Locked In

Consigned to duty at a remote reservoir nearly 100 years ago, a General Electric engine comes to light.

50 HP General Electric

The 1909 50 HP General Electric rescued by members of the Hudson Valley Old Time Power Association. It's now in working condition.

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In May 2001, Arthur Beckert, an employee of the city of New York's water supply station at Ashokan, N.Y., told the Hudson Valley Old Time Power Association (HVOTPA) about an engine generator set sitting in a corner of a building at the station. Nobody currently employed at the Ashokan Dam had ever seen it in operation.

We were told to contact Joseph Boek, chief engineer at Ashokan Reservoir. Mr. Boek was aware of the engine and invited us to inspect the unit. The engine turned out to be a four-cylinder, gasoline-burning 1909 50 HP General Electric driving a 25-kilowatt DC generator. I informed Mr. Boek we were very much interested in the unit.

Mr. Boek notified his home office about possibly disposing of the engine, and a short time later he was notified that the city of New York was willing to dispose of the generator. Two days after 9/11 we were notified that the generator was ours.

Our committee of Donald Clarke, Frank Pflegl, Dale Barkman and Clyde Snook wanted to act quickly, so we hired a roll back truck and went and picked up the unit.

After getting the engine home we found that the exhaust valves had rusted in the guides. Unfortunately, when we lifted the engine the flywheel was accidentally turned and the camshaft bent.

We removed the valves and guides and refurbished them, and we took the camshaft to Haberek's Machine Shop in Amsterdam, N.Y. The camshaft was straightened perfectly.

In June of 2001 we found out that the New York Canal System (which is operated by the New York Thruway System) had some of these engines at the locks on the canal, and still in operating condition. The generator sets on the canal were installed as standby units to supply DC current to the DC motors that open and close the lock gates. At Lock 15, Fort Plain, N.Y., the engines are run at regular intervals.

A friend of mine at the Toll Division of the Thruway, John Roberts, contacted John King, engineer of the canal system, and John Sweeney, Albany division canal director, and a date was set for us to go to Lock 15 to inspect the engines. At Lock 15 we met Ralph DeAngles, chief lock operator at the site.

Members of HVOTPA group included James Dukett, Donald Clarke, Dale Barkman, Carl Specht, Willard Doyle, William Rogers and Clyde Snook. We discussed the history of the generators and were shown how the engines were started and worked, followed by a tour of the lock itself. We were fortunate enough to watch some boats going through the canal and the locks, and it was certainly an interesting trip.

Dale Barkman (left) and James Dukett admire the two 50 HP General Electric engine/generator sets at Lock 15 in Fort Plain, N. Y. Still working for a living, these engines were probably built between 1910-1920. A 220-volt motor sitting between the two engines powers a DC generator for every day operation of the lock's gates. The General Electric engines are maintained in case of power failure.

It was a great deal or pleasure seeing that these engines, generators and buildings are maintained and cared for, since in so many cases things of this age and nature are destroyed and traded for more modern pieces of equipment.

Thanks to Roger Kriebel of Rough & Tumble, we have a photocopy of a military book printed in 1909 covering this engine, stating that the U.S. government had these generators set up on the East and West Coast to supply power to coastal stations in case of hostilities. Rough & Tumble has one of these units in their engine building.

We greatly appreciate the efforts of all those involved in saving this unit, and seeing those still in operation.

Contact engine enthusiast Clyde Shook at: 434 Millbrook Road, Hudson, NY 12534.