Build Your Own Steam Engine – Part 1

| July/August 1969

The approximate one-hundred-year life of the steam engine is what this article is principally all about.

A brief history of steam power

Before the Civil War the steam engine was in its infancy, and immediately after the war the use of steam increased and made mechanical history, until the beginning of World War One. While the steam engine industry enjoyed a rapid and prosperous business, the ideas of the internal combustion engine, and even electricity, began to catch on and by the time the world war was over, steam had about been displaced with the more modern power plants. Thus the era of the steam engine was past history, generally speaking.

As the old-time steam engine builders considered their drawings only temporary and, their purpose had been served, incontinently destroyed them. With information on old steam engines scarce, that is compiled and contained herein, will, it is hoped, prove as interesting to the layman, as to the enthusiast. Any and all statements, or apparent quotes, of any other person, living or dead is purely co-incidental, and is caused only by different educational training methods.

In composing this article, I have drawn greatly on the conversations with a great many of the old-time steam engine men, such as: old-time locomotive engineers, old-time steam traction engine men, cotton gin and saw mill operators, and in fact, any person who ever had any part in the operation of a steam engine or boiler of any sort. And to these men, when as a boy, I used to look up to, with admiration and respect, because they were my friends, I respectfully acknowledge, with gratitude.

My love for steam engines began about 60 years ago, when as a boy I living on the homestead of my grandfather, who had settled on Revilee Creek just after the end of the Civil War. Soon after getting out for farming and livestock raising, he bought some cotton gin machinery which was operated by a steam engine and boiler. Later on he added a sawmill and gristmill.

Accident on cotton gin machinery

This machinery was all operated several years before I can remember, but I do remember seeing the old location, with all the excavations, various rigid foundations and remains of this old-time operation. I also remember seeing photographs and hearing conversations of the “Old Timers” telling about the operations and events that happened during the 20 or 30 years of its operation.

They told me of an accident that happened during its life of operation, about a man who was operating the gin stands. This man was making some adjustment on the gin stand saws, which were 6 or 8 inches in diameter and numerous, probably 60 or 70 to this particular gin stand; and located on a shaft or mandrel, approximately one-half inch apart, and ran between metal ribs. The teeth of these saws pulled the lint from the seed and the cotton was brushed away by fiber brushes.


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