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I knew it was going to be an interesting weekend when my friend, Wayne Grenning, let me know that our proposed trip to the Rough and Tumble Threshermans Reunion at Kinzer, PA, was a go. Little did I realize what I was in for.
While Wayne and I were at the reunion marveling at the rare and unusual engines, tractors, steamers, cars, etc., etc., etc., we bumped into a trio of engine men from closer to home. Stiles Bradley, Roger Bolt, and Craig Prucha were discussing their latest project. Roger, who is frequently seen at local shows in upstate New York and Pennsylvania, knows the location of just about every less common engine in the NY-PA area, either on site, or in collections. It seems that he knew of a 14 HP Backus engine in an old gristmill near Towanda, PA, on the banks of the Susquehanna River, where he grew up. It was made by the Backus Water Motor Co. of Newark, NJ, installed about 95 years ago, and was last used in 1943. Roger finally brokered a deal for Stiles to purchase the Backus, and they chose that weekend, Saturday the 21st of August, to begin the removal.
Wayne and I left Lancaster, and arrived at the mill around 10:00 a.m., to find Stiles, Craig, and Roger hard at work already. Photo 1 shows the mill. The engine was located just inside the door on a large stone and cement foundation. The exhaust stack can be seen on the lower roof of the mill, which connected to a pot muffler below. Photo 2 shows the view just inside the door. The Backus is remarkably complete and, except for the exhaust valve, free. The wrecking crew had already removed guards, bearing caps, oilers, clutch pulley and so on in preparation to removing the flywheels. The engine also had already been jacked off the base. Photo 3 shows the working side of the engine and the remarkably complete condition it is in. It has a layer of river silt on it from recent flooding of the Susquehanna.
While I was at the show in Kinzer, I observed a Backus in action. The exhaust valve in the head is held open for one revolution of the flywheels. When the engine fires, and the piston moves to the end of the power stroke, it uncovers an auxiliary exhaust port and lets most of the exhaust gases out. At this time, the eccentric on the cam gear opens the exhaust valve, and the rest of the exhaust goes out the cylinder, through a check valve, and on to the muffler. The exhaust valve is still open when the intake stroke begins. The exhaust check valve closes, the intake valve opens and the next charge is drawn in. The exhaust valve closes during the compression stroke, and the cycle begins again.
... Or at least that's how the one at Kinzer operates. The subject of this article doesn't seem to have an exhaust check valve. I suspect Stiles may find its operation of more conventional nature, and that the exhaust valve acts as a more conventional exhaust valve. Photo 4 shows the operating mechanism of the engine. The handle on the pushrod is used to engage the fuel pump, the linkage of which is in the lower right of the picture. The pendulum governor opens a valve that allows fuel from the constant level mixer into the intake air stream. When the engine overspeeds, the pick blade on the governor misses the linkage that opens this valve. At the top of the cylinder is the fitting that contains the two spark plugs. This bolts onto the cylinder where a hot tube may be fitted instead.
As Craig and Stiles continued to disassemble the engine, Roger gave Wayne and I a tour of the rest of the building. The 4-story mill still had the grain processing equipment and line shaft in place. An iron mill was on the first floor, and other wooden processing equipment was located on the upper floors. The pyramid shaped foundation for the engine extended into the basement. The tops to the Edison Lalande batteries originally used with the engine were located on the top floor. A small dynamo was also still in the engine room. Photo 5 shows the second floor equipment and line shaft.
By the time we finished the tour, Craig and Stiles had the flywheels off the engine. No more could be done that day without a trailer and larger planks. We loaded the clutch pulley onto Craig's truck, and headed for the Bradford County Old Timers Reunion in East Smithfield, PA.
The rest of the removal was slated for the next weekend, but I was unable to be there. I look forward to seeing the engine running again in the capable hands of Stiles.
I would like to correct an omission in my last article that appeared in the August 1999 GEM. The full size 1 HP Springfield pictured in the article belongs to Stiles Bradley.