. Some time the exhaust was very
loud, then a soft exhaust but it was music to my ears. I pretty
much decided when I grew up I was going to be an engineer. By this
time I had gotten acquainted with the engineer who appeared to be a
nice fellow, so I began to ask questions. What makes it run? He
said, ‘putting water in the boiler and heating it to a point
when it would turn to steam would cause a tremendous pressure.
There is a pipe leading the steam to a cylinder and a plunger or
piston as it is called fitted in the cylinder. The pressure forces
the piston back and forth.’ What regulates the steam to the
cylinder? He said, ‘I don’t know, all I know is the steam
forces the piston to one end. After the steam has done its job it
is exhausted into the smoke stack where it helps to create a
draft.’ Well, that was something, but what causes the steam to
do the thing at the right time?

During the next four or five years I asked a lot of questions
but I never got what was a complete answer. One day I decided to
build a little steam engine. I mentioned this to my brothers but
they did not think much of the idea. What could a boy my age know
about an engine and I was told I had better keep out of the
blacksmith shop. Since I was the youngest of four boys it seemed I
would have to obey the order but I planned to work on the sly. I
told my two youngest sisters what my plans were but they must tell
no one to which they agreed. I had decided to build a small steam
engine 1 1/8‘ diameter by 2 inch stroke,
single action. The valve had to be worked out as there was no place
to buy small parts, then too my trouble was no money, which was no
different than any boy at my age.

I did not have a lathe. Our blacksmith shop consisted of a
forge, an anvil, vise and post drill. The big problem was the valve
which had been partly developed but to prove my theory was right I
would have to build an engine. I do not know just how I happened to
work it out. I will attempt to describe the valve. It was made from
a steam cock or ‘ shut-off. When the valve was wide open I
drilled two three-sixteenth inch holes through the body into the
one side of the spindle. Now when I turned the spindle one-half
turn this would be the position for a full inlet to the cylinder as
the engine turned, then a rocker arm set up would cause the steam
to be shut off from the cylinder. The exhaust steam would pass out
of the cylinder into the valve where it passed into the spindle,
then up through the body and out in the open. The valve on a
Corliss steam engine is very much the same as on my engine. I was
fourteen years old when I completed the engine, having taken me two
years.

Just how was I going to test it out? I did not want any one
around because there was a possibility that I could be wrong. One
day I painted it and it really did look like a steam engine. Will
it run? That was the big question. I had built sort of a water tube
boiler. This arrangement I set on the forge and placed the engine
in the vise. All the folks had gone to the County Fair so I had the
shop to myself. The engine and boiler were piped together. I did
not have a steam gauge, no safety valve, no throttle and one pet
cock on the boiler. This I used for testing the pressure. I had
placed the engine on dead center. After what I thought should be
plenty of water in the boiler, I started the fire in the forge.
Then trying the pet cock a few times I decided there was ample
pressure.

The big moment was now here. I pushed it off center, the engine
started turning over slowly. It was exhausting mostly water. I
remember I was getting pretty excited and was just a little
disappointed that it did not turn faster. The water was not coming
out like it did at the start. I guess the engine was turning over
about 150 RPM but it was increasing its speed and was now
exhausting steam instead of water. I could no longer see the spokes
in the flywheel. It then dawned on me that I had no throttle and
could not slow it down. It was now running about 2000 RPM and still
gaining speed. By this time I had left the building because no
thought had been given to balance of the engine. The entire shop
was trembling from the engine vibration. I was pretty much
bewildered. The engine was still gaining speed. Finally the crank
shaft broke next to the flywheel and the engine stopped. I had
proven my point what makes a steam engine operate. I replaced the
crankshaft, painted it and hid it in an old trunk where my brothers
kept their fly nets for the horses.

One nice warm Sunday my brothers got the fly nets for the
driving team. I knew then that they had found my engine. Most of us
got into the carriage to go to church, myself and two of my
brothers in the front seat. We were on our way down the road, no
one seemed to have anything to say. Finally one of my brothers
turned to mother and said, ‘We will never make a farmer out of
Lud. We found something,’ and proceeded to tell about my
engine. After that experience I was given more leeway in the shop.
In the next two years I built three more engines. I also built a 2
horsepower engine. I designed a new valve action which was a rotary
valve. I started for a patent and finally decided I had better
learn a little more about engines. This valve really performs nice.
There is no reciprocating motion as it is driven off the crank
shaft by bevel gears which was to be enclosed and would run in
grease.

I am a steam engine enthusiast and have practically spent my
entire life time with machinery. I have, however, changed my
vocation several times. Fifteen years were spent with steam which I
thought I had mastered quite well. I spent a great deal of time in
valve setting and the machinists trade. In 1917 I joined the
regular Navy as 2nd class machinist. Ten months later I was
promoted to Chief Machinist. This is where I got my marine engine
experience. I spent some time working in railroad shops. In 1928 I
started building dies and jigs. I have spent about 60 years with
machinery.

I suppose some of you readers probably might wonder what I am
doing today. I own and operate a manufacturing plant where we
manufacture automotive tools and some electronic parts. We have
also designed and built some automatic machines. The work has been
very interesting. Some of the most interesting problems came from
the steam traction engine.

Engines and machinery have always provided me with work. Some
one once said, ‘I can’t help but admire the one who enjoys
doing what he has to do the most of.’

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