Gas Engine Magazine

One-of-a-kind 1912 vertical gas engine

By Staff

In April of ’86, I was running a show for the Front Range Antique Power Association at Four Mile Historic Park in Denver. I had just finished restoring a 1907 7 HP Ottawa engine. It was lazing along, hitting about six shots a minute, in its new red paint. Midmorning I noticed an older gentleman trying to catch up to me as I was walking along. He said that his name was Parce, Earl Parce, and that he had gone to Manual School and taught in the Denver Public Schools until he retired. He had admired the restoration of the Ottawa (Ottawa, Kansas was my home town, and I had designed different products at the engine plant). We talked about the Ottawa and how nice it ran. It had been a basket case from a mud hole in Arkansas.

Earl said he had a couple of engines which he would give me if I would restore them. They were stashed under his mountain cabin about 75 miles from Denver and had been there since the twenties. He told me one of the engines was a class project of 1912 at the old Manual Training High School when his father, Joseph Parce, taught there. He continued that it was a vertical engine with heavy 12-inch flywheels. The other engine was a Fuller Johnson 2 HP.

Joseph had been sent to Denver, Colorado to bring and install a Reynolds Corliss 60 HP steam engine. It was to be located in the basement of the new Manual Training High School and to be belted to machinery in the Pattern and Machine Shops on the first floor. The Foundry was on the first floor and the Drafting Room was on the second floor.

At that time Joseph was working for the American Tool and Machinery Company of Boston. This company was engaged in the design, construction and installation of various kinds of mill and factory equipment, including power plant and transmission machinery. He had graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1893 with a S.B. degree in Mechanical Engineering.

When the installation of the Corliss and other machinery was completed, Joseph was convinced to stay on and teach at the school. That summer he took a teaching course at Columbia University.

Manual Training High School opened in 1896 with 24 students. At that time, Denver was a booming town. The silver crash of ’93 was over; gold was king. Companies like General Iron Works, Denver-Gardiner and Stearns-Roger Manufacturing Company needed trained designers and machinists for work in the growing West.

The morning after I talked to Earl I was ready to go get the engines. With snow banks, etc., it wasn’t until November of ’87 that they were brought down by Earl.

I had never seen an engine designed like this one. It sits on a support base casting; an enclosed crank case carries the cam shaft and timing more or less as usual. The cylinder casting is jacketed and fits into a socket at the bottom without a bolt flange. The wet head is socketed the same way except with two gaskets. The head casting, and the crankcase castings have a slot on either side to receive 5/8-inch x 20-inch long draw rods to hold the engine together. When only two brass nuts are loosened, the engine comes apart. This design allows the water jacket ports to be rotated 360 degrees to wherever you want to receive the cooling water.

In this day of CAD/CAM (Computer Aided Design and Computer Aided Manufacture), these high school students and their instructor were way ahead of their time. Think of all the machine time this design would save as well as maintenance.

All of the castings are smooth with clean lines and are well-machined. Earl and I took the engines to a car wash and cleaned off the excess grime. We cleaned some more at my shop and gave them a detailed inspection. After oiling and gassing them up, they both ran. The school engine, I’m told, was a gas engine originally, but Earl had put a brass carburetor on it when he used it to build his cabin. This carburetor looked somewhat out of place so I machined a brass mixer from solid bar.

The engine had never been painted. Perhaps Spring came too early, and the students didn’t have time before graduation. They really didn’t have too many choices of color in 1912. I decided on the old battleship grey with dark red flywheels.

The old engine looks good and runs well. No one can ask for much more than that. Earl and I began to wonder after I restored it if there were any pictures of old Manual Training High School left. It was torn down in 1919 and replaced by a traditional Manual High School.

After a few trips to Denver Public School libraries, we began to find a few things we could use. Earl already had his Dad’s resume. His brother, Joseph Yale Parce, still had his annual of 1920 when he graduated at age 16 from Manual Training High School.

Finally we found a pamphlet dated 1896 with pictures of the inside of the shops. It was under lock and key. Noted in pencil on the cover was, ‘Oldest book in the library.’ On the first page was a drawing of the outside of the school. On the second page was the list of instructors, and among them was:

JOSEPH Y. PARCE, S.B. Instructor in Third Year Shop-Work, Mathematics & Mechanical Drawing, Massachusetts Institute of Technology 1893.

Earl still had his good school connections as he had been vice-principal before he retired. We checked it out for copying.

One of the other items that turned up was ‘Test Questions on Machine Shop Work.’ This exam is tough enough to make most modern mechanics and engineers look for an early copy of Machinery’s Hand Book. Can you imagine the ruckus today if you told someone to hand cut a one inch wide by ten inch long keyway in a six inch diameter shaft on an ore crusher on some remote mountain top? I’ve seen these hand cut keyways and wondered if someone from this school had cut them.

There are very few ‘Hammer Artists’ around today, but some of the modern blacksmiths are doing fine work.

We who do restoration of antique machinery are perpetuating mechanical skills that, until recent years, were fast becoming lost. With the increases in clubs and club memberships, especially among young people, I’m happy these skills are being preserved.

  • Published on Oct 1, 1988
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