1869 12 HP Gibbs & Sterrett

A challenging conversion

| February 2009

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    It took 10 months, more than 2,500 man hours and a lot of help from friends and associates for Stan Ellerbeck to convert an 1869 Gibbs & Sterrett box bed steam frame into the 12 HP gas engine seen here.
    Christian Williams
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    Stan Ellerbeck purchased this 1869 Gibbs & Sterrett steam engine frame from Denny Greisbaum in Bradford, Pa., where it worked on a local oil field. The engine was converted to gas in the late 1800s but the cylinder and other pieces from that conversion are long gone.
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    The Bessemer conversion cylinder that Stan brought from Tom Weatherford. It was found on an Oil City Boiler Works bed.
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    Stan came up with the idea for his crosshead assembly after visiting the Coolspring Power Museum in Coolspring, Pa. Photos of the Gibbs & Sterrett engines on display, like the one seen here, gave him the frame of reference he needed.
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    Stan needed to make a cylinder adaptor mount for the intake valve assembly. Here, the intake valve mount casting is being drilled and tapped to mate it to the cylinder adaptor plate.
    Stan Ellerbeck
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    The walnut wood pattern for the crosshead with letters fixed by crazy glue.
    Stan Ellerbeck
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    The cylinder mount plate in place on the cylinder.
    Stan Ellerbeck
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    Stan bores holes into the front cylinder mount plate to match the intake valve mount casting.
    Stan Ellerbeck
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    The hands of Dan Muller, smoothing up imperfections on the pattern for the cylinder seal housing with Bondo to ensure a good finish for the casting process.
    Stan Ellerbeck
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    Boring chimney socket and repairing the threads in the cylinder head for the hot tube.
    Stan Ellerbeck
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    Connecting rod components including repaired housing, bearing and rod. Also shown is the worn-out bearing.
    Stan Ellerbeck
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    Machining the hex nut for the piston rod.
    Stan Ellerbeck
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    The old oiler and the new one.
    Stan Ellerbeck
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    Machining oil slots in brass slides of crosshead assembly.
    Stan Ellerbeck
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    Slides machined and ready for installation into pockets on the crosshead assembly.
    Stan Ellerbeck
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    Joe Staponski cuts the thread on the piston rod.
    Stan Ellerbeck
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    A look inside the rebored cylinder.
    Christian Williams
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    Stan used a string to determine, in very precise measurements, how close to perfect alignment the cylinder was with the piston rod, connecting rod and everything else in the center of the crankshaft.
    Stan Ellerbeck
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    The engine in late May 2008. Here we see the finished crosshead assembly, connecting rod, crankshaft, oiler tree and oil swipe.
    Christian Williams
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    The finished engine on display at the Pioneer Harvest Fiesta in Ft. Scott, Kan.
    Christian Williams
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    The finished engine on display at the Pioneer Harvest Fiesta in Ft. Scott, Kan.
    Christian Williams

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Editor's note: Be sure to check out the extensive eight-part photo gallery  breaking down the restoration of this engine.

It all started with the article "A Rare Half-Breed Engine" in the October/November 2007 issue of Gas Engine Magazine. “I was at an engine show in Republic, Mo., showing my 1886 12 HP Ferrar & Threfts, and I was reading the article about Dick Bouma’s engine [a converted steam-to-gas M. Lytle & Son cylinder on a Gibbs, Russell & Co. bed],” says Stan Ellerbeck, Excelsior Springs, Mo., of the moment he decided to make his own steam-to-gas conversion with an 1869 12 HP Gibbs & Sterrett. “That’s what got me interested. I fell in love with the look.”

Over the course of the next 10 months, Stan, a retired machinist, logged more than 2,500 hours to get the engine finished in time to show at the Tri-State Gas Engine and Tractor Assn. Show in Portland, Ind., last August. And while it’s amazing the amount of time he put into the project and the technical prowess he demonstrated throughout the process, the most impressive aspect is the fact that Stan only has 25 percent of his vision. Suffering from the condition chorioretinitis, the most that Stan can see with both eyes are crooked lines and blurry, incomplete pieces. But Stan’s no stranger to uphill climbs, having worked his way from pushing a broom at Midwest Hanger Co. in 1966 to becoming a machinist, designing the machines that made the hangers, and eventually running the company. It should be no surprise that his desire and drive to finish the project helped him overcome the obvious physical obstacles. “What takes some people a day to do can take me a week,” says Stan. “I did most of this myself but a lot of people helped me out.”

Finding a frame and a cylinder 
The first person to help was Tom Weatherford, Big Island, Va. “I came home from the show and I was talking to Tom, asking if he’d seen the new GEM,” says Stan. “I told him I was interested in doing something like [Dick’s engine].” Tom told Stan of a friend in Bradford, Pa., named Denny Greisbaum who might be able to help him out. “I called Denny and asked if he knew of any Gibbs & Russell box bed frames available and he said he had a Gibbs & Sterrett,” says Stan. Years prior, an old local oil lease became a ward of the state of Pennsylvania, and Denny managed to purchase the frame right before it was sent to the scrap yard. “I asked if he was interested in selling and we agreed upon a price we were both happy with,” says Stan. The deal included an additional crankshaft and a 6-spoke flywheel, which Stan would later use on the engine.



As Stan understands the history of the frame, it started out as a box bed steam engine in 1869, working an oil claim on Tunungwant Creek in northwest Pennsylvania, 1/4 mile from the New York state line. Eventually, the engine was converted to gas sometime in the late 1880s, but the cylinder from that conversion is long gone. Fortunately, Stan needed to look no further than Tom, who had an old-style Bessemer cylinder available for purchase. Old-style cylinders were made with the intake on the bottom and the exhaust on the top, and were specially suited for steam-to-gas conversions. With the box bed steam frame and a cylinder correct for the time frame, the two major pieces of Stan’s engine were taken care of.

Road trip!
Schedules were coordinated, and soon Stan and his wife, Diana, were on their way to Bradford to pick up the frame as well as the cylinder, which Tom had already dropped off. “It was the week of the 2007 Coolspring Fall Swap, and since we’d never been there, we loaded everything in the truck and drove to Coolspring [Pa.] on the way back home,” says Stan. Luck continued to be on Stan’s side as he walked the grounds and found more pieces he needed for his engine. “It was like one-stop shopping,” says Stan. “I found the intake valve, air-fuel mixer, oilers – I almost bought everything I needed there.”