Jim at the front of the engine
R. R. 1, New Paris, Indiana 46553.
Most IRON MAN ALBUM stories concern steam operations that used to be, or 'once a year' steam shows. I would like to tell you about an 'is now', five day a week, working for a living, 200 KVA steam electric generating plant here in New Paris, Indiana.
Our product line includes boat oars and canoe paddles, and it is our wood working that we will talk about here. Our oar production got underway in 1932. We purchased a used steam plant at about the same time. We pioneered in mass production of oars with 100% of shaping done with power equipment, eliminating the hand draw-knife, and achieving a much more uniform product.
I share this background because you need to see that our steam plant does double duty as a power source and a very clean burning incinerator. We have the usual slabs and sawdust of any sawmill, plus band saw scrap, shaper shavings, and finally sanding dust. We operate our own dry kiln in addition to the generator and also heat about one half of our buildings with exhaust steam. With this set-up we are still unable to use all our fuel.
I'll start describing the steam plant by introducing Old Red, Raymond Tarman, our engineer. You would never call him Red to see him now because his hair has since turned gray, but some of us with good memories recall when it was red. Well, Red checks in at 6:00 A. M. every morning, but firing-up starts long before that by the night man.
By 6:55, the oilers are checked, the engine is moved off dead center if it had stopped that way, and everything is hot and ready to go. The five minute whistle is one long blast, then Red starts his show.
He cracks the throttle to start the engine rolling, switches on the 'buzz-box' excitor, (the original D. C. excitor wore out years ago), and gives the engine more steam. We pick up full speed at 215 rpm. Now he cuts her over; a three-blade, open, hand-operated switch. We are making juice!
Red 'switching over'. Pictures credited to Paul Allebach, New Paris, Indiana 46553.
Got to get those sawdust feed pipes into boiler quick, now close those cylinder drains, change over steam heat valve to work from exhaust. Just made it in time to blow a long and short on the whistle. It's time to go to work.
This engine is a Buckeye, made in Salem, Ohio. It has an 18 inch bore and 24 inch strokes. There are six patents listed on the cylinder, the earliest is 1891, the latest: 1899.
The valve is a compound piston type operated from two eccentrics on the crankshaft. The outside one works from a fixed eccentric. The inside one, the eccentric is rotated on the shaft by two large spring loaded governor weights. This one controls the cut-off time according to load. It is just a shade fast. Our electric clock gains about five minutes in a working day.
We have two side by side boilers with a large six-foot deep water pit under both. This provides a good water reserve if our electric pump on the well should fail to operate. Water in the pit is kept near boiling temperature by a small steam line running down to it. A duplex steam pump is our first line boiler feed pump with a single cylinder steam pump for a back-up system. There is a drinking fountain in back between the boilers. This makes a hot place to get a wonderfully cool drink.
We are indebted to many highly skilled and dedicated people who have kept us going over the years: machinists, electrical engineers, boiler men and others. These stories would require more room to tell than we have, so I'll mention only the most recent event, March 1971.
Years upon years of running wore a bad flat on the crank pin, and we had to do something. After much fruitless telephoning, I said, 'I know a steam man who can help us, Glen Hamilton of Indianapolis'. He agreed to come and have a 'looksee' at our problem.
That crankshaft with flywheel and generator wheel, plus governor weights, etc. weighed an estimated ten tons. We really didn't want to pull it out, and you don't find a lathe on every ditch bank that would handle it anyway, although, I guess there is one in Indiana.
Glen is a steam man's steam man. He said it could be trued up in the engine, but no one makes a machine that would do it. The obvious answer, make our own, which we did in his machine shop. He made an extension guide from the threaded center of the crank pin. We trued this with the shaft, then made a rotating adjustable guide jig for a Dun-more electric grinder.
Well, that pin was 51/4 in. diameter by 6 in. face, or about 90 sq. in. surface to machine. Kind of like attacking an elephant with a fly swatter, but forty hours later, we had a pin with a very nice surface and no flat! Also had saddle sores from the stool we used!
Glen refitted the bearing blocks to the connecting rod after truing inside surfaces on his milling machine. Boy, that connecting rod makes a pickup ride like a Caddy. Our local machinist poured the most beautiful babbit bearings you could ever hope for, and we put it back together.
The first week was marked by frequent checks: just a little scraping on the bearing and a couple shim changes. The bearing ran from March to November, then we took out a .003 shim. That's it until now. Runs every work day!
I'm indebted to the 'Album' for the article, Steam Machine Shop in Indiana, otherwise I wouldn't have known Glen. Together we got her going again.
When Red blows one long blast for 4:00 o'clock quitting time, I often shut off the sawmill and go over to the power house to watch the Buckeye stop. Stopping requires about three minutes, and the last half minute everything moves quite slowly, so you can easily watch the motion of all the moving parts.
The performance of the compound valve linkage at slow speed is poetry in motion, and beauty to those who care about this sort of thing. I am truly amazed at the ingenuity of the men who designed this equipment three quarters of a century ago, and that it should still be running today.