The Last of the Giants: A Walk Through Rockport Station

A short walk through Rockport Station reveals three giants — 1,000 HP Cooper-Bessemer engines.

| February/March 2015

  • Rockport Station
    In April 2013 when this photo was taken, Rockport Station, Rockport, West Virginia, was home to three fully operational 1,000 HP Cooper engines.
    Photo by Paul Harvey
  • Two-cylinder banks
    What a sight to see this with two more running engines down the line!
    Photo by Paul Harvey
  • Cooper-Bessemer engine front view
    Front view of the 1,000 HP Cooper-Bessemer.
    Photo by Paul Harvey
  • Cooper-Bessemer engine rear view
    Rear view of the 1,000 HP Cooper-Bessemer engine with the control panel in the middle.
    Photo by Paul Harvey
  • 15-foot flywheel
    Close-up view of the 15-foot diameter flywheel.
    Photo by Paul Harvey
  • Rockport Station interior
    A view of the station interior is seen here.
    Photo by Paul Harvey
  • Three flywheels
    Three large (and spinning) flywheels. Note the spare connecting rod, secured to an upright beam on the station.
    PHoto by Paul Harvey
  • Eccentric valve drive engine cylinder banks
    Eccentric valve drive engine, which is certainly the oldest engine and the original Cooper design.
    Photo by Paul Harvey
  • Lost-motion valve
    Detail of the lost-motion valve mechanism.
    Photo by Paul Harvey
  • Six tandem cylinders
    Looking out over the six banks of tandem, double-acting power cylinders on all three engines, running in harmony.
    Photo by Paul Harvey
  • Fire extinguisher
    Surrounding the station were several bright-red fire extinguishers.
    Photo by Paul Harvey
  • Slugging wrench
    Large wrench, ready for use.
    Photo by Paul Harvey
  • Rockport Station
    "The Last Smoke"
    Photo by Paul Harvey
  • 500 HP Cooper compressor engine
    Located at the Rough and Tumble Engineers' Historical Assn. show grounds in Kinzers, Pennsylvania, is a 500 HP eccentric valve drive Cooper compressor engine (shown here).
    Photo by Paul Harvey

  • Rockport Station
  • Two-cylinder banks
  • Cooper-Bessemer engine front view
  • Cooper-Bessemer engine rear view
  • 15-foot flywheel
  • Rockport Station interior
  • Three flywheels
  • Eccentric valve drive engine cylinder banks
  • Lost-motion valve
  • Six tandem cylinders
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Slugging wrench
  • Rockport Station
  • 500 HP Cooper compressor engine

This is the story of some magnificent giants and their death. Our story unfolds with a phone call I received from Columbia Gas back in April 2013.

Located in the small village of Rockport, West Virginia, about one hour southeast of Parkersburg, there was a compressor station with three 1,000 HP twin-tandem double-acting Cooper gas compressor engines in operation. This was the last station anywhere to my knowledge that still operated these giants. They were nearing the century mark in age but still running faithfully. The gas company informed me that they were planning to scrap these engines, but they would still be running in April and for a short time in September. They would be replaced with two Caterpillar engines which could be remotely started and monitored, thereby eliminating all the station employees. I was able to visit both times.

Photo 1 shows Rockport Station as I drove in on a sunny April morning. I was welcomed by the engineer and allowed to stroll about and photograph to my leisure. The small building in the foreground houses the office, tool house and emergency generator. In the background is the station housing the three big Coopers, all happily running. Their function at this time was to pump into the ground the storage gas needed for the next winter’s usage.

As I walked in the door, I was immediately greeted by engine no. 1, a cam model that has cams on the sideshafts to drive the intake and exhaust valves. It was purring along at 100 RPM with a very effortless rhythm. It has a 21-inch bore and 36-inch stroke with a 15-foot diameter flywheel between the two-cylinder banks. This is shown in Photo 2. What a sight to see this with two more running engines down the line! There were two cam models and one eccentric valve drive engine at the end; more on that one later. The engineer dated the cam models at 1917 and the eccentric model at 1914. One might consider other dates for these engines, but they are close to accurate.



Photo 3 shows a front view on this engine with the control panel in the middle. This station was spotlessly clean with all the engines wiped down and shining, as well as the floors and station interior. I really did not want to step off the door mat to put a footprint on the floor! Photo 4 shows the same engine from the rear view. The two compressor cylinders can be seen on either side and the massive flywheel in the center. These compressors each had an 8-inch bore with a 36-inch stroke and topped the storage field at 1,850 psi. All that horsepower to run these two compressors. 

Photo 5 shows a close-up view of the 15-foot diameter flywheel. It was a thrill to stand so close and watch it spin without the slightest wobble. Still running true after 95 years of turning;  I wondered how many times? Each engine “side” carried one main bearing which suspended the crankshaft and flywheel in the middle. The flywheel weighs about 16 tons and is two-piece. As I watched, I was amazed at how quietly all three engines were running.



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