Has Thompson’s Popper
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
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
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
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
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
Meanwhile, our knowledge of one thing and another broadens from
day to day as we visit and take pictures.