Mystery Engine Comes Alive at the Coolspring Power Museum

Mystery engine restored after years of neglect.

Clark the mystery engine

Clark the mystery engine sits in the shop waiting to come alive again.

Photo by Paul Harvey

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This is the story of a little engine named Clark: his history and his rebirth. At least, we are told that his name is Clark: No one has ever seen one like him nor has any record of his birth.

Clark was donated to the Coolspring Power Museum many years ago by the late Ralph (Sonny) Wilson of Allegany, New York. Sonny told us the engine was built by Clark Brothers Co. of nearby Belmont, New York, in about 1900. Originally purchased by neighbor Vernon Fields, the engine was used to power a buzz saw to cut fire wood for a maple syrup sugar shack. Later abandoned in a ditch, the engine was found by Sonny laying west of Five Mile Road near Allegany. Clark had a magneto and gasoline mixer attached, apparently not original. Using these, Sonny got him operational for local displays.

Clark Brothers Co. history

In 1976, for the Olean (New York) Bicentennial, Dresser-Rand, the Clark Brothers Co. successor, adopted Clark. He received a quick paint job of blue and silver, the new firm’s colors, and a modern Clark nameplate. After the event, they returned Clark to his owner and several years later Sonny donated the engine to the museum. Clark sat proudly on display in the museum’s Expo Building for several years, but with so many other projects, the museum tucked him away in safe storage, where he lived, forgotten and in seclusion, for many years. Then, in November 2013 Sonny’s son, Keith, inquired about Clark and his life at the museum.

Spurred on by the inquiry, we looked at Clark and, finding him amazingly interesting, got him out of storage and into our heated shop to do a winter rebirth. We were pleased to find that Clark had very pleasant lines and a most unusual mechanism. The castings were well done but other parts were very crudely made. There was no name anywhere on the engine other than the 1976 nameplate, and there were no casting numbers. The engine being unlike anything else the Clark Brothers ever built made us wonder if Clark could have been a prototype and the only one in existence. We will probably never know.

Going back in history more than 100 years, we find two brothers from Belmont, New York, William Pendleton Clark and Charles Ethan Clark, becoming interested in manufacturing. At that time, the Belmont area had large farms and huge stands of timber, so they concentrated on products needed to manage these resources. Soon, they found a great demand for steam engines and sawmill equipment and rapidly rose to be one of the major makers of these items in the country. They built huge band saws and Corliss-style steam engines in the 2,000 HP range.

Soon, the vast stands of timber were exhausted and the sawmill trade declined. But a new industry was now in its infancy and rapidly increasing; oil and gas production and transportation. So a new chapter opened for the Clark Brothers. William Clark, always the promoter, looked into the future of the firm while his brother Charles, now living in Wellsville, New York, teamed with William Henry Norton in 1907, to found the firm of Clark and Norton. Charles did not leave Clark Brothers Co., but remained vice president while building a competing firm in Wellsville.

Mr. Norton was educated at Alfred University, Alfred, New York, located in Allegany County, and already was engaged in the Norton Oil Co. and the McEwin-Norton Oil Co. of Wellsville, New York. He invented the Norton pumping power and was an accomplished surveyor. In addition to the Clark Brothers, the new firm of Clark and Norton also prospered and built huge oil and gas pumping equipment. Only about 20 miles apart, they built a parallel line of equipment and their plant still stands on West Dyke and South Main Street in Wellsville. The demand must have been great to support both firms in harmony with each other!

The destiny of Clark Brothers Co. was changed on the night of May 11, 1912, when a huge fire consumed the plant, a nearby wagon works and several houses. A special train brought a Genesee steam pumper from Wellsville, which saved the entire village of Belmont from being consumed by the conflagration. The company president, William Clark, was in New York City on business at the time but Charles issued a statement that Clark Brothers Co. would be continued. He volunteered his other interest, Clark and Norton, to supply orders until the new plant could be erected.

With the new oil and gas industry centered around Olean, New York, the Clark Brothers decided to rebuild there. So Belmont again became a quiet agricultural village and the huge new factory was erected in Olean. This plant still builds compressors for the Dresser-Rand Corporation. At this time, the brothers proceeded on their separate ventures; William in Olean and Charles in Wellsville.

The awakening of the mystery engine

Moving ahead 100 years, we now return to Clark’s story. With the nice weather still holding, Clark was sitting in the shop waiting to come to life again. He would have a warm winter home and life was looking good. We began to assess the project and found the engine to be in remarkably good condition. With a little oil and effort, all the parts moved! It was decided that we would decipher the complicated intake chest and governor, then proceed with a mechanical restoration keeping the “as received” ambience that told so much of Clark’s history. Complete disassembly and repair would now be required.

Clark has a ported cylinder with a huge 2-1/2-inch diameter exhaust. Quite unusual for an engine with a 5-1/2-inch bore and a 6-inch stroke. The gases from the exhaust valve are ported through the head then on through the cylinder to the big exhaust pipe. The exhaust is the smaller black passage to the right in the head (below). The five other larger openings are for the cooling water. The exhaust valve has a flat seat and is quite small and fragile. It is operated by timing gears, a pushrod and a rocker arm; all lightly and crudely constructed.

Most interesting is Clark’s unusual governor (pictured at top left). Similar to that of other engines, within one flywheel are two expanding weights that detect the speed of the engine and spread apart as the speed increases. The linkage used in the flyweight arms is unfinished flat steel. But there all similarity to other engines ceases. The arms are connected to two cast iron shoes that apply pressure to a large cast iron collar. These parts are very nicely done. As the engine speed increases, the governor causes the shoes to press tighter on the rim of the collar rotating it a bit. The collar has a lever attached and, by means of a linkage, moves the rotary throttle plate to admit less gas and air. As the speed decreases, a spring returns the collar, and hence the rotary throttle, to admit more gas and air. A very unusual and ingenious system!

The bearings were all disassembled, cleaned and measured for appropriate fit. The rod brass was very nicely made but showed a bit of wear. One half of the bearing was mounted in the shaper to remove 0.004-inch of brass. A perfect fit was obtained with this done to each half. The piston pin and its brass bushing (pictured above) were also worn. A friend made the new parts, which worked well.

Parts were finished and assembly was proceeding very well. A bit complicated, the intake valve chest with the rotary throttle appears to work well. Similar to the exhaust, the intake valve has a flat seat and is small and fragile, with a very light return spring.  The engine was returned to hot tube ignition and gas (instead of gasoline), as Sonny suggested. Mounted on a wood base, it would soon be ready for that first try.

On Saturday, March 1, 2014, Clark was anxious to run; we were going to “give a try.” Oilers were filled and the hot tube burner lit. Soon the tube was glowing bright orange and it was time to turn on some gas and spin the wheels. Doug Fye and Stewart McKinley began to crank the engine. Enthusiasm ran high as the engine quickly barked to life after so many years of sleeping! That evening, I forwarded the photo to Keith and he replied: “So great; I am sure if my Dad could see from heaven he would be smiling.” What a wonderful conclusion to a very long story!

The Clark engine will now be on display at the Coolspring Power Museum for all to see and appreciate. The little engine named Clark will be happy to greet his visitors. If you are unable to attend, please go to YouTube and enter “Early Clark Engine” to spend two minutes watching this event. You will enjoy it!

Contact the Coolspring Power Museum at PO Box 19, Coolspring, PA 15730 • (814) 849-6883 • Coolspring Power Museum