| March/April 1993

Within our personal collection of books is an extensive run of American Machinist, plus a run of Machinery, plus numerous other books on machine work. It's always been amazing to us that the machinists of a century ago could build some of the unique machines of the time, given the machine tools they had to work with. At the outset, we're not denigrating the electronic marvels of our time, including the special applications to lathes, milling machines, and other equipment. What we're saying is that we wonder what kind of wonderful things our forbearers might have built if they had had access to some of the equipment we have today.

For instance, take the side shaft engine design. Even today, there are few machinists who will tackle the cutting of spiral gears. Yet, the majority of side shaft engines used them. In fact, they were usually made of about the same diameter, gaining the cam-speed reduction by changing the helix angle of the two gears. Yet, this idea was used extensively in the gas engine business.

Crankshafts were another item. Initially, there weren't any companies specializing in crankshafts, so it was up to the designer to build his own. More often than not it was cut from a solid piece. The steel billet was perforated with dozens of holes and then roughed out with a hacksaw. Others used a built-up crankshaft, and a few bent it in the forge! How times have changed! About the only folks building engines nowadays are the model makers, except of course, for the mass-produced engines.

Even more amazing are the ignition systems used in days of yore. Of all things, the hot tube system was immensely popular for a time. Compared to the state of the art electric ignition of the 1890s and later, hot tube ignition was cheap, it was simple, and it was reliable. Probably its greatest disadvantage was the occasional rupture of the tube. Yet, the early engine builders were able to successfully overcome these problems and provide customers with a simple and reliable form of power.

When doing lathe work, ye olden Reflector much prefers to use carbide bits: they cut faster, and leave a nice finish. Yet, the machinist of a century back didn't have carbide, and in fact, had little more than some tool steel which had to be forged, tempered, and ground in the shop...there wasn't much in the way of off-the-shelf lathe tooling a century ago. This alone, makes the talent of the old-time machinist all the more amazing. When we preserve some old-time engine with swinging arms, revolving shafts, and a fancy governor, we're not just preserving some old castings. . .we're paying constant tribute to those wonderful old-time machinists!

It looks as if the plans are set for the Gas Engine Extravaganza in England this summer. If you're planning to go, send in the forms at your earliest convenience. If you don't have the forms, contact the GEM offices and they'll send out the itinerary and other materials. We're looking forward to seeing many of you on the tour! Don't procrastinate too long though...Wade Farm Tours will need to know how many are going by mid-April, and the hourglass is running out of sand!


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