Hot Air Engines at the 2017 Coolspring Show

More than 200 hot air engines, fans, toys and models made an appearance at the Coolspring spring show.

| October/November 2017

  • Dr. Brent Rowell's large F.F. Slocomb & Co. hot air engine features two walking beams to connect the power and displacer pistons.
    Photo by Woody Sins
  • The author's circa-1909 5-inch Rider, used by the Glenmary Sanatorium in Owego, New York, to pump water from a small creek to a cistern in the attic of the building. Although made by the Rider-Ericsson Engine Co., it is a Rider-style engine. There were four of this style engine on the grounds, including Dr. Rowell's 4-inch engine, this engine, and two 6-inch engines owned by Tom Stockton and Brian Triebner.
    Photo by Woody Sins
  • The oldest Ericsson hot air engine known, made in the 1880s by the DeLamater Iron Works in Brooklyn, New York, before the creation of Rider-Ericsson Engine Co.
    Photo by Woody Sins
  • Wayne Grenning's Otto & Langen reproduction. It has been painted since it appeared in the June/July 2017 GEM and was a highlight of the show.
    Photo by Woody Sins
  • Dan Minor's Ericsson-style engine, built by Rider before the creation of the Rider-Ericsson Engine Co. in Walden, New York. This 5-inch engine has short legs, among other features, to identify it as a Rider-built engine.
    Photo by Woody Sins
  • There were three Fanning hot air pumping engines in the field. This example, owned by Dr. Rowell, is gasoline fired and features a rather complex motion to connect the pistons together.
    Photo by Woody Sins
  • A Bremen caloric engine. Another interesting pumping engine made in Bremen, Ohio, it was one of three full-sized engines of this type on the grounds.
    Photo by Woody Sins
  • Phillips MP100C2A generator set. This hot air engine-powered generator was developed in the 1950s as a silent power source for field radios. With the advent of transistorized radios it was no longer needed, and development ceased.
    Photo by Woody Sins
  • Several Essex engines were on display. This group is owned by Art Gaier.
    Photo by Woody Sins
  • A finely restored and running 5-inch Ericsson engine owned by event co-chairman Don Worley.
    Photo by Woody Sins
  • Essex fan-cooled, LP-powered engine, used to run a popcorn machine. It was built in 1903 in Buffalo, New York, and produced 1/45 hp. It was purchased on the field by the author.
    Photo by Woody Sins
  • One of several Denny Improved Ericsson engines made by the American Machine Co. of Wilmington, Ohio, that appeared at the show. Because Ericsson sold a small number of this style engine before it was patented, the patent was voided, and other companies were free to make them.
    Photo by Woody Sins
  • There were also several Jost hot air fans on display, along with Lake Breeze, Kyko and several other makes.
    Photo by Woody Sins

It may seem unusual for a museum dedicated to the preservation, display and education about internal combustion engines to consider featuring external combustion hot air engines at their annual show, but that is just what the Coolspring Power Museum did for their spring show on June 15-17, 2017. In doing so, the museum recognized the contribution this type of engine made to the industrial revolution, and the show was a great success thanks to the excellent cooperation and hard work of the Coolspring Power Museum’s volunteer staff.

Hot air engines

Hot air engines are a category of external combustion engines that operate on the alternate heating and cooling of a mass of air in an enclosed space. The resulting raising and lowering of the air pressure is used to drive a power piston. Hot air engines, available before the internal combustion engines had come onto the scene, offered a low cost, low power alternative to the steam engine then in common use. They are capable of using any sufficiently hot source for heat, and had no boiler to give trouble and maintain.

Unfortunately, the metallurgy and low power output made their use quite limited. Although some hot air engines were used for very small power applications, like small power tools and such, by the dawn of the 20th century most hot air engines in use were only being used to pump water and operate as fans in remote locations. Hot air engine toys were popular at the time, and to this day, machinists and experimenters continue to build models of both classic and more modern designs.

In total, 201 hot air engines, fans, toys and models were on hand for the event. About 56 full-sized engines, from the diminutive Essex engines made in Buffalo, New York, to an enormous Ericsson pumping engine with a 10-inch bore, were scattered within the buildings and throughout the grounds. Thirty-seven antique fans were on display, with the balance being toy engines of various vintages, plus beautifully machined models. These exhibits, along with the many fine and unusual engines on the grounds and on display in the museum’s buildings made for a show that was not to be missed.



Dr. Brent Rowell, a noted historian of the Rider-Ericsson company, wrote a brief but thorough history for publication in the museum’s Bores & Strokes and put on an excellent presentation of the company for interested enthusiasts. For the most part, the weather cooperated, with only a few passing thunderstorms to mar the proceedings. Collectors came with their engines from all over the East Coast and Canada, and visitors from as far away as Europe and Australia came to see the museum and the show.



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