A MYSTIC EXPERIENCE

Gilmore Cragg and Belle Isle

Left, Richard Day's 1912 Gilmore Cragg. Right, his wife Barbara's 2HP Belle Isle.

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As the granddaughter of generations of farmers on one side of the family, and the granddaughter of a gas and steam engine enthusiast on the other side, I grew up knowing a little something (notice I said a little, but at least I knew that much) about farm power of yesteryear. However, I knew next to nothing-well, let's face it, I knew nothing-about how engines were once used in non-agricultural (i.e. marine) applications.

Now that I've got a husband with a burning interest in marine power, and particularly marine steam power, I'm learning more about it myself, and finding it a fascinating subject all around. I'm not embarrassed to ask him stupid questions whenever we're out in our steam launch Reciproca, or whenever he's got its engine torn apart for 'tweaking,' like 'What's that gauge telling us? Why is that important? Why's it making that little whistling noise? Where's the water come from? Where's it go? If you fall overboard and drown, how do I get back to shore?' You know, the basics. And he never hesitates to try and teach me more about all of this. We've been to boat meets, toured steamboats and steam-powered ships, been in the engine room of a Liberty ship while it was under steam and under way-all great places to learn.

I have to say, however, that of all the places we've been in this quest for knowledge, few compare with the great times I've had attending the Antique Marine Engine Exposition at Mystic Seaport. In six years, we've been to this show three times, and I enjoy it more each time.

Mystic Seaport, 'The Museum of America and the Sea,' is a fascinating place to hold an engine show. The site is one of the country's foremost maritime museums, with countless exhibits and activities taking place. There are sailing ships to board and explore, demonstrations of old-time seafaring skills, sea chantey sing-alongs, tales of sails and whales, planetarium shows about navigating by the stars, exhibits of ship carvings, a gallery of fine paintings of ships good and true, displays of small craft and the engines that powered them... oh, it never ends! This is not to mention the setting within which all of these things are presented: a village filled with the authentic shops and structures of a coastal settlement. Not a frou-frou seaside resort where the pretty people promenade, mind you, but a real working seaport.

Doesn't it sound great? And I haven't even begun to really tell you about the show yet! Well, let's get on with it!

The show itself is held within the DuPont Preservation Shipyard area of the museum. Here you can see stacks of wood being seasoned for use in building and maintaining the ships on display, learn about shipbuilding techniques, and see some of the tools and equipment used in that trade. We even saw a ship under construction: a full-scale replica of the Amistad, the vessel which played a role in a landmark case involving the slave trade in early American history (see the movie of the same name!). She's sailed off by now to New York City, for a Tall Ships event in July.

The 1999 Antique Marine Engine Expo, the 8th annual, took place August 21 and 22 and was a grand success. Seventy-nine exhibitors traveled from eleven different states and Canada, bringing with them 185 separate engines, powered by the gamut of steam, gasoline, diesel, kerosene, oil, alcohol, propane, butane, and electric. There were 62 inboards (ten installed in boats), and 73 outboards.

Thirty-four models were on display, many operating on the steam, compressed air, and electricity provided by the museum.

The author's husband, too engrossed to realize I was nearby with the camera, gets a closer look at some of the models on display.

Fifteen boats were on hand throughout the show, and were featured during a 'parade' each afternoon led by the Seaport's steamer Sabino. Rides aboard Sabino, one of the last coal-fired passenger steamers in operation in the United States, are offered throughout the day, and engine fans won't want to miss it. She's powered by a 75 HP two-cylinder engine built in 1908 by James H. Paine & Sons of Noank, Connecticut. It's a beautifully maintained piece of machinery, around which bench seating is arranged so that if you want to you can park yourself engine side and watch it work for the whole trip (that's what my husband likes to do, anyway).

Eight of the engines at the 1999 show were known to have been built in the 1800s, the oldest one identified to have been built about 1878, a steam launch engine owned by Carl Grosser. Also on display was an 1892 Salisbury electric outboard, the oldest outboard known to exist, owned by David Ostrowski.

Some folks familiar to GEM readers were exhibiting at the show. Ernie Dar-row of Taunton, Massachusetts, brought four Gray Motor Co. engines: a c. 1906 Model 4, 4? HP; a c. 1909 3 HP model R, serial number 8292; a c. 1910 model U, serial number 12024; and a c. 1905 1 HP, serial number 1396.

Richard A. Day Jr., a frequent contributor to GEM on marine engine topics, and his wife Barbara had traveled from Leonardtown, Maryland, with four of their engines: a 2 HP Palmer Bros. YT-1, serial number 3248747, built in 1947; the first Palmer, 1? HP, built in 1893; a 1912 Gilmore Cragg 1? HP; and a 2? HP engine built sometime between 1908 and 1912 by the Belle Isle Motor Co. of Detroit.

Set up right next to the Days was a row of engines all manufactured in Connecticut, displayed by owner Al Koch of Cromwell, Connecticut. In the photo below, the engines from left to right (all horsepower ratings approximate) are: 4 HP c. 1914 Automatic Machine Co., made in Bridgeport; 3 HP c. 1918 J.W. Lathrop &. Co., made in Mystic; 2? HP c. 1908 Frisbie Motor Co., made in Middletown; 3 HP c. 1909 C.L. Barker Co., made in Norwalk; 5 HP c. 1922 Palmer Bros., made in Cos Cob; and 1? HP c. 1917 Everts Motor Co., made in Hartford. If you want a lesson in how to provide an informative display to the general public, Al's the man to study. He had an information sheet at each engine which outlined its stats, as well as a brief explanation of how the engine would have been used, all in language that onlookers who had an interest but weren't necessarily experts could understand. Very nicely done. Al has been a collector and restorer of antique engines for 14 years, and is a member of the Tobacco Valley Flywheelers. His collection of gas stationary, gas marine, steam engines, and models numbers about 50 pieces.

Peter Bezanson of Waterford, Connecticut, son of GEM advertiser 'The Connecticut Yankee,' was there with his collection of John Lauson engines: a 1950 Sport King; a 1939 model RSM826, ? HP, serial number A22820; a 1936 model LFR, 2? HP; and a 1948 model PAM826, 5 HP, serial number 8-15487. He had Dad along too!

Calvin Pixley of Westfield, Massachusetts, drew a crowd while starting his 1906 Mietz & Weiss hot bulb oil engine, serial number 4470. Weighing in at 875 lbs., this 7 HP two cylinder beauty has a 4 x 4? bore and stroke, and runs on kerosene, fuel oil, crude oil, or alcohol.

Bill Allard of Oakdale, Connecticut, presented a nice lineup of 1946 Johnson outboards. This was Johnson's first production year after World War II, and the first year Johnson was painted green.

Besides the engines brought in by exhibitors, Mystic Seaport also has a fine collection of its own. Among those they own which were on display were a single cylinder 3 HP gasoline-powered inboard, serial number 41376, manufactured by Mianus Motor Works of Mianus, Connecticut; a circa 1930 two cylinder 70 HP diesel inboard manufactured by the Wichmann Engine Co. of Bergan, Norway; and a J.W. Lathrop & Co. D-90 six cylinder 90 HP inboard, built in 1946 in Mystic.

We discovered another of Mystic Seaport's engines while strolling through the village after a boat ride. I was chattering away to my husband when this persistent sound penetrated into my brain: 'Hey, that's a gas engine!' We scrambled around between buildings following the sound, and there, behind one of the shops, we found a museum interpreter operating a 7 HP Hercules kerosene engine, Model EK7, built around 1917. The engine provided power, via a lineshaft, for the hoopmaking and woodworking equipment inside the shop it sat behind. About 1900, the shop was owned by George Washington Smith; at the time, he used a 6 HP Excelsior engine made by the Consolidated Engine Co. of New York City.

While at Mystic Seaport, make sure to visit the museum store and gift shop. Neither my husband nor I are what you'd call shoppers, but we love browsing in here (don't miss the second floor bookstore and print gallery). And feel free to follow your nose to the gourmet goodie shop in the back corner of the building for some sweet treats and a good cup o' joe. In fact, as far as food goes, it's good and plenty at Mystic Seaport, ranging from snacks to cafeteria lunches to fine dining at the Seamen's Inn (where we thought we might be underdressed in our engine show clothes but to the contrary were made to feel quite welcome).

In addition to all the sites at Mystic Seaport, we enjoyed visiting the Mystic Aquarium across town (I could watch the seals and the penguins all day, I swear). Another site to visit is B.F. Clyde's Cider Mill on Stonington Road in Old Mystic, the last steam-powered cider mill in New England, which recently received a National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark award. They're not open during the engine expo, but if you're in the area in the fall you can see the mill in operation on weekends, September through December, at 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.; call 860-536-3354 for more information.

A great side trip is a day in Essex, Connecticut, for a ride aboard the Valley Railroad behind a steam locomotive; I can recommend the combination train ride/boat excursion. The railroad is located on the outskirts of town, but don't leave the area without venturing into Essex proper for a visit to the Connecticut River Museum (CRM), located at 67 Main Street, to see their fascinating collection of artifacts. The museum has a steamboat and launch show of its own. Their show is usually the weekend before the Mystic show; there was a scheduling snafu for 2000, so they're two weeks apart, but by 2001 they should be set up again so that a marine engine buff can make a week of it in coastal Connecticut.

In all the time we've spent visiting Mystic Seaport, I still don't feel I've seen it all-that's how much there is to do at 'The Museum of America and the Sea' and the Antique Marine Engine Exposition. This is an invitational show, with criteria for participants which ensure good quality exhibits. No outside vendors are allowed, and so this show is really all about the engines. The 9th annual Expo will be held August 19 and 20, 2000. Contact Mystic Seaport's engine collection manager, George King III, Mystic Seaport, 75 Greenmanville Ave., P.O. Box 6000, Mystic, CT 06355-0990, telephone 860-572-0711, for information about the show or to apply for an invitation to exhibit. For general information, call 1-888-SEA-PORT OR 1-860-572-5315.