I must come to the defense of the Woolf compound steam engine
after reading the article ‘Trivia’ on page 16 of the
May-June 1962 issue of IRON-MEN ALBUM.
Just last August at the Threshers Reunion near Hastings, Mich.,
I saw a late 26 hp Advance compound engine No. 14,598 working. It
had 9′ by 12′ diameter cylinders with a 10′ stroke, and
is owned about 25 miles north of Battle Creek. The owner, also the
former owner told me it was a poor excuse for power, and on the
sawmill a 1965 hp Port Huron was much the best engine. The owner
took the double ported valve out of the high pressure steam chest
and was operating it as a l2’/10′ simple engine with 150
Merle Newkirk retired head of the power department of the big
Dow Chemical Co. plant at Midland, Mich. says ‘The Woolf
compound valve and cylinders were the best designed and economical
of any steam traction engine built. Also Henry Ford said the Port
Huron was the best steam traction engine as he owned a number of
The Woolf balanced valve for both cylinders was cast in one
piece and if it was set right for one cylinder, it was exactly
right for the other.
That writer does not seem to know that the Port Huron Co. built
only Woolf compounds the last eight years they were building
engines. Previous to that they built a very good piston valve
simple engine. They had four Prony brakes in the test house and
tested all makes of engines and knew all of the wasteful ones.
If the Woolf compounds were no good, why did the J. I. Case Co.
enter their 2580 Woolf compound engine No..30,666 in the Winnipeg
Motor contest the last year it was held in 1913? Just because it
showed greater economy than their simple engine of the same size
used in previous years.
My Advance catalogue says a new Advance simple engine will use
34.5 lbs. of water per hp. hr. Compare this with my 40 year old
24-75 hp ‘Longfellow’ that averaged only 22.85 lbs. of
water per hp. hr. on the 3 economy runs it has made with an average
load of 58.97 hp.
There is no doubt that the Woolf Valve Gear Co. of Minneapolis,
Minn., proved to the early manufacturers that there was economy in
their compound engines. After paying $25.00 royalty, and an added
$75.00 cost of building each engine, most manufacturers
discontinued building them. I doubt if there was much economy in
the early compounds with their low steam pressures of 120 to 130
lbs., and when running with a light load, they may have been
The Port Huron Woolf compound was better than the J. I. Case
Woolf compound because they carried higher working pressure and had
a better valve gear.
I have had 60 years experience with steam and 46 years with
steam traction engines, and have owned 7 simple engines and seven
Woolf Compounds and worked on many other engines, and know the best
In 1921, I had my 19-65 hp Port Huron ‘Longfellow’ Woolf
compound on a road grading job for a road contractor all summer
long. He told me he had all makes of engines pulling that
grader-scarifier and my Port Huron was the best engine he ever had
Due to a log rolling on my left ankle and injuring it last June,
we were unable to conduct an economy run of steam engines at the
National Threshers Reunion, but are planning to make it a big
feature of the Reunion next year.