The Engine That Was …

By Staff
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Submitted by Flower Valley Gas & Steam Engine Museum 240
Church Street St. Marys, Pennsylvania 15857

The November 1991 issue of Live Steam carried the last of a
three-part story, ‘The Engine House’ by Conrad Milster. In
this last segment the author described the two 1916 Blaisdell air
compressors at Windy City, Elk County. In his closing paragraphs,
the author noted that pumping was stopped on August 1, 1989, but
that one last run was scheduled for a group of invited visitors.
Jim McCauley, who had operated these engines since 1946, agreed to
come out of retirement for this last run on September 16, 1989.
After running #1 engine for some time, Jim finally shut it down at
about 3:30 that afternoon. The mighty engine has stopped for the
last time, and another small piece of American history ended.

Or so it would seem, but the story continues. Edward Kuntz and
his sons, Doug and Robert, had visited the original Windy City
pumping site and had come to know Jim McCauley. They appreciated
his great abilities and dedication through the years in keeping the
engines working, and after the final shut down of the #1 big
Blaisdell, they began to plan how to reincarnate #2 engine and
somehow preserve its place in history.

After successful negotiations with lease owners to acquire the
Blaisdell, the next step was to transport it to its new home in
Flower City, Benzinger Township in Elk County, Pennsylvania. With
the help of a couple of volunteer friends, Ed Kuntz and his two
sons set to work. To be sure, a mighty task, but a task made easier
because of their collective talents and determination. What seemed
initially an insurmountable job soon became a labor of love.

During one of our visits to the power house with Jim McCauley,
we were disappointed to learn that the cylinder on the #2 engine
was defective and was shut down in 1974. At that time another
cylinder was brought on site but the valve cage would not match. It
was our good fortune that a matching valve cage was previously
obtained from the Epstein Lease and was in storage; the first real
problem was solved.

The site at Windy City then took on the look of real progress.
The determined enthusiasts measured the machine, and after cutting
the needed wooden timbers and transporting them to the site, began
the process of lifting the Blaisdell from its original resting
place for loading prior to its trip to Flower Valley. Railroad
jacks were used, and with the appropriate cables and winches, the
giant was soon resting on a dual axle tilt bed truck and on its way
to its new home just outside St. Marys, Pennsylvania. Phase I was
now complete!!

After reaching the Flower Valley Gas Museum site, we began the
process of restoring the old beauty in earnest. The valve cage was
removed. The 16 inch piston and cylinder were next to receive
attention as the work progressed. A replacement cylinder with an
Epstein valve cage was found to be a perfect match. Then the
valves, both intake and exhaust, were reground and ready for
assembly. The 16-inch piston rings (four on the firing piston and
three on the compressor piston), were replaced next. Then came the
delicate task of cutting 36 inch gaskets. Initial attempts failed
due to breaking of the gasket material. But old St. Marys
‘engine uity’ prevailed, and the job was completed
successfully by sandwiching the gasket material between pieces of
3/16 plywood for the cutting process. After
degreasing and reduplicating, and after a great deal of sweat and
toil and a few tears the crew reassembled the engine cylinder and
head. Phase II was now complete!!

All of the preceding work took place during the winter of
1990-91. By mid April of 1991, the weather moderated and the road
conditions permitted concrete to be trucked to the site. While the
steel reinforced concrete foundation was being poured, an 80 HP
Bessemer compressor magically appeared (again with a lot of
determined effort by the Kuntz men and their volunteers). After the
foundations had cured sufficiently to bear their weights, the
Blaisdell and the Bessemer were moved into permanent positions, and
Phase III was now complete!!

It had long ago been decided that the two giants would be the
centerpiece for the main museum building. During the summer and
fall of 1991, the determined Flower Val liens erected a building 28
feet by 36 feet with cupola, and were able to lay the necessary
pipes and other outside lines prior to the onset of cold weather.
Throughout the winter of 1991-92, work was completed on the
interior lines, plumbing, lighting, and all of the other necessary
interior labor.

Following the spring thaw in 1992, the water and air lines were
completed, and by early June all was in readiness for actual
operation. Phase IV was now complete!!

Because of his historical background in operation of the big
machine, and because of his knowledge and recognized expertise in
running the Blaisdell, Jim McCauley was invited to inspect the
restoration work and, we hoped, to give his stamp of approval to
the project that had spanned a period of many months. Jim walked
around the old giant. You could see a gleam of appreciation in his
eyes, and finally, with a grin that broadened into a great smile,
he said ‘By golly, you and your boys did a real job here! When
I shut it down back in 1974 I never dreamed that I’d ever see
it repaired!’

After his close inspection and his final approval, all was ready
for the big moment. The seven foot flywheel was set, a shot of air,
and with a might roar, the big Blaisdell fired seven times and
stopped!! What a disappointment! But determination overcame
disappointment. The spark of the high bar low tension magneto was
checked and all was found to be A-OK. Next followed two hours of
trial and error, all with growing frustration! The discovery was
made that the magneto trip finger of the gas following rod was
3/16 too short! Wow, what a relief. A quick
trip to a local fabricating shop, and the final adjustments were
made. Disappointment once again turned to anxious expectation!

Later in the day (it was after lunch, because all decided that
if there were to be any further problems, they could better take
them with a full stomach), the magneto trip finger was replaced,
they gave it shot of air, and once again the mighty engine kicked
over and ran for 2 hours. A great trial run! The hills around
Flower Valley now echoed with the rhythmic sounds of the Great
Blaisdell!! Phase V was now complete!!

June 28, 1992, the date set for the annual Gas-up event, was
also St. Marys’ year of the Sesquicentennial. The day saw some
400 anxious enthusiasts holding their collective breaths as Jim
McCauley stepped front and center to do the honors of the start-up
of the engine. And start it did and it performed beautifully all
day!

As he watched the great engine running so smoothly, Jim turned
to Ed Kuntz and said, ‘When I shut that engine down back in
1974, I never thought I’d ever see it run again. But you and
the boys sure did a great job on this project yes, sir, a great
job!’

And so now, the engine THAT WAS is now the engine THAT IS!!

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Preserving the History of Internal Combustion Engines