The Northwest Michigan Engine & Threshers Club meets its goal to revive a massive Snow engine.
Tony Suykerbuyk (in gray T-shirt at center) addresses the crowd before turning the Snow on air.
Manufacturer: Snow Steam Pump Works., Buffalo, NY
Serial Number: C123
Horsepower: 1,100 hp @ 95rpm
Bore & stroke: 23in x 48in
Ignition: Originally igniter, converted to spark plugs in 1944 with point tripper system consisting of 16 sets of points, dual spark plugs and dual coils per cylinder.
Governing: Ferguson horizontal-spring fuel governor
Ten years ago, Tony Suykerbuyk and other members of the Northwest Michigan Engine & Threshers Club in Buckley, Michigan, made a decision that changed their future, and likely that of the club, as well. After learning about a surviving Snow double-acting engine – a 1907 1,100 hp twin tandem, the only one of its kind still in existence – they decided the engine had to be saved. There was one little catch: The engine was in West Virginia, some 600 miles from the club’s show grounds. And it weighed an estimated 225 tons.
If the engine looks familiar, it should. We documented the discovery and rescue of the Snow engine back in the June/July 2016 issue. In that article, we reported the club’s goal to have the engine set up and ready to turn on compressed air in time for the club’s 50th anniversary in August 2017. The club hit its goal, but it didn’t happen without intense determination and lots and lots of hard work.
When we last saw the engine in 2016, it had been moved into its new home, a purpose-built structure made possible because of a donation from the Wayne Webber Foundation and its founders, Wayne and Joan Webber. As last reported, the engine beds had been set in place, but the rest of the engine was still in storage, waiting to be assembled.
Even with as much work as had been done, Tony knew it was going to take a major effort to make their deadline. “I moved my camper to Buckley in the first part of April (2017) with the deadline target of our 50th anniversary in mind. I was up there every weekend leading up to the show except one, because I had to have surgery on my ear. That’s the only weekend I missed all summer,” Tony says, adding, “My wife pretty much gave up going anywhere. She knew I had a mission. I wanted to get it going so I could get it done.”
Putting the Snow back together was an immense challenge, the assembly process made more difficult by the sheer size and weight of the engine’s parts. The Snow’s two camshafts, for example, weigh about 3,500 pounds each, the crankshaft about 9 tons, and the 2-piece, 18-foot diameter flywheel weighs about 22 tons. And it’s not just a simple bolt-together operation, either. Tony and the crew had to think their way through, relying on instinct and experience, and what little period information they could find. The two halves of the engine were squared to one another using Starrett machinist levels, hydraulic jacks, blocks and piano wire. “Everything had to come in within thousandths of an inch,” Tony says. “Piano wire is hard so you can pull it tight and it’s very accurate.” After setting their reference lines, it took lots of jacking, measuring and moving to get the engines squared up. “It’s a very tedious and slow process, but it’s very accurate,” Tony says.
Bolting the engine together presented lots of challenges, including how to correctly torque the four massive, almost 6-foot long 3-inch bolts securing the flywheel halves to the crankshaft. To install the bolts they first welded a flat pad with an eyelet to the top of each bolt. With a chain dropped down through the flywheel bolt hole they hooked onto the bolts, then heated the bolts to approximately 800 degrees F before pulling them (with securing nuts installed on the bottom end) through the flywheel using a hoist. Once the bolts were in place they installed the top nuts, beating them tight with a “knocker wrench,” as Tony calls it. “I don’t have the right wrenches to torque it down, or even know how to confirm actual torque,” Tony says. “This is accepted. You beat on a knocker wrench with a sledge hammer and then let Mother Nature do the work by drawing the bolt down tight as it cools.”
Although he took a leading role with the Snow and admits to being more than a little obsessed with the project, Tony is quick to point out that it was the club that made it happen, and that the Snow engine would never have come together without everyone’s help. “Members would show up and I’d put ’em on something, and they’d set to it and get it done,” Tony says.
There was, however, a moment when Tony wasn’t sure if they would hit their target. Even with all their hard work, it seemed to him they had an insurmountable road ahead of them if they were going to hit their August 17 deadline, which would be the first day of the four-day show. “At the end of May, I looked around and said, ‘There’s no way, this is not gonna happen,’” Tony recalls. Club members apparently took that as a challenge. “They (the club volunteers) just buckled down harder and said, ‘We can do this,’ and we did, we got it turning about a week before the show. Never say you can’t do it, ’cause you can.”
The first air start wasn’t without challenges. “We didn’t have three-phase electric in the building in time to use my 25 hp compressor,” Tony says, so he put together his own Rube Goldberg setup to supply the necessary volume and pressure needed to turn the engine. In the end he paired an old Model 671 Detroit Diesel generator he had to run his compressor, with the compressor feeding a pair of 1,000 gallon air tanks pumped to 200 psi.
That first turn was the stuff of dreams, the realization of a decade of hard work. “The first time we turned it over, Norm was on the air valve and I was in the center of the engine, and we were having trouble getting it to go and found we had some valves on the wrong way, and we got that fixed. Afterwards, Norm said, ‘When that flywheel turned over, you come off the floor about 2 foot and you went from one end of the engine to the other and you never touched the ground!’ He said he’d never seen anyone that excited in his life. It made quite a bit of barking and noise, but that’s because you have 200 psi coming into the cylinder pushing it on the power stroke and when it gets to the exhaust stroke it releases that pressure.”
With the engine prepped to turn for a crowd, the club readied itself for its 50th anniversary show, the Snow the star attraction. It didn’t disappoint. “I turned the engine over every day, all day, during the show,” Tony says. “I figure it turned over about 800 times. I’d give about 20-25 revolution on air start every time, at about 20rpm. There was a crowd in there every day, all four days of the show. They were really enjoying watching it. We don’t have engines like this in Michigan.”
There are more than a few details still needing attention, chief among them getting the oiling system properly set up and installing a cooling system, which will require lots of piping and pumps for moving the water, and a water tower.
Tony figures it will take a few years to get those details finished, but the heat’s off now that the club successfully hit its target. Early on, some of the older club members prodded Tony to get moving and get the engine done so they could see it. Now that it’s assembled and turning, some of the other members have a different opinion after surviving the incredible task of rescuing and readying this giant. “The guys have told me that if I set a goal when to get it running, they’re gonna shoot me,” Tony says. “I set one goal and they stuck with me, but no targets anymore.”
The Buckley Old Engine Show grounds are located 1 mile west of State Route 37 between Cadillac and Traverse City, Michigan. For more information, call Jim Luper at (231) 570-2506 or on the Web at www.buckleyoldengineshow.org