Weimer Blower Engine Recreation Proves Worth 14 Years of Work for Brothers

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The 1/8-scale working model P.L. Weimer Blower engine is the handiwork of John (left) and George Fleming. 
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The Weimer blower engine model outside the blower house.

In 1991, brothers John and George Fleming were following with great interest the archaeological excavations at Joanna Furnace, near Morgantown, Pa. This cold blast furnace was in operation from 1791 to 1898, and after many years of abandonment the Hay Creek Valley Historical Assn. became the new owners of this historical treasure during the 1970s.

Excavations were taking place at the furnace site almost every weekend, and among the many discoveries were the remains of huge bolts and cylinders from what they believed was an engine. John and George were encouraged by the findings and made their way to the library of the Hay Creek Valley Historical Assn. in search of patent gazettes on engines from the 1800s.

Gradually the information came together, with the discovery that a major engineering change took place at the furnace in the later years of operation, with a transition from the Colonial cold blast system to hot blast. Captured hot blast gases from the furnace stack were mixed with fresh air and pumped by a P.L. Weimer blower engine into the base of the bosh, at 800 to 900 degrees, quadrupling the production of iron. The Weimer engine was powered by steam from a separate boiler system, which also utilized the hot gases from the furnace. The engine was manufactured by the Weimer Machine Works in Lebanon, Pa.

With basic dimensions in hand and some aged sketches of the engine, John and George spent four years developing engineering prints, with specific measurements related to cylinder bore, piston stroke and casting details. Final plans were developed to recreate a 1/8-scale working model. The original engine was 15 feet high, 9 feet wide and 17 feet long with an estimated engine weight of 4-1/2 to 5 tons, resting on a casting base of 1 to 2 tons.

John and George were a perfect fit for this special project. Raised in Geigertown, just a few miles from Joanna Furnace, the talents and skills of their father (and his patient instructions in their years of youth) set in motion a lifetime of devotion to mechanical trades. They were surrounded by everything mechanical with a sawmill, wheelwright shop, picket fence mill and cider press on the family farm.

Their father taught John how to repair the Model T, which proved beneficial for his mechanical test to join the Army many years later. Both brothers served their country during World War II, shipping out and returning home within days of each other. George was always fond of wood and could always be found tinkering with small wooden waterwheels, which would be tested in the creek that ran through the mill. Eventually, George became a journeyman experienced in pattern making for metal casting molds at Birdsboro Corp. in Birdsboro, Pa.

Now the Weimer engine would be built. John finalized the technical drawings; George created the molds. But the greatest challenge of this project was now at hand. Who would pour the cast iron? The brothers discovered the Cattail Foundry in nearby Lancaster County, which would pour the iron castings. Finally, engine parts were machined and finished for assembly and numerous engine details were completed.

Fourteen years later, in the fall of 2005, the engine was complete and presented to the membership of the Hay Creek Valley Historical Assn. Powered by compressed air, the miniature engine whispered along with a gentle chug, chug, chug. In good humor the brothers bantered a bit during the presentation, but genuine smiles of satisfaction were expressed as they revealed this unique mechanical accomplishment.

George, now 86, and John, 82, are members of the Hay Creek Valley Historical Assn. and demonstrated this rare engine during the Hay Creek Fall Festival, Sept. 8-10, 2006. The 31st Annual Hay Creek Fall Festival will be Sept. 7-9, 2007. You can also see daily metal casting demonstrations (with some designed molds crafted by George) in addition to traditional crafts, food, children’s activities and entertainment. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily with free shuttle and parking. Adult admission is $8 and children 12 and under are free. Visit www.haycreek.org for all the details or call (610) 286-0388.

Contact Mark Yorgey, Hay Creek Valley Historical Assn. at P.O. Box 36, Geigertown, PA 19523; (610) 286-0388; www.haycreek.org

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