The Engine That Was ...

Water and Air lines

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Submitted by Flower Valley Gas & Steam Engine Museum 240 Church Street St. Marys, Pennsylvania 15857

The November 1991 issue of Live Steam carried the last of a three-part story, 'The Engine House' by Conrad Milster. In this last segment the author described the two 1916 Blaisdell air compressors at Windy City, Elk County. In his closing paragraphs, the author noted that pumping was stopped on August 1, 1989, but that one last run was scheduled for a group of invited visitors. Jim McCauley, who had operated these engines since 1946, agreed to come out of retirement for this last run on September 16, 1989. After running #1 engine for some time, Jim finally shut it down at about 3:30 that afternoon. The mighty engine has stopped for the last time, and another small piece of American history ended.

Or so it would seem, but the story continues. Edward Kuntz and his sons, Doug and Robert, had visited the original Windy City pumping site and had come to know Jim McCauley. They appreciated his great abilities and dedication through the years in keeping the engines working, and after the final shut down of the #1 big Blaisdell, they began to plan how to reincarnate #2 engine and somehow preserve its place in history.

After successful negotiations with lease owners to acquire the Blaisdell, the next step was to transport it to its new home in Flower City, Benzinger Township in Elk County, Pennsylvania. With the help of a couple of volunteer friends, Ed Kuntz and his two sons set to work. To be sure, a mighty task, but a task made easier because of their collective talents and determination. What seemed initially an insurmountable job soon became a labor of love.

During one of our visits to the power house with Jim McCauley, we were disappointed to learn that the cylinder on the #2 engine was defective and was shut down in 1974. At that time another cylinder was brought on site but the valve cage would not match. It was our good fortune that a matching valve cage was previously obtained from the Epstein Lease and was in storage; the first real problem was solved.

The site at Windy City then took on the look of real progress. The determined enthusiasts measured the machine, and after cutting the needed wooden timbers and transporting them to the site, began the process of lifting the Blaisdell from its original resting place for loading prior to its trip to Flower Valley. Railroad jacks were used, and with the appropriate cables and winches, the giant was soon resting on a dual axle tilt bed truck and on its way to its new home just outside St. Marys, Pennsylvania. Phase I was now complete!!

After reaching the Flower Valley Gas Museum site, we began the process of restoring the old beauty in earnest. The valve cage was removed. The 16 inch piston and cylinder were next to receive attention as the work progressed. A replacement cylinder with an Epstein valve cage was found to be a perfect match. Then the valves, both intake and exhaust, were reground and ready for assembly. The 16-inch piston rings (four on the firing piston and three on the compressor piston), were replaced next. Then came the delicate task of cutting 36 inch gaskets. Initial attempts failed due to breaking of the gasket material. But old St. Marys 'engine uity' prevailed, and the job was completed successfully by sandwiching the gasket material between pieces of 3/16 plywood for the cutting process. After degreasing and reduplicating, and after a great deal of sweat and toil and a few tears the crew reassembled the engine cylinder and head. Phase II was now complete!!

All of the preceding work took place during the winter of 1990-91. By mid April of 1991, the weather moderated and the road conditions permitted concrete to be trucked to the site. While the steel reinforced concrete foundation was being poured, an 80 HP Bessemer compressor magically appeared (again with a lot of determined effort by the Kuntz men and their volunteers). After the foundations had cured sufficiently to bear their weights, the Blaisdell and the Bessemer were moved into permanent positions, and Phase III was now complete!!

It had long ago been decided that the two giants would be the centerpiece for the main museum building. During the summer and fall of 1991, the determined Flower Val liens erected a building 28 feet by 36 feet with cupola, and were able to lay the necessary pipes and other outside lines prior to the onset of cold weather. Throughout the winter of 1991-92, work was completed on the interior lines, plumbing, lighting, and all of the other necessary interior labor.

Following the spring thaw in 1992, the water and air lines were completed, and by early June all was in readiness for actual operation. Phase IV was now complete!!

Because of his historical background in operation of the big machine, and because of his knowledge and recognized expertise in running the Blaisdell, Jim McCauley was invited to inspect the restoration work and, we hoped, to give his stamp of approval to the project that had spanned a period of many months. Jim walked around the old giant. You could see a gleam of appreciation in his eyes, and finally, with a grin that broadened into a great smile, he said 'By golly, you and your boys did a real job here! When I shut it down back in 1974 I never dreamed that I'd ever see it repaired!'

After his close inspection and his final approval, all was ready for the big moment. The seven foot flywheel was set, a shot of air, and with a might roar, the big Blaisdell fired seven times and stopped!! What a disappointment! But determination overcame disappointment. The spark of the high bar low tension magneto was checked and all was found to be A-OK. Next followed two hours of trial and error, all with growing frustration! The discovery was made that the magneto trip finger of the gas following rod was 3/16 too short! Wow, what a relief. A quick trip to a local fabricating shop, and the final adjustments were made. Disappointment once again turned to anxious expectation!

Later in the day (it was after lunch, because all decided that if there were to be any further problems, they could better take them with a full stomach), the magneto trip finger was replaced, they gave it shot of air, and once again the mighty engine kicked over and ran for 2 hours. A great trial run! The hills around Flower Valley now echoed with the rhythmic sounds of the Great Blaisdell!! Phase V was now complete!!

June 28, 1992, the date set for the annual Gas-up event, was also St. Marys' year of the Sesquicentennial. The day saw some 400 anxious enthusiasts holding their collective breaths as Jim McCauley stepped front and center to do the honors of the start-up of the engine. And start it did and it performed beautifully all day!

As he watched the great engine running so smoothly, Jim turned to Ed Kuntz and said, 'When I shut that engine down back in 1974, I never thought I'd ever see it run again. But you and the boys sure did a great job on this project yes, sir, a great job!'

And so now, the engine THAT WAS is now the engine THAT IS!!