| March/April 1968

If the number of sidewalk spectators is any indication, the most fascinating phase of any new construction is the hole in the ground. In any case, this crowd of curious watchers usually seems to diminish in a kind of inverse ratio to the progress of the building. The first act, that of excavation, has always been the feature attraction. And it was thus that I came to know the various Steam Shovels; these stars of the show, who would change their make-up to return as Clamshells, Draglines, or Pile-Drivers, like headline performers, down in the big arena rimmed by an audience of 'standing room only'.

Aside from deep cellar excavations, another appeal to the passing pedestrian was any project of street grading in preparation for repaying. How we watched with mingled emotions as the finest red brick pavement of years before was ripped out and carted off; how the long-ago trolley tracks, since hidden by asphalt, again came to light; or how those stately old shade trees surrendered to a wider roadway and rows of parking meters. In this work, the digging was often done by a second cousin of the Steam Shovel, which was variously known as a KEYSTONE TRACTION EXCAVATOR or SKIMMER. Although they lasted for many years, most of the steam-driven Keystones were built from 1916 to 1922, by the Keystone Driller Company of Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania.

On this machine, a twin-cylinder horizontal engine was mounted on a long rigid frame which was carried on small wide-tread traction wheels in front, and large 48-inch diameter steel wheels in the rear. A vertical boiler was mounted just aft of the rear wheels, and was fired from a back platform equipped with water tank and coal hopper.

In place of the familiar dipper and shipper-rack of the conventional type shovels, the Keystone employed a sliding scoop equipped with rollers guided along a simple girder-type boom that was horizontal when digging, or was raised approximately 45-degrees for loading wagons. The base of the boom was pivoted, and rotated by means of a large cable-driven bull wheel which could turn 90-degrees to the right or left. On either side of the front wheels there were adjustable outriggers to stabilize the machine during extended radial movements.

One constant-speed steam engine drove three separate cable drums through a planetary transmission which was manually operated. On the left-side operator's deck, the big hand levers were each provided with a ratchet and pawl to relieve the operator while holding certain positions. Since the lateral and vertical movements of digging were governed by two of these large hand brakes, which demanded the operator's firm grip at all times, the rotation of the boom was controlled by an ingenious foot-operated toggle clutch. In fact, the operator's hands and feet were so constantly occupied as to require a second workman on the ground whose sole duty was to trip the latch for dumping the load. After the scoop was emptied, its hinged bottom was re-latched by a sudden braking action as the scoop descended the boom.

By rearrangement of the sheave blocks, and with a ditcher attachment added to the end of the boom, the Keystone Excavator could be converted for trenching work (to a depth of 20-ft) in the manner of a present-day Back-Hoe. But in its principal role as a 'Skimmer', the scoop (of cu yd capacity) was crowded (traveled) 11-ft of the 16-ft boom. The engine provided 8x8 inch Cylinders and a link reverse, designed primarily for maneuvering the machine, which was self-propelled. The machine itself was 7-ft in extreme width, by 18-ft in length (without boom); and weighed 9 tons complete.