Farm Collector

The History Of An Old Model F Peerless Portable Engine

Submitted by A F. Harker 300 Bella Street Hollidaysburg, PA

It all began in early March 1987. We were on a trip to
Berryville, Virginia, to get two upright boilers that were used in
a honey extracting business. We traveled in two pickup trucks, one
driven by Mr. Red Helsel and the other by Ray Helsel. Passengers in
Red’s truck were A. F. Harker and Charley Smith, while
Ray’s passengers were W. T. Reese and Elmer Keith. I was with
Ray and as usual we were talking show stuff and watching for old
equipment along the way. For once I wasn’t driving. Ray said to
be on the lookout for a flatbed truck that could be used to haul a
tractor to shows. Ray has a nice 1948 Allis Chalmers WC tractor.
Just north of Winchester, Virginia, I spotted some trucks over on a
hill. It was decided after we got the boilers loaded that on the
way back we would take the lead and check out the trucks, which we
did. The old cannery trucks were in pretty tough shape, but for
sale. While we were talking to the fellow about the trucks, his
dad, Mr. Whitacre, wanted to know what we were going to do with the
boilers. One thing led to another and he said ‘I have a boiler
up in the country a few miles.’ It was talked about for a
while. After he saw Mr. Harker was interested he said get in the
car and we’ll take a closer look. We went up a country road
past more old tired iron and an old mill. Then we turned onto a
lane leading up to his homestead farm. Of course, Mr. Harker and
Mr. Whitacre were talking shop. This fellow had a real nice apple
orchard along the lane to his farm. Mr. Harker before retiring from
the PRR as a locomotive fire man and engineer with 49 years of
service also had an apple orchard that he worked.

A little farther up the lane we stopped by this old shed. Back
in the weeds at the end of the shed she sat. What a sight! The old
portable had no wheels. They had been taken off many years ago
because they were wooden and put underneath the shed for
protection. First look over it, I discovered it was a Peerless, but
had no markings other than a small F on the valve cover. Most
Peerless’s are marked with a large R, S, T, TT, etc. It also
had an S spoked flywheel. What a sight! It had sunk down to where
the fire door was level with the ground and had acquired a
groundhog as an occupant.

The Peerless had set for at least 30-40 years. After a general
look-over, guess who left their camera in the truck? But Mr.
Whitacre had his and took a picture of Art standing beside the
Peerless. After this we returned to the trucks and headed home,
with thoughts of how this would look restored instead of her nose
in the dirt.

A couple of weeks later, arrangements were made with Mr. Henry
Dull (he used to have a show at Alum Bank, PA–the Allegheny
Mountaineers) to bring the Peerless home. In the process of loading
the portable, a 11/2 HP International gas hit
and miss, was discovered upside down behind the shed. So, it was
dickered on and loaded along with an Emerson Brantingham
horse-mower which had to be pulled out of where it had settled down
in the dirt from many years of snow, freezing and thawing with each
season putting it a little deeper down.

After the engine was delivered to Art Harker’s home in
Hollidaysburg, PA, the restoration (or more appropriately
recycling) was begun so that it would be ready for the September
show of the Nittany Antique Machinery Association at Penn’s

The boiler was found to be rusted through inside and out on the
left side of the firebox and the crown sheet was cracked and had a
patch bolted over it. Mr. Harker then contacted L & M Boiler
Works of Montoursville, Pa., to come to his home and make the
necessary repairs to the boiler.

While sandblasting was being done, a patent date of 1875 was
discovered on the smokebox door. Also a feature which may help date
the machine is a cast iron two piece steam dome which bolts
together around the middle and also to the top of the boiler to
allow access to the crown bolts.

While the boiler was being repaired, Mr. Harker being only 87
years old wanted to keep busy so he made some patterns and had Ben
King of Lancaster County cast bushings which Art put in a set of
old steel wagon wheels and fitted them to the axles to make it
portable again. In the meantime, the major parts of the engine were
removed and taken to Dick Markle’s shop in State College to be
rebuilt as follows:

The cylinder was bored to clean up the pitted places and the
piston was built up and machined and fitted with new rings. New
stainless steel valve and piston rods were made and installed, also
new stuffing boxes and nuts were made for each one. The cross head
and guides were built up and machined to a neat running fit and a
new oversize pin made and installed. The crank pin was badly pitted
and out of round and required being shaped up and the connecting
rod bearing was built up and bored to fit. Luckily the main
crankshaft bearings were in fairly good shape and required only
cleaning up and shims removed. This was probably due to their being
cooled by the feed water being circulated through them, a feature
we have never seen on any other engine. The valve seat was milled
flat and the valve was surface ground and scraped to a good fit on
the seat.

When the boiler work was completed and the wheels and tongue put
on, it was given a hydrostatic test and inspected and passed for
110 lbs. operating pressure. It was then taken to Markle’s shop
at State College for final assembly about June first.

Since the firebox door had been confiscated for someone’s
backyard fireplace, an old hot air furnace door was adapted by
making a door frame from flat steel bar stock. A new stack and top
half of the hinge joint were fabricated also. New grate bars, ash
pit bottom and parts for the ash pit door were fashioned and

The governor had been stripped of all the working parts with
nothing left but the valve body so a new valve spool was made and
the rotating parts from a larger Pickering governor were fitted on
by making a special adapter plate. A new injector and all new pipes
were installed along with a new 11/4′ throttle valve supplied
by Jim Stiffler. A Manzel oiler and drive rod was rigged up to
provide lubrication.

When this point in the project was reached we decided to give
her a little test run. This was accomplished by hooking up a steam
hose from Dick Markle ‘s 40 HP Case which had been steamed up
for another purpose. When the throttle was opened the old girl took
off and ran like a top creating a lot of happy faces.

Mr. Harker spent many long days driving the 45 miles (one way)
to and from his home and helping to get the engine finished by
September show time.

In a few days it was moved to the Penn’s Cave Show Grounds
at Centre Hall, PA, in time for the fall show. That was the first
time in many a year since her long rest on the farm that the
Peerless ran using her own steam. Those helping to restore the
engine were as follows: A. F. Harker, owner, Hollidaysburg; Jim
Stiffler, Altoona; Jim Hakins, Altoona; R. T. Markle, State
College; Terry Imler, pin striping, Altoona; L & M Boiler
repair, Montoursville, Pa.; Dennis Walls, Tim Reese, Hollidaysburg,

After the show the engine was returned to Markle’s shop for
some finishing touches after which it was fired up and hooked to a
dynamometer where it developed 16 belt horsepower running at 300
RPM and 110 lbs. steam pressure.

  • Published on Sep 1, 1988
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