Johnson's old turn of century Columbia

Mr. Johnson's old turn-of-the-century 'Columbia.' He returns often to the Johnson farm to sit and daydream in the engine house.

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RD # 1, Box 564 Pipersville, PA 18947

Can a little boy's dream come true? Can a man ever hope to 'relive' one of his most enjoyable childhood memories? Can one person experience both at the same time? Erik Siren, a dignified, soft-spoken neighbor of ours is a living testimonial to the wonderful experiences our hobby is responsible for. Mr. Siren's eyes light up whenever he tells the story of how he was 'bitten' by the 'engine bug.'

Let your imagination run for a moment. Come with us to a distant shore, to the little farm village of Geta, in the Aland Islands, Finland. This cluster of islands and its 20,000 mainly ethnic Swedish farmers are located in the gulf separating Finland from Sweden. While governed by Finland, the Swedes of Aland look to Sweden for many consumer goods. It's 1930 and cute, red-headed Erik is visiting a neighbor's farm. Near the barn is a small outbuilding with a concrete floor. From within, fascinating noise quickly attracts the curious nine year old's attention. As he peeks in he sees the distinctive shape and hears the unique sound of 'The Columbia', one of several models of hot bulb oil engine (also called a 'semi-diesel') made by the Bolinders Mfg. Co. of Stockholm, Sweden. Arno Johnson-the farmer-sees Erik, shows him how the engine cuts firewood, and explains how it can also be used to thresh grain. Young Erik is in 'seventh heaven.' Some day, maybe some day, he will have an old engine just like Mr. Johnson's.

Soon, to his amazement, little Erik begins to realize that most farms had an 'engine house' and a few had older engines. But Erik's favorite is Like most Aland Islanders, Erik comes from a hardy, talented family. His father had been a farmer, blacksmith, sailor, and shipbuilder. Erik still recalls a beautiful schooner his father built in four years. That magnificent sailing vessel had a 25 HP Bolinder auxiliary engine. He still laughs at how, as a teenager, he went on many voyages with his dad only to be told that he would be cook and his older brother would have the 'honor' of working in the engine room!

Little Erik grew older. He apprenticed to a machinist and became a tool and die maker accustomed to working with very close tolerances. Later on, he shipped out with the Swedish Merchant Marine, becoming first an oiler, then a diesel engineer on Swedish tankers. Returning home, he married the lovely woman who is still his wife and set up his own machine shop. In 1953 the Siren family came to America. Erik found employment as the chief of maintenance in a furniture factory. They are now living in a comfortable home near Philadelphia where Mr. Siren uses his immaculate basement and garage as a workshop-/display area for his old engine hobby.

In 1985 the Sirens felt the urge to visit the 'old country'. When Erik arrived on Aland, a wave of nostalgia swept over him. He felt the years melt away as he walked back to the old Johnson farm. Sure enough, Arno Johnson was still on the farm and old 'Columbia', the source of so many childhood dreams and so many happy adult memories, was still there-stored in a dusty corner of the old Johnson barn. Mr. Johnson was happy to sell all the old iron to Erik and gasped in amazement when Erik matter-of-factly mentioned he was shipping the useless thing back to America!!

While the engine was in transit, Siren began to research his engine with the help of the Volvo Company who had long ago purchased Bolinder. The original bill was found showing that Siren's engine #1836 was sold on November 13, 1907, by the Bolinder engine factory in Stockholm, Sweden. Bolinder was a thriving corporation making several engine models, as well as iron stoves, tug boats, and even freight boats.

This early engine is a so-called 'semi-diesel', featuring two cycle performance with pressure feed lubrication for all internal bearings and cylinder. There is also an unusual pendulum-type governor on this engine which controls the 'hit-or-miss' firing of the engine. Siren's 'Columbia' model is an 8 HP engine in the Bolinder line.

Interestingly Mr. Siren found out that the engine was used near Stockholm for about 15 years. It was then purchased by an Aland Islander who wanted to use it in his mill. When he found that it was too small, he resold it to Arno Johnson, Erik's neighbor, who used it until 1939.

With precise perfection he started to carefully remanufacture many of the components which he felt were too badly damaged to be used. Among other things he made new main bearings and poured a new rod bearing. He then had to machine a new wrist pin and bushing, new piston rings, new fuel pump plunger, and a new brass fitting for the injector nozzle. The latter involved drilling a .09 mm. hole (about 5/1000 inch) 1/16 inch deep. Naturally a lot of time was also needed to machine many smaller parts. Finally, approximately 75 riuts and bolts had to be remade. That in itself was a challenge because the originals had the old English-style Whit-worth threading which must have a 55 pitch angle!

At last, in April, 1986, after 8 months of work, the big day arrived. It was start-up time. While Erik carefully pre-heated the oil bulb with a blow torch, Ed Schwartz began to turn the flywheel and rock the engine a bit. While other Association members looked on with eager anticipation, old 'Columbia' belched a puff of smoke and began to run. What a great day for everyone who all understood exactly why the normally restrained Erik had a grin that almost split his face! So many emotions must have been crowding his mind.

Many soon realized that Erik Siren is a most knowledgeable member of our fraternity with a collection of engines that would make anyone proud. Besides 'Columbia', he has enjoyed the challenge of doing precise, ground-up restorations on a 1.5 HP Jacobson, a 1 HP International Harvester 'Mogul,' and a 1 HP International Harvester 'Titan.' His collection contains a 1.5 HP Hercules in original condition with original paint and a 1.5 HP Lauson-Lawton side shaft engine in original condition on its original cart. He also has a small Corliss-type steam engine probably used to operate sewing machines in a laundry.

When you meet Erik Siren for the first time, you can't fail to be impressed not only with his masterfully precise knowledge of machine tooling, but his warm willingness to patiently advise fellow hobbyists at any time. It's a rare pleasure to see how the face of this modest, soft-spoken master machinist lights up as he happily shares with eager listeners the story of how old 'Columbia' made his dreams come true!