438 Maple Street, O’Fallon, Illinois 62269.
I built an engine as a retirement gift for a man who worked as a
maintenance man at Nooter Boilermakers Corporation, in St. Louis,
Joe Borisuk is better known as Little Joe to his co-workers. He
worked at Nooter for 38? years. He started September 30, 1952 and
worked until March 15, 1991. Everyone said it wouldn’t be the
same after Joe retires and it hasn’t been the same. He always
livened up the people he was around. He did his job well and better
yet, he knew the machinery that he worked on here at Nooter.
I built the steam engine for Joe, because what better gift could
a maintenance man get than an engine that actually runs and has
moving parts that are clearly visible? Well, now to get on with the
story of the engine.
I got the idea about ten months before his retirement, so I
started gathering the pieces I knew I’d need. First, I got two
brake cylinders after we scrapped them from a brake job we had done
on an IHC flat bed truck. I brazed freeze plugs on one end of each
cylinder so it would hold air on top of the piston. I then mixed up
some JB weld and poured it into the freeze plugs. This gave me the
extra thickness in the head of the cylinders to drill and tap
threads. Because the freeze plugs weren’t thick enough to tap,
I used ? brake lines and cut threads on the ends of them and
screwed them into the cylinders.
Secondly, I got a smaller wheel cylinder to use as the valve. I
had to shorten the pistons in it so it would be easier to time
without an excess of travel.
Instead of using wristpins on the pistons, I used a ball joint
and socket on the pistons and valve. I acquired these parts from an
old pile of carburetor parts we had in the shop.
The connecting rods and valve push rods are ?’ brass tubing
bought from a local hobby shop, and soldered to the ball joints on
the pistons. The connecting rods are connected to the crank gear by
flattening the brass tubing, then inserting and soldering a flat
brass bar. Then I drilled a hole in the flat brass bars and crank
gear and bolted the connecting rods to the gear, using a bolt and
two locknuts. One nut on each side of the crank gear.
The crankshaft is just a plain piece of ? steel rod that runs
through two oak pillow blocks used for bearings.
The flywheel is a wheel off an old platform scale that I found
at a junk yard. I had the men in the machine shop at work true up
the wheel on a lathe. Then I sandblasted, and painted and
pinstriped. It’s held on the crankshaft with a ?-20 set screw.
The miniature tools and tool box came out of a dollhouse that
belonged to one of the men’s daughters.
The engine is mounted on a 1’x6′ piece of oak, trimmed
with ?’ brass angles, also bought at the hobby shop. I bought
the four legs at a local hardware store.
Joe’s engine runs off compressed air instead of steam, and
at 50 psi it turns about 320 RPMs. If I had used bigger lines, it
would have been easier to aspirate, causing less restriction in the
lines and in turn allowing the engine to run faster.
The valve is operated by a homemade cam I devised out of two
pieces of 3/16‘ wall tubing. One piece of
tubing cut to a length of 3/8 of an inch was
mounted on the crankshaft with a small set screw. This made it an
eccentric on the crankshaft. This piece of tubing (the cam) has an
o.d. of one inch. The second piece of tubing has an i.d. just .005
larger than one inch. It slid over the cam and was connected to the
valve pushrod. The pushrod was connected to the cam with a small
set screw that was soldered into the pushrod and screwed in the
outer piece of tubing on the cam. The inner cam turned with the
crankshaft and larger piece of tubing (outer cam) connected to the
valve pushrod stayed stationary while the inner cam revolved inside
I installed oilers on the main bearings, which look like grease
cups. They’re made from carburetor jets out of a carb, from a
two cycle engine. They’re not quite visible in the pictures.
Actually, they don’t hold oil, but make it easier to oil the
The air supply is connected to the valve (brake cylinder) from
underneath through a hole in the piece of wood. The line, just a
normal ?’ brake line, screws into the valve just as it normally
would if it were installed on a vehicle. Joe also received close to
$200.00 in cash that his department had collected from the men
throughout the plant. That was what was left over after they bought
him an electric grinder-sander. They turned the cash into coins of
The man who Joe worked with most of those years on nights, Al
Lakosky, made him a plaque. It had a small grinding wheel, a short
piece of cable, and an old screwdriver on it, since that was part
of his job, to go through the plant and take care of the cables on
the cranes and grinders. Best of all, on the plaque was a
grease gun Al had mounted. This grease gun was the one Joe used all
those years and had kept in tip top shape. He used it for 38?
years, and it still had the original tube of grease in it.
All in all, we all miss Joe down at the plant, but some of us
still keep in touch with him. We were all glad to see him retire in
good health and wish him one of the happiest retirements anyone
could wish for.
At this time, I would like to say a special thanks to those who
helped on this project. Thanks to Pat and Steve, with whom I work,
for helping me with some of the ideas for the steam engine, Al and
Nate who work in the machine shop, Darrel for the miniature tools,
and Zene who works in sandblast, and Al, who worked with Joe.