Bessemer Model IV At Burton Cotton Gin

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The white blobs are bits of rags stuck into holes left by disconnected plumbing to keep dirt and mud daubers out.

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302 Scenic Brook Brenham, Texas 77833

The best preserved unrestored example of its kind,' is what antique engine collector Chris Kable Sr. of Spirit Lake, Iowa called the 1925 Bessemer Model IV diesel engine at the Burton Farmers Cotton Gin in Burton, Texas.

This has been determined to be the only gin in the country from the nineteen teens and twenties period of ginning technology that is still standing, intact and complete. Not only that, most of the machinery still works. A local non-profit organization, Operation Restoration, was formed by concerned local citizens to restore this facility and eventually operate it as a hands on working museum, actually ginning cotton. The motive power for this will come from the gin's pride and joy, the Bessemer.

The Smithsonian Institution, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Texas Historical Commission, state legislators and the National Register of Historic Places are all involved in the project.

The Burton gin was originally powered by a Tips steam engine from the time it was built in 1914 until 1925. After 11 successful years, the Gin Association replaced this power-plant with the more modern Bessemer. Though the three cylinder Tips engine was traded in, the cost of the Bessemer plus rail shipping to Burton was almost $10,000. The entire gin only cost $11,000 to build eleven years before.

Arriving partially assembled on a railroad flatcar, this five ton machine was physically manhandled onto the loading dock behind the gin and dragged up the hill to its present location in the then-new mechanical room. Some Burton residents still remember the day the Bessemer arrived. Using jacks, prybars and muscles, gin employees spent a day and a half dragging their new power-plant approximately fifty yards.

When it was cranked, its deep, thumping exhaust note could be heard three miles away before mufflers were constructed. Originally, it exhausted into the air through stacks behind the building extending above the roofline. After a decade of use, neighbors began complaining of heavy soot production from the exhaust. The vertical stacks were then cut off and new horizontal ones buried and stuck out the railroad right of way embankment. Passing under the current junkpile, the exposed portions have rusted away. Members of Operation Restoration who remember these exposed exhausts are fairly certain of their location though covered with debris. Pointing toward the tracks, their sound is said to have resembled an approaching steam locomotive. Apparently constructed from an old boiler, the mufflers were buried in the engine room floor and are still in place today.

Considered the ultimate in industrial power plants, this two cylinder, engine with dual 78' flywheels increased both the productivity and efficiency of the gin. With a 14' bore and 18' stroke, it displays a whopping 5539 cubic inches!

After almost forty dependable years, the Bessemer suffered its first breakdown in 1962. A crosshead failed in one cylinder and locked up the engine after only two bales of cotton had been ginned. According to the gin's records, it was down for a week. Burton native Hilton Thompson recalled that the cotton wagons were lined up almost the length of the town down Main Street. The damaged crosshead is still present in the mechanical room today. Bill Hegefeld, a machinist with Beaumier Iron Works in Brenham, Texas, who performed the repairs in 1962, identified it in 1988. Hegefeld says that Beaumier still has new, unused Bessemer parts on hand.

In May, 1988, during a meeting of members and directors, Darrell Bynum, a field representative for Cooper-Bessemer Reciprocating, began inspection of the Burton Bessemer and assessment of needed repairs. When quizzed by the author as to the location of the air intakes, he was puzzled. A little detective work uncovered the reason why the crosshead failed and why the Bessemer 'just didn't have as much oomph' in its later years of use. Despite all the care taken to preserve the equipment (the reason 74 year old machines still work today) there was NO filtration of intake air for combustion.

Operation Restoration members have several copies of a 1940 Bessemer engine manual. This valuable resource gives set up, operating and adjustment instructions as well as specifications and schematic diagrams.

Cooper-Bessemer Industries has donated a full restoration and overhaul of this engine, an effort of approximately $35,000 value. The plan is to transport it to that company's Houston plant for the work. The hollow masonry base has been badly weakened by soaking full of 63 years' worth of oil and will need to be completely replaced.

When the intake orifice in the hollow masonry base was located, it was completely filled with trash. When it was dragged out with a stick, several rodents also came out. The reed valve intakes are apparently pretty cluttered.

The cylinders are frozen up from rust in the combustion chambers, but when the heads were removed it was found to be no worse than was expected.

Several parts and component assemblies are missing or have been removed from the engine. Why this was done in the case of the fuel injection pump and water pump is not known. These are still on hand. The injector box was removed by a collector who was wheeling and dealing to buy the engine at the time of Operation Restoration's beginning. A gentleman's agreement has been worked out to buy back the missing injector and the brass builder's badge plate.

When the inspection covers were removed from the crankcase, and lights directed inside, everybody smiled. The bottom end of this engine is pristine and clean, still full of good oil, probably of 1962 vintage.

Since the entire gin was operated by belts and pulleys from the main shaft driven by the engine, a break-down stopped the entire operation. In 1963, a 125 HP Allis Chalmers electric motor was purchased. Requiring only the operation of a couple of electric switches, this form of power was considerably less time consuming and strenuous to use than the diesel. The Bessemer was. however, kept as a backup power source. The Allis-Chalmers motor is also still present on the site.

Each year, at the end of the season, the ginners would carefully 'mothball' the machinery. All bearings, journals, and moving parts would be oiled, greased, and lubricated. Lubricant reservoirs would be filled. Tension would be released from drive belts, and the Bessemer would be wiped down with oil to prevent rust.

Some gin managers would occasionally come to the gin during the off season and manually crank over the Bessemer, the gin stands and the drive line just to keep everything turning free and generally shipshape. All of this painstaking care has preserved a complete example of turn of the century rural ginning.

The last time this procedure took place was after the brief 1974 season (18 bales ginned in 1973, only 16 in 1974). The Gin Association followed its normal procedure to close for the season, fully intending to reopen the following season. It didn't happen. Positive thinking of the members however kept the gin from being dismantled for parts or scrap like almost all of its kind after closing. This attitude has also preserved a unique slice of rural American history for us.

The building sat idle for 12 years until December 1986 when Operation Restoration was formed.

Currently, the group's primary concern is raising money for restoration of the gin. Physical work on the site has been mostly securing the structure against weather, souvenir hunters and vandals (who have been almost completely absent). This has involved replacing missing roof tin and siding and replacing or simply covering missing windows. The gin has always looked pretty much like it does today-a beat up old tin building. Most of the machinery only needs cleaning, greasing and adjusting to run again.

I agree with Robert Womack's comment in the November 1988 GEM, 'God bless the buildings that protect old engines.'

'These gins are a part of our history that has been so neglected that it has almost been completely lost,' says Doug Hutchinson, president of Operation Restoration.

Outside the engine room stands a corroded metal water tank about seven feet above the ground on a rotting wooden tower. The base of the tower has been walled in with tin and a weathered door hangs by one hinge and some wire. This was the cooling tower for the Bessemer cooling water.

Water was pumped to the top of the tower where it flowed over a simple aerator made of tin and through a filter screen into the top of the tank. In the enclosed area below, ginners could take a warm shower in the engine water.

Although the Bessemer Model IV engine was considered the latest technology in 1925, it was still a laborious, time consuming device to start.

Late gin manager Herbert Kunkel of Burton described the starting process to members of Operation Restoration. A jack was used to turn the flywheels to the exact spot to begin the starting process. The numerous gouge marks can still be clearly seen on the right hand flywheel today. The oval indentation in the floor where the jack was placed is also visible. Compressed air was then used to move the pistons through the stroke to get the engine turning over fast enough to fire the fuel charge under compression. This could only be done after the cylinder heads had been heated red hot with a blowtorch. In later years, natural gas burners were attached to the heads.

Each flywheel is marked with a paint mark indicating when the operator should give that particular cylinder another charge of compressed air during the starting procedure.

At first, compressed air was provided by a Model T engine powered compressor. The Model T engine was replaced by an electric motor sometime after the Gin Association had electricity installed in 1940. The Model T frame and electric motor are still in place. The original cylinder compressor driven by belts and a jackshaft still turns freely.

According to Henry Wehring, Jr., whose father was gin manager for almost 40 years, it took two people almost two hours to get the Bessemer warmed up and running. Once cranked, it would run all day with minimal attention until shutdown time, being idled back during slow periods, such as lunch.

This engine transmits power by means of a large clutch on one end of its crankshaft. The clutch is attached to one end of a drive shaft running the length of the gin at ground level. The entire gin was once driven by pulleys and flat leather or canvas belts from this shaft.

The clutch, mounted on the end of the crankshaft, is a 31' diameter iron drum 4?' wide squeezed by composition shoes on the outer circumference when engaged. The engagement lever is an iron bar about ten feet long that was moved horizontally by the engine man.

In 1931, a small office was incorporated into the main gin building, being located above the engine room on the front side. During warm weather, this part of the gin was extremely hot, stuffy, and confining, not to mention unbelievably noisy as it was directly above the Bessemer engine and opened onto the ginning floor itself.

When quizzed about the noise and vibration level in the office Hank Wehring said with a grin 'Oh, it vibrated!'

This gin usually took a manager and four operators to run. There were two ginners, one press man and one engineer, but it could run at a reduced rate with one ginner if necessary. A metal bell above the stairway from the engine room to the office enabled the engine man and ginners to pass signals back and forth. An established signal code was used to indicate such commands as 'start up,' 'all clear,' or 'stop.'