Steam Engines, Mules and a Canal Boat

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Opposite page: A scenic view of the mill, which is right on the Erie Canal at Lock 44.
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Right: Mules Molly and Sally pulling the Volunteer, a restored canal boat.
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Below: The mill machine shop has an overhead line shaft that goes to the back of the shop and is belted to the Star engine.
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Top and above: The 1890 Erie 60 HP steam engine.
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Right: The circa 1885 Star 5 HP vertical steam engine.
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Clockwise from top: The gear drives from the 160 HP turbine. The large gear is hooked to the shaft going down to the turbine; the Barns drill press, with a 25-inch throat, made in the late 1800s; the old generator and control panel, used from 1900-1917; the Monarch lathe, made in 1906.

The scenic Isaac Ludwig Mill in Providence,
Ohio, is a, restored, water-powered grist and flour mill, sawmill
and power generating station. And better yet, the mill employs two
steam engines – an Erie 60 HP and an 1880-1890 Star 5 HP oil
drilling engine.

Adjacent to the mill, two mules, Molly and Sally, pull the
Volunteer, a replica 1876 canal boat through the restored mile-long
section of the Erie Canal and Lock 44. Along the way, re-enactors
take tourist passengers back in time during their one-hour journey.
It all adds up to a “must see” for steam engine fans and lovers of

Mill History

Situated alongside the Maumee River, the mill operated from 1868
to 1970 as both a sawmill and a grist mill. In 1974, the mill
became the property of the Providence Metropark System of Toledo.
The park system immediately began the restoration process, taking
the mill, the adjacent Miami Erie Canal and Lock 44 back to the
heydays of the early 1900s.

The mill was powered by water turbine under normal conditions,
but when a flood occurred the water would rise and could no longer
provide the head needed to run the turbines. To counter this, in
1900 the mill owner installed a steam engine, which could provide
power and allow the mill to continue operating under flood

In small towns and rural farm areas everyone knows their
neighbors, and sooner or later stories of anything of interest will
spread throughout the community. This was the case with the two
steam engines installed at the mill.

But those who knew of the engines didn’t want to see these
pieces of history end up in the scrap yard, and their location had
remained hidden for many years. Until, that is, the Isaac Ludwig
Mill restoration provided a place for the steam engines to be
viewed and enjoyed by those interested in preserving these relics
of the past.

Laird Henderson, Toledo Metroparks mill curator and historian
says, “In the middle 1970s the park department heard stories that a
large stationary steam engine was still in the basement of an
abandoned Toledo, Ohio, laundry.” Upon investigation, they found an
Erie 60 HP steam engine that had been built in 1890 by the Erie
City Iron Works, Erie, Pa. The engine had been under water for 20
years with only the top of the flywheel and the governor flyball
visible. The owner agreed to donate it to Toledo Metroparks, so
arrangements were made to have the engine lifted from the mud and
water, cleaned and brought to the Isaac Ludwig Mill.

“Needless to say, it was in bad shape. All restoration work was
done by park employees and many volunteers, some of who were
machinists and toolmakers,” Laird remembers. “Missing, broken or
rusted parts had to be made. We were lucky such talented people
volunteered to help. Many of the parts were made here in the mill
machine shop.”

This brings us to the mill machine shop and the second steam
engine, an 1880-1890 5 HP Star oil drilling engine used to run the
line shaft. “This engine has an unusual feature, a Stevenson-style
reversing gear. This allows forward, stop and reverse without
changing valves,” Laird says.

“The engine had been sitting out in an old oil field hidden in
an old building near Signet, Ohio, for decades. Signet was part of
the old oil boom district through the Black Swamp near Tiffin and
Bowling Green, Ohio. The Star had a bent crankshaft, which was
straightened by the volunteers. Other repairs were also completed
to make this engine a reliable source of power for the machine
shop. All the machinery in this area falls within the late 1800s
early 1900s time period; that would include equipment for working
with wood or metal,” Laird says.

Equipment in the machine shop includes an 1885 Van Norman
milling machine, a 1906 Monarch metal lathe, a Barns 25-inch drill
press and a large band saw, both from the late 1800s. The machines
are driven from a line shaft powered by the 1880 Star engine and
are used on a regular basis by park personnel to make new parts and
do repair work on the historic equipment throughout the mill.

The old boiler, which originally came from a junkyard, could no
longer meet safety requirements and was being replaced this winter
with a new one that can run the 150 pounds of pressure necessary
for the engines to develop full power.

A large generator installed in the mill provided local electric
power from 1902 through 1917; power for the generator came from a
special water turbine producing 230 HP and more than 1,000-foot
pounds of torque.

“This amount of power would strip the line shaft in seconds if
something went wrong,” Laird says. “This large turbine was
installed just to run the generator.”

The original mill of 1868 had a small vertical saw to supply the
lumber needs of the local residents. During the Metropark
restoration process, a large 56-inch circular blade sawmill was
installed. This saw, which turns at 500 RPM, is anchored to the
bedrock beneath the mill, which provides great stability and
minimizes any movement or vibration when cutting the huge logs. The
sawmill is kept busy supplying the lumber for the park’s
construction projects.

According to Henderson, the 160 HP water turbine “has so much
power that the saw does not even slow down, no matter what the size
of the timber being cut.” By changing the belts on the line shafts,
the 60 HP Erie steam engine can be used to power the sawmill.

Providence Metropark, Grand Rapids, Ohio, is open May
through October. The park is located on Highway 24 west of Toledo,
at the intersection of Road 578. Isaac Ludwig Mill hours are
Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Contact Laird
Henderson, mill curator, at: (419) 407-9741 (office); (419)
832-8934 (mill); or visit their website at:

Contact steam enthusiast Donald J. Voelker at Voelker
Enterprises Inc., 5511
Kimberley Road, Ft. Wayne, IN 46809-2140; (260) 747-9504; e-mail: •

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