Willis Wilcox, 349 East Arch street, a sign painter, is interested In many other activities, one of them being steam engines. He is the possessor of two such engines, and called to Invite us to come see them after a recent MESSENGER story on steam-powered locomotives.
In the top picture accompanying this article is a steam engine which formerly belonged to the late J. D. Thompson, who owned the old Grand Central Hotel which was located for years where a parking lot now stands, near the railroad between Sugg and Center streets.
This steam engine was used to power Thompson's popcorn popper which was housed In an enclosed wagon, and was parked most of the time on Sugg street near the railroad and also near Grand Central Hotel. This hotel was a fine one in it's day and attracted visitors from far and near, most of whom came by train.
Wilcox bought this engine at an auction of Thompson's effects following his death several years ago, and spent quite some time reconditioning it.
Mrs. Irene Lewis, of Lomita, California, made the rings for this engine and John X. Hall put the pistons and rings Into the engine. Estimated age of this engine is about 75 years. Wilcox has another steam engine (see bottom photo) which he made from rough iron castings purchased from Arnold's Casting Factory in Junction City, Oregon. The castings were machined by Billy Sexton, in the General Machines shop here. It took about four months of Sexton's spare time to do the machine work on this engine. Wilcox painted it and supervised its construction. This one weighs about 70 pounds. The flywheel alone weighs about 12 pounds. This one gets about 5 HP under 100 pounds of steam, Wilcox said.
Incidentally, while Messenger Photographer Laura McGrew and I were at Wilcox's studio, we saw framed autographed photos of several famous personages which Wilcox has met, among them Roy Rogers (he has one of Trigger's horseshoes glided and mounted on a wooden plaque); Sally Rand, Karl Kae Knecht, Evansville cartoonist, and several others.
The steps to the upstairs studio were from a PT boat and were given to Wilcox by the Navy, he said. They are metal and almost straight up. Wilcox is a very interesting conversationalist, the kind you should meet when you have all afternoon and a pot of fresh coffee.
His 12 - year - old Boxer, 'Lady', checks all visitors coming and going. She is fat as a bear but still makes a pretty good attempt at guard duty. Let's say, she looks fierce. Wilcox swore she'd never harm a soul but we weren't going to encourage her to commit mayhem. We kept saying 'Nice Lady, nice Lady' and she didn't bite, even though we kept feeling she might.
Meanwhile, our knowledge of one thing and another broadens from day to day as we visit and take pictures.