Otto-Langen Atmospheric Engine Model

By Wayne Grenning
September/October 1991
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Lower column with gas valve, slide valve exhausting valve on test apparatus.

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About 18 months ago two internal combustion engine enthusiasts sat down and reviewed the available historical data on 19th century works, with an eye to producing a scale model of the earliest possible internally fired engine. It took just a short time to reach the realization that the Otto-Langen atmospheric engine would be a spectacular model IF it could be reduced to model dimensions.

Before the model could be attempted, research had to be completed. A letter and phone call campaign to engine clubs, collectors, museums, historians, and foreign countries was launched. A small mountain of difficult to understand, long buried, and lost technical data was slowly unearthed. Then it was all sifted for every ounce of information that could help with the project.

The question remained! Would it be possible to make a working model of one of the very earliest internal combustion motors? Might it be a working example of the oldest internal combustion engine anywhere? The originals were a difficult affair to run, even with a full time operator fussing over the best. How could a model be expected to function? A three part initiative was undertaken. The first step was the building of a model based solely on the mechanical principals of the original. This would tell if a model were possible. The first effort gave no care as to original cosmetic representation.

At the outset it became clear that the crosshead assembly and other machining operations would be a sophisticated business, requiring advanced skills and layout knowledge. Locating initial materials such as bearing material, correct alloys for stock, scaled valves and hardware, all presented a very difficult task. After a matter of months a 1/7scale model was built and developed to test the mechanical function of the design in model size.

Finally, the day came for the test running.

After some initial frustration it was evident that the THING worked and would run on acetylene hydrogen, and other gases. The early first version also showed that it could eat the sleeves of your shirt, backfire with a tremendous boom and send parts to various locations around the shop! BUT IT WORKED!!

Next, a one time, one version, refined model was hand built to the same 1/7th scale using as much of the detailing and finish of the original Otto-Langen as possible. It was completed in the spring of 1990. During the show season it was run, tested, refined, and displayed at many regional events. By the end of July, it was decided a model would be placed in production and be totally machined in nature. An additional quantum step was taken to offer the model in its completed version as a collector piece with a total production run of numbered and dated pieces not ever to pass 100 assemblies.

Since then, acceptance of the model has been, for the maker, a very rewarding experience, with the pleasure it has given its owners, truly the best part. The model in its third form has been in production since December and has received worldwide acclaim.

Editor's Note: Many years later, Wayne went on to build a 3/4-scale replica of the 1867 Otto Langen engine that is currently on display at Coolspring Power Museum, Coolspring, Pa.

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