A Retirement Gift

brake lines

This is 'little Joe' (at work) posing with his new toy.

Content Tools

438 Maple Street, O'Fallon, Illinois 62269.

I built an engine as a retirement gift for a man who worked as a maintenance man at Nooter Boilermakers Corporation, in St. Louis, Missouri.

Joe Borisuk is better known as Little Joe to his co-workers. He worked at Nooter for 38? years. He started September 30, 1952 and worked until March 15, 1991. Everyone said it wouldn't be the same after Joe retires and it hasn't been the same. He always livened up the people he was around. He did his job well and better yet, he knew the machinery that he worked on here at Nooter.

I built the steam engine for Joe, because what better gift could a maintenance man get than an engine that actually runs and has moving parts that are clearly visible? Well, now to get on with the story of the engine.

I got the idea about ten months before his retirement, so I started gathering the pieces I knew I'd need. First, I got two brake cylinders after we scrapped them from a brake job we had done on an IHC flat bed truck. I brazed freeze plugs on one end of each cylinder so it would hold air on top of the piston. I then mixed up some JB weld and poured it into the freeze plugs. This gave me the extra thickness in the head of the cylinders to drill and tap threads. Because the freeze plugs weren't thick enough to tap, I used ? brake lines and cut threads on the ends of them and screwed them into the cylinders.

Secondly, I got a smaller wheel cylinder to use as the valve. I had to shorten the pistons in it so it would be easier to time without an excess of travel.

Instead of using wristpins on the pistons, I used a ball joint and socket on the pistons and valve. I acquired these parts from an old pile of carburetor parts we had in the shop.

The connecting rods and valve push rods are ?' brass tubing bought from a local hobby shop, and soldered to the ball joints on the pistons. The connecting rods are connected to the crank gear by flattening the brass tubing, then inserting and soldering a flat brass bar. Then I drilled a hole in the flat brass bars and crank gear and bolted the connecting rods to the gear, using a bolt and two locknuts. One nut on each side of the crank gear.

The crankshaft is just a plain piece of ? steel rod that runs through two oak pillow blocks used for bearings.

The flywheel is a wheel off an old platform scale that I found at a junk yard. I had the men in the machine shop at work true up the wheel on a lathe. Then I sandblasted, and painted and pinstriped. It's held on the crankshaft with a ?-20 set screw. The miniature tools and tool box came out of a dollhouse that belonged to one of the men's daughters.

The engine is mounted on a 1'x6' piece of oak, trimmed with ?' brass angles, also bought at the hobby shop. I bought the four legs at a local hardware store.

Joe's engine runs off compressed air instead of steam, and at 50 psi it turns about 320 RPMs. If I had used bigger lines, it would have been easier to aspirate, causing less restriction in the lines and in turn allowing the engine to run faster.

The valve is operated by a homemade cam I devised out of two pieces of 3/16' wall tubing. One piece of tubing cut to a length of 3/8 of an inch was mounted on the crankshaft with a small set screw. This made it an eccentric on the crankshaft. This piece of tubing (the cam) has an o.d. of one inch. The second piece of tubing has an i.d. just .005 larger than one inch. It slid over the cam and was connected to the valve pushrod. The pushrod was connected to the cam with a small set screw that was soldered into the pushrod and screwed in the outer piece of tubing on the cam. The inner cam turned with the crankshaft and larger piece of tubing (outer cam) connected to the valve pushrod stayed stationary while the inner cam revolved inside of it.

I installed oilers on the main bearings, which look like grease cups. They're made from carburetor jets out of a carb, from a two cycle engine. They're not quite visible in the pictures. Actually, they don't hold oil, but make it easier to oil the main bearings.

The air supply is connected to the valve (brake cylinder) from underneath through a hole in the piece of wood. The line, just a normal ?' brake line, screws into the valve just as it normally would if it were installed on a vehicle. Joe also received close to $200.00 in cash that his department had collected from the men throughout the plant. That was what was left over after they bought him an electric grinder-sander. They turned the cash into coins of course.

The man who Joe worked with most of those years on nights, Al Lakosky, made him a plaque. It had a small grinding wheel, a short piece of cable, and an old screwdriver on it, since that was part of his job, to go through the plant and take care of the cables on the cranes and grinders. Best of all, on the plaque was a grease gun Al had mounted. This grease gun was the one Joe used all those years and had kept in tip top shape. He used it for 38? years, and it still had the original tube of grease in it.

All in all, we all miss Joe down at the plant, but some of us still keep in touch with him. We were all glad to see him retire in good health and wish him one of the happiest retirements anyone could wish for.

At this time, I would like to say a special thanks to those who helped on this project. Thanks to Pat and Steve, with whom I work, for helping me with some of the ideas for the steam engine, Al and Nate who work in the machine shop, Darrel for the miniature tools, and Zene who works in sandblast, and Al, who worked with Joe.