As the granddaughter of generations of farmers on one side of
the family, and the granddaughter of a gas and steam engine
enthusiast on the other side, I grew up knowing a little something
(notice I said a little, but at least I knew that much) about farm
power of yesteryear. However, I knew next to nothing-well,
let’s face it, I knew nothing-about how engines were once used
in non-agricultural (i.e. marine) applications.
Now that I’ve got a husband with a burning interest in
marine power, and particularly marine steam power, I’m learning
more about it myself, and finding it a fascinating subject all
around. I’m not embarrassed to ask him stupid questions
whenever we’re out in our steam launch Reciproca, or
whenever he’s got its engine torn apart for ‘tweaking,’
like ‘What’s that gauge telling us? Why is that important?
Why’s it making that little whistling noise? Where’s the
water come from? Where’s it go? If you fall overboard and
drown, how do I get back to shore?’ You know, the basics. And
he never hesitates to try and teach me more about all of this.
We’ve been to boat meets, toured steamboats and steam-powered
ships, been in the engine room of a Liberty ship while it was under
steam and under way-all great places to learn.
I have to say, however, that of all the places we’ve been in
this quest for knowledge, few compare with the great times I’ve
had attending the Antique Marine Engine Exposition at Mystic
Seaport. In six years, we’ve been to this show three times, and
I enjoy it more each time.
Mystic Seaport, ‘The Museum of America and the Sea,’ is
a fascinating place to hold an engine show. The site is one of the
country’s foremost maritime museums, with countless exhibits
and activities taking place. There are sailing ships to board and
explore, demonstrations of old-time seafaring skills, sea chantey
sing-alongs, tales of sails and whales, planetarium shows about
navigating by the stars, exhibits of ship carvings, a gallery of
fine paintings of ships good and true, displays of small craft and
the engines that powered them… oh, it never ends! This is not to
mention the setting within which all of these things are presented:
a village filled with the authentic shops and structures of a
coastal settlement. Not a frou-frou seaside resort where the pretty
people promenade, mind you, but a real working seaport.
Doesn’t it sound great? And I haven’t even begun to
really tell you about the show yet! Well, let’s get on with
The show itself is held within the DuPont Preservation Shipyard
area of the museum. Here you can see stacks of wood being seasoned
for use in building and maintaining the ships on display, learn
about shipbuilding techniques, and see some of the tools and
equipment used in that trade. We even saw a ship under
construction: a full-scale replica of the Amistad, the
vessel which played a role in a landmark case involving the slave
trade in early American history (see the movie of the same name!).
She’s sailed off by now to New York City, for a Tall Ships
event in July.
The 1999 Antique Marine Engine Expo, the 8th annual, took place
August 21 and 22 and was a grand success. Seventy-nine exhibitors
traveled from eleven different states and Canada, bringing with
them 185 separate engines, powered by the gamut of steam, gasoline,
diesel, kerosene, oil, alcohol, propane, butane, and electric.
There were 62 inboards (ten installed in boats), and 73
Thirty-four models were on display, many operating on the steam,
compressed air, and electricity provided by the museum.
The author’s husband, too engrossed to realize I was nearby
with the camera, gets a closer look at some of the models on
Fifteen boats were on hand throughout the show, and were
featured during a ‘parade’ each afternoon led by the
Seaport’s steamer Sabino. Rides aboard
Sabino, one of the last coal-fired passenger steamers in
operation in the United States, are offered throughout the day, and
engine fans won’t want to miss it. She’s powered by a 75 HP
two-cylinder engine built in 1908 by James H. Paine & Sons of
Noank, Connecticut. It’s a beautifully maintained piece of
machinery, around which bench seating is arranged so that if you
want to you can park yourself engine side and watch it work for the
whole trip (that’s what my husband likes to do, anyway).
Eight of the engines at the 1999 show were known to have been
built in the 1800s, the oldest one identified to have been built
about 1878, a steam launch engine owned by Carl Grosser. Also on
display was an 1892 Salisbury electric outboard, the oldest
outboard known to exist, owned by David Ostrowski.
Some folks familiar to GEM readers were exhibiting at
the show. Ernie Dar-row of Taunton, Massachusetts, brought four
Gray Motor Co. engines: a c. 1906 Model 4, 4? HP; a c. 1909 3 HP
model R, serial number 8292; a c. 1910 model U, serial number
12024; and a c. 1905 1 HP, serial number 1396.
Richard A. Day Jr., a frequent contributor to GEM on marine
engine topics, and his wife Barbara had traveled from Leonardtown,
Maryland, with four of their engines: a 2 HP Palmer Bros. YT-1,
serial number 3248747, built in 1947; the first Palmer, 1? HP,
built in 1893; a 1912 Gilmore Cragg 1? HP; and a 2? HP engine built
sometime between 1908 and 1912 by the Belle Isle Motor Co. of
Set up right next to the Days was a row of engines all
manufactured in Connecticut, displayed by owner Al Koch of
Cromwell, Connecticut. In the photo below, the engines from left to
right (all horsepower ratings approximate) are: 4 HP c. 1914
Automatic Machine Co., made in Bridgeport; 3 HP c. 1918 J.W.
Lathrop &. Co., made in Mystic; 2? HP c. 1908 Frisbie Motor
Co., made in Middletown; 3 HP c. 1909 C.L. Barker Co., made in
Norwalk; 5 HP c. 1922 Palmer Bros., made in Cos Cob; and 1? HP c.
1917 Everts Motor Co., made in Hartford. If you want a lesson in
how to provide an informative display to the general public,
Al’s the man to study. He had an information sheet at each
engine which outlined its stats, as well as a brief explanation of
how the engine would have been used, all in language that onlookers
who had an interest but weren’t necessarily experts could
understand. Very nicely done. Al has been a collector and restorer
of antique engines for 14 years, and is a member of the Tobacco
Valley Flywheelers. His collection of gas stationary, gas marine,
steam engines, and models numbers about 50 pieces.
Peter Bezanson of Waterford, Connecticut, son of GEM
advertiser ‘The Connecticut Yankee,’ was there with his
collection of John Lauson engines: a 1950 Sport King; a 1939 model
RSM826, ? HP, serial number A22820; a 1936 model LFR, 2? HP; and a
1948 model PAM826, 5 HP, serial number 8-15487. He had Dad along
Calvin Pixley of Westfield, Massachusetts, drew a crowd while
starting his 1906 Mietz & Weiss hot bulb oil engine, serial
number 4470. Weighing in at 875 lbs., this 7 HP two cylinder beauty
has a 4 x 4? bore and stroke, and runs on kerosene, fuel oil, crude
oil, or alcohol.
Bill Allard of Oakdale, Connecticut, presented a nice lineup of
1946 Johnson outboards. This was Johnson’s first production
year after World War II, and the first year Johnson was painted
Besides the engines brought in by exhibitors, Mystic Seaport
also has a fine collection of its own. Among those they own which
were on display were a single cylinder 3 HP gasoline-powered
inboard, serial number 41376, manufactured by Mianus Motor Works of
Mianus, Connecticut; a circa 1930 two cylinder 70 HP diesel inboard
manufactured by the Wichmann Engine Co. of Bergan, Norway; and a
J.W. Lathrop & Co. D-90 six cylinder 90 HP inboard, built in
1946 in Mystic.
We discovered another of Mystic Seaport’s engines while
strolling through the village after a boat ride. I was chattering
away to my husband when this persistent sound penetrated into my
brain: ‘Hey, that’s a gas engine!’ We scrambled around
between buildings following the sound, and there, behind one of the
shops, we found a museum interpreter operating a 7 HP Hercules
kerosene engine, Model EK7, built around 1917. The engine provided
power, via a lineshaft, for the hoopmaking and woodworking
equipment inside the shop it sat behind. About 1900, the shop was
owned by George Washington Smith; at the time, he used a 6 HP
Excelsior engine made by the Consolidated Engine Co. of New York
While at Mystic Seaport, make sure to visit the museum store and
gift shop. Neither my husband nor I are what you’d call
shoppers, but we love browsing in here (don’t miss the second
floor bookstore and print gallery). And feel free to follow your
nose to the gourmet goodie shop in the back corner of the building
for some sweet treats and a good cup o’ joe. In fact, as far as
food goes, it’s good and plenty at Mystic Seaport, ranging from
snacks to cafeteria lunches to fine dining at the Seamen’s Inn
(where we thought we might be underdressed in our engine show
clothes but to the contrary were made to feel quite welcome).
In addition to all the sites at Mystic Seaport, we enjoyed
visiting the Mystic Aquarium across town (I could watch the seals
and the penguins all day, I swear). Another site to visit is B.F.
Clyde’s Cider Mill on Stonington Road in Old Mystic, the last
steam-powered cider mill in New England, which recently received a
National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark award.
They’re not open during the engine expo, but if you’re in
the area in the fall you can see the mill in operation on weekends,
September through December, at 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.; call
860-536-3354 for more information.
A great side trip is a day in Essex, Connecticut, for a ride
aboard the Valley Railroad behind a steam locomotive; I can
recommend the combination train ride/boat excursion. The railroad
is located on the outskirts of town, but don’t leave the area
without venturing into Essex proper for a visit to the Connecticut
River Museum (CRM), located at 67 Main Street, to see their
fascinating collection of artifacts. The museum has a steamboat and
launch show of its own. Their show is usually the weekend before
the Mystic show; there was a scheduling snafu for 2000, so
they’re two weeks apart, but by 2001 they should be set up
again so that a marine engine buff can make a week of it in coastal
In all the time we’ve spent visiting Mystic Seaport, I still
don’t feel I’ve seen it all-that’s how much there is to
do at ‘The Museum of America and the Sea’ and the Antique
Marine Engine Exposition. This is an invitational show, with
criteria for participants which ensure good quality exhibits. No
outside vendors are allowed, and so this show is really all about
the engines. The 9th annual Expo will be held August 19 and 20,
2000. Contact Mystic Seaport’s engine collection manager,
George King III, Mystic Seaport, 75 Greenmanville Ave., P.O. Box
6000, Mystic, CT 06355-0990, telephone 860-572-0711, for
information about the show or to apply for an invitation to
exhibit. For general information, call 1-888-SEA-PORT OR