First, as an introduction, we are a couple of farm boys, in our 50's, but young at heart, Ben and Don - Ben Romich of Cherokee Farms, Creston, Ohio, and Don Irvin of Irvin's Model Shop, Creston, Ohio. Twenty years ago, or more, we started playing with an old engine or two, and haven't been able to get the grease and rust out of our systems since. This story has to do with the challenge of adding one more old engine to the collection.
In the summer of 1977, Ben Romich's son, Tom, who is employed at New York University in New York City, happened to spot what looked like an old engine on a barge on the Hudson River. He had been sailing with a group of friends and went ashore just to let one member of the group off to catch a train back to the city. The spot they chose to dock was beside an old wooden barge, moored permanently and used now as a clubhouse by the Hudson Valley Yacht Club. For some odd reason, the door had blown open on the top deck exposing what looked like an old 2 flywheel engine, that turned out to be an Otto. Tom mentioned this interesting sight to his dad in a letter home.
Well, Ben, being an old engine nut, got to wondering about the engine 500 miles away, and asked his son to please find some way to get more information. Time went by, but by mid 1978, Tom had arranged permission to look closer at the engine, and sent his father a description complete with measurements and details of the location. More time was spent in correspondence and telephoning and finally a deal was made for the engine as is, where is. A deal like this could turn out to be anything between a rare piece of machinery and a piece of junk. So now a little planning needs to be done.
With the corn crop harvested in good time this year, thanks to the better than average weather this fall, it worked out best to make the trip before Thanksgiving as we are due for our big snowstorm each year about that time. In phone conversations with the Commodore of the Yacht Club, we were offered the use of their pile driver to lift the engine down off the upper deck of the barge. Also offered was a Case tractor to help move it on dry land as it had to be moved 100 feet from the barge to the other side of the railroad tracks, and then loaded on the truck. Even more than the equipment was offered help in the form of 8 or 10 club members who would be there on Saturday to help as needed to carry pieces across the tracks and load onto the truck. Seems like everything is working out beautifully at that end-now let's get things ready at this end.
The old 1-ton truck that we planned to use needed some attention. You see it had already lived its natural life working for the gas company, and when retired from that job, took up a part time job on the farm hauling grain and feed for the past 7 years. It almost always made it to the mill and back, a distance of seven miles round trip, without problems.
This trip would be a little different. A second used spare tire and wheel were purchased, and front wheels balanced. New points and plugs were installed and oil changed. In order to keep the mud from the front wheels off the windshield, a gallon of roof cement, along with bolts and screws and pieces of tin, were all applied to the front fenders and inner shields. Handfuls of insulation material were dipped in paint and poked into holes in the bottom of the cab with a stick to keep out the dust and cold air. Another piece of carpet was added to the floor. One wheel cylinder was rebuilt in hopes of making the brake system work better, and it did help some. I found later on that sometimes we had brakes on the first pump, but always had them by the second or third pump. The alternator had been replaced recently, with a second-hand one, and just to feel safe, another spare alternator was taken along. A better looking battery was found for $3.00 and installed. As the truck engine had recently had a little trouble with bent and broken push rods, a half dozen extra push rods were taken along, as insurance. Also a case of oil, some welding and remodeling was done to the bed, and finally some paint was sprayed here and there to cover up rust and she looked pretty good. We loaded up pry bars, log chains, tool boxes, hemp rope block and tackle, and we were ready for the trip.
We left our home in Ohio Thursday morning at 8:00 A.M. with our tools, two changes of work clothes, razor and toothbrush, and one raincoat just in case. It was a sunny day and the truck was running fine. You could steer with one hand part of the time. The roll of masking tape was put to use closing up some places where cold air was coming into the cab, and the heater was working so we were comfortable. It wasn't long till we crossed the line into Pennsylvania and settled down on Interstate 80 to a steady pace of 50 mph, heading east. The scenery was beautiful all the way, and especially so as we got into the mountains, even though most of the leaves were gone. The extra carpet on the floor kept about 80% of the crankcase fumes from coming into the cab. Somewhere in Pennsylvania we were passed by a Rolls Royce, quite a contrast to our own Rolls-Kenardley, (it rolls down one hill and kenardley make it up the next.)
We took turns driving and by dark we were in the Pocono Mountains in the east end of Pennsylvania. The weather report on T. V. that night called for rain all day Friday but we were on our way and couldn't change plans now.
Up and on the road at dawn we soon crossed the Delaware River into New York state. More beautiful scenery, and even a short stretch on the Palisades Parkway, on which all commercial vehicles are prohibited, but our truck had farm license-not commercial-so we were sure it would be all right. Next came the toll bridge over the Hudson River and into Peekskill. The instructions we had were to go to the foot of Main Street. Main Street was easy to find and downhill toward the river we went, remembering to plan ahead with the brakes. There on the other side of the railroad tracks was the barge with a big sign, Hudson Valley Yacht Club. Half of our trip was completed, now to get a look at the engine.
Parked the truck and got out and looked over the area while Ben went to phone the caretaker to give us access to the barge which was locked up, and guarded with a medium sized, but not too vicious looking dog. Immediately several very disappointing aspects showed themselves. First, we were parked as near as we could ever get to the barge-more than 100 feet away from the river, and separated by a double main line of the Amtrack Railroad with not even a foot crossing, let alone a crossing to drive a vehicle over. The tracks curved to fit the curve of the river and we were later to learn, in conversation with the man who owned the lumberyard next door, that if you looked either way up the curved track, and saw a train approaching, you then had 20 seconds to get off the track. You can bet that information came back into our minds quite often the next day and a half, as we were trying to figure how to get that engine across the tracks. Another disappointment, the pile driver that had been offered to us on the telephone-and which we had planned to use to lift the engine down off the upper deck and set on land, was presently high and dry in dry dock, and was cobbled up, lightweight, homemade contraption, that either was rescued from a junk yard, or ought to be sent to one.
Looking over the other way I saw the Case tractor that we could use to move our engine on land- only it was jacked up with the right rear wheel missing, and no battery, and looked like it last ran in 1962. To top it all off Ben came back and said he left the phone ring till it quit and no one answered. Here we are-500 miles from home and lines of communication between buyer and seller are breaking down.
Just as we were wondering what to do next, a man came walking across the tracks, and over to meet us. It turned out he was the caretaker, who was on vacation, but just happened to stop in to check the property that morning. He had other plans for the day, but was willing to change them to accommodate our little project.
The Hudson Valley Yacht Club barge is an old wooden barge about 24 feet wide by 80 feet long, and main deck about 7 feet above water. The upper deck is about 13 feet higher, and the captains cabins and winch house is on top of this deck and measures about 12 x 30, comprising 4 rooms-one small room in front-next room about 12 x 10 has winches, engine, and mast, and two rooms side by side at the rear for captains quarters. Originally there was an outside stairway, or ladder for you sailors to go to the upper deck, but the remodeling done by the Yacht Club to turn the main deck into a club room with picture window and glass door, etc. eliminated the stairway, so no access to the upper deck-well almost no access. The caretaker brought out a rickety ladder, 13 feet long and stood it almost vertical in the club room, up to a 2 foot square hole they had sawed in the ceiling and the top end of the ladder made 3/4' contact on the timber at the hole. Never mind the risk, we were kind of excited at what we might find up there. No electric up there and windows boarded up, so we took our flashlights and up we went. First we bumped into the winch-a double drum affair, set up astraddle the mast, which used to go on up who knows how high, but long ago had been cut off below the roof, and roof boarded over. It seems the engine and 12' pulley with outboard bearing ran continuously, and either winch pulley 24' diameter, could be shoved against the engine pulley (friction drive) to wind up the rope, and moved the opposite direction to engage a stationary brake shoe to hold the load. A lot of lever linkage and cast iron framework that looked like it would do the job well, and simply.
Behind the winch was the object of our search. After moving aside assorted boards, bags, and boxes of junk that had accumulated since who knows when, the engine gradually appeared. I think we both were a little surprised to find the engine looked bigger than we expected, and appeared to be an almost impossible undertaking for the two of us to try to get it down out of its home of the last 60 years or more. We introduced ourselves to Otto-that's what his nametag said, and as we became better acquainted, could hardly believe our eyes, as every little detail we looked for was there. The complete nameplate, the magneto (gear driven from the side shaft), the ignitor and trip mechanism, all lubricators, complete governor, fuel injector valve - compression release - even the fender over the crankshaft and old style cast iron exhaust pot. Gas tank was on the wall and gravity feed to fuel valve. Double throw knife switch above the engine and mounted on the rafter, was marked Batt & Mag and wired to the low tension coil and, what do you know, the old hot shot battery right there on the shelf on the wall, but in pretty bad shape.
The more we looked it over and admired it, the more determined we became to at least give it a try, even though we might not be successful. The two things that bothered us most was the possibility of losing something into 10 feet of water of the Hudson River, and those confounded trains going up and down the tracks about every 20 minutes.
Years ago dad told me 'when you are confronted with a job that you are not quite sure how to go about-attack with confidence- the other people will think you know what you are doing.' So - we are ready for the attack.
It was now 10:00 A.M. Friday forenoon, and as we removed the boarded up doorway beside the engine, in order to move parts of the engine out onto the roof, it started to rain. First we removed and put into 5 gallon buckets, all the small parts - magneto, lubricators, governor assembly, ignitor and trip, exhaust rocker arm, then sideshaft was removed after putting on our own timing marks. The main bearing caps were marked and removed, then crankshaft assembly with flywheels 44' diameter was jacked up, one side a little bit at a time, with a bumper jack and then rolled 18' to the rear. Piston and connecting rod came out of the cylinder easily by hand, with rings clean and free.
The exhaust was piped immediately into a large cast iron exhaust pot, and from there up through the roof, all with 2?' pipe. We surely expected trouble with this as exhaust piping is always rusted tight, and we had forgotten to bring large pipe wrenches. Well-it turned out the rust problem worked to our advantage as the pipe that went out through the roof was rusted almost off where it screwed into the pot, and we were able to easily break it off there, and surprisingly the big union, with the help of a little penetrating oil and a few raps with a hammer-loosened right up.
Next task was to separate the base from the sub base, and pivot this assembly around 90° and slide it on some wood blocking down hill and out the door onto the roof, which we protected with a 4 x 8 sheet of ? plywood, and another sheet placed ahead in our direction of travel. This chunk of iron proved to be the most clumsy piece to handle of the whole job. It consisted of engine crankcase, cylinder assembly including water hopper, and cylinder head with stub exhaust. We used several 2 foot pieces of ?' pipe for rollers to advantage, but the overhang of the cylinder and water hopper made the exhaust pipe want to continously gouge into the plywood and drag, so had to assist with pry bars. After finally getting it worked over the roof to the front of the boat, we left it and went back for the next piece. I might mention here that by now we were pretty well soaked as it had been raining continuously since 10:00 A.M. I had a raincoat but just a cloth cap, and every half hour would wring out my hat and gloves and put them back on. It was now 1:00 P.M. so we knocked off and drove a half mile to a little diner for a bite to eat.
The big sub base measured about 20' x 58' and 17' high and although rather heavy, was the easiest to move because of its regular box-like shape, with convenient hand holes cast in each end that were used to advantage by putting a chain through to pull and lift. We slid it around, out the door onto the roof, turned forward, and from one sheet of plywood to the next, on pipe rollers, moved it to the front of the roof to join the cylinder assembly, and parked it.
The last large piece, the flywheels and crankshaft assembly, were easy to handle on the first lap of the journey, as it took little effort to just roll them out the door onto the roof which sloped very definitely to the outside of the boat - and oops - watch it - hang onto them - they wanted to continue right over the edge and down 20 feet to the water of the Hudson River - probably about 10 feet deep at that point. We got them turned 90° and headed for the front of the boat and parked them, (in the rain-its raining harder now). The only remaining pieces were the belt pulley and outboard bearing assembly, and the exhaust pot, which also was a clumsy thing to handle. It was about a foot in diameter and 17' high - all cast iron with three little legs cast on the bottom, and water drain plug on one side, it must have weighed about 100 pounds. Now for the next major step. We rigged chains end to end and around the main mast as an anchor for our hemp rope block and tackle, and chained securely to the cylinder assembly, as Ben forced the chunk of iron out over the edge of the roof with a pry bar, Don slowly payed out the rope and over she went. We could tell that although we seemed to have it fairly well under control going down, we would probably not have been able to bring it back up. There was a little steering problem to keep from damaging 2 flood lights 18' to our right and the big picture window 18' to our left, but with some old planks stood on end and spiked together in the form of a chute the first big piece was finally on the main deck of the barge. The other two big pieces followed suit. Still raining! The cylinder assembly was then wrestled, pried, and slid, across the front of the barge to the narrow gangplank, and down three steps and on down the floating gangplank to the 30 foot long x 3 foot wide permanent dock - not quite to solid land yet, but as it was after dark, and working by flood lights in the rain, we decided it was time to call it a day and hope things went as well tomorrow. We had to wait on another train as we walked to the truck, and still in our minds had not decided on a definite plan of attack on the railroad track. Our motel was within sight of our project, and it sure felt good to get out of our wet clothes and into a hot shower. The motel room was soon completely redecorated with wet socks, underwear, and various other pieces of clothing hanging from Venetian blinds, lamps, and anything with a hook on it, to dry overnight. I slept well, but Ben was awakened in the middle of the night by a dream that the barge went up and down with the tide, and accidently dumped the engine into the river. Neither one of us had a watch and didn't know the time, but Ben thought it was about time to get up so he turned on the T.V. The station was just signing off until 6:30 in the morning, so we tried to go back to sleep with the sound of another passenger train going by our yacht club.
After knocking on the door at McDonald's Saturday morning, before they were ready to open, we had breakfast and were back at the site before the caretaker arrived.
The engine was still just where we had left it the night before, hadn't fallen into the river after all. We went back to work and piece by piece moved it down off the front of the barge, and on down the floating gangplank to the dock. At this time, the caretaker arrived with the news that of the 10 or 12 club members he had called to help-only one volunteer. The others seemed to have pressing engagements elsewhere. After dropping that bad news on us, he followed with an outlandish suggestion which Ben immediately went to work on. Wonder of wonders, it worked out that we were able to talk the owner of the next door lumber company, (for a reasonable cash fee) into allowing us to take a chain saw, and cut a 4 x 4 hole in the side of the building. Then we were able, after moving a lot of trash on our side of the building, and lumber on his side of the building, to move the engine, one piece at a time, from the gangplank to the end of the dock, slide it off the dock onto a homemade two wheel trailer that happened to be parked in the weeds, wheel it over to the hole in the wall, and slide it from there a distance of about 24 feet to a point where their fork lift could pick it up. Saturday forenoon was spent, with a smile a yard long on our faces, loading up the engine. It was all downhill from now on. By 11:30 A.M. we were loaded and on our way home. I might mention here that when the engine was weighed, after arriving in Ohio, it tipped the scales at 2,580 pounds.
The trip home was uneventful, as our Rolls-Kenardley creaked and groaned a little at first, as she shouldered the load, and then settled into a 50 mph pace. We hadn't left New York state till we were stopped in a traffic check by the State Patrol, but as I sat on the passenger side and held my breath, the patrolman just questioned where we were from in Ohio, and such, as he had gone to school in Dayton. Then he wished us luck and waved us on. We took turns driving every 75 miles or so, and would add a quart of oil, or sometimes two, if we had stretched out our stops. Arrived home Sunday afternoon, two happy men - very satisfied in having saved another old engine that will be an interesting display at shows, or at home.
And now to end this story, I hope you won't charge me with being too sentimental if I quote one of my favorite thoughts-If disappointments or sorrows, or apparent failures, come to make you sad, may you not spend God's time in mourning, but go on your way rejoicing in His many blessings, counting them over and over, like the little child counting the stars, always beginning and never ending.
Don Irvin, 211 Mcllvaine Drive, Creston, Ohio 44217