Steam and smoke! From the hands of man.

Yesterday I made yet another run to Mystic Seaport and this time it was for the 26th annual Antique Marine Engine show.  It’s on this weekend, every year, that enthusiasts from all over the US converge to show off their antique and model engines, many of which are steam powered.

Normally I take photos of everything and leave it at that but there is nothing quite like all those well oiled parts spinning and pumping away that calls for videos too.

There were hundreds, dare I say thousands (lest I sound like Trump and his perspective of the inauguration crowd) of engines on display, many spinning away happily for the eager crowds.  There were plenty to oogle at and I did with breathless anticipation of what was coming next.  I hope you will feel that way too as you scroll down the page.

The seaport had set up an elaborate steam generating plant,  6 or 8′ in diameter and housed in a large portable shed on wheels, and had put up hundreds of feet of black pipe and valves running to dozens of steam engines happily chuffing away. The first engines that you come across are the big ones owned by the Seaport, only on display for this one weekend each year.  For the rest of the time they are tucked away in a warehouse.   Some are quite large like this vertical steam engine manufactured in 1915.  It’s still working like a champ after all those years.  Want to know the HP of this one?  Sorry, even they don’t know.  There was plenty of spent steam swirling around in spite of temperatures in the mid 80s. While they say that a “picture is worth a thousand words”, when it comes to steam engines, a picture is nothing like a “moving picture”.This one is a beauty.  It’s a pump steam engine, circa 1903 and was built by Christian Brothers in Paducah, Kentucky.  While I couldn’t find any any information on the company, long gone, I did find out that there is a huge show held each year there that features 800 antique engines and equipment of all kinds.  Want to go?  Check it out here.  It’s held in September each year.Now, this one looks very complicated.  It’s a US Navy 50 hp engine circa 1918.  I doubt that the Navy doesn’t have a single engine in it’s inventory these days with so little HP. It was hard to get a good video of this one running as people kept stepping in front of me.   However, here you go.  It’s a wonderful engine.  I could watch all day.A particularly interesting engine is this steering engine driven by steam.   It doesn’t look like much but when the operator turns the “wheel” watch the engine adjust and then stop.  Pretty ingenious. While most of the engines on display were on land, a few were tucked into the bilges of boats on the waterfront.   This one was built by it’s owner and is of fairly recent construction.  I wonder if the engine and boat were built by the same guy.  That would be quite a feat. The engine is a remarkable piece of work.  Along side was another launch with a lovely little gas engine. I’d hate to tangle with this fly wheel while it’s whirring around. This beauty, while not in the water, is home to a naptha engine.  Very civilized.  That’s if you ignore that a naptha engine is powered by boiling gasoline.  That doesn’t sound safe at all.  “Wait a bit Mildred till you come aboard, I am waiting to bring the gas to a rolling boil.  Honey, honey, MILDRED! come back, it’s safe, I promise.”  Perhaps you’d like to learn more about this type of engine?  Click here.The engine is a beauty all polished and bright.   Me, I’d sit way up in the front and stay as far away as possible from all that boiling fuel.  Very pretty. Sort of like a solar flare. Beautiful but don’t get too close or you’ll surely burn to death.  And, speaking of all spit and polished.  How about this wonderful little gem.  It’s a single cylinder gas engine.
There were loads of wonderful little miniature model engines chuffing away.   Actually, some were downright frantic like this crazy looking one. The builder of this engine had a number on display, all of them spinning in various states of franticness.  It was exhausting to watch them. Loved this vertical steam engine model and at the end of the line in the last video.  Really a nice piece.  Only about 12″ tall.  Some of the models were enormously complex.  The description stated that it had taken some 2,000 hours of labor to build.  I’ll bet.  And to keep it polished…And, just to prove that beauty isn’t just skin deep, it works and works fabulously.  Completely silent.  It’s not hard to imagine a full size edition of this triple expansion steam engine, all 10″ of it, powering a majestic steamer across an ocean.  Amazing, in every little detail, down to the insulation on the steam pipes.  It’s a remarkable piece. How about this as an exquisite example in the “less is more” category?  Check out the really tiny handle on the valve to the left. It was fun to watch it whirl around for no other reason in the world except to entertain.  And it did, for me at least.This one was really exquisite, and beautiful in all it’s details, down to the little metal rail at it’s base.  I guess that’s to keep the “little people” safe. Watching this makes me weak in the knees.  Especially the whirling thingy on the top.  Not sure what it’s called, but perhaps that’s not the point.  It’s just fun to watch. I loved this tiny walking beam steam engine.   Dare I continue to overuse the word “exquisite” to describe it too?  Complete with it’s own tiny boiler.  However, for the show, it was powered by the nearby giant steam generator.  Watch her happily whir away.  Just love, love the walking beam.   How about a single engine powering two screws?  Totally cool.  “How dey do dat?”While there were lots of steam engines to enjoy, there were many, many gas powered lovelies too.  Antique outboards your fancy?  There were plenty.I loved this one, all polished up.   Can a lowly outboard engine be grand?“Johnny, keep your hands away from the flywheel”.   A wonderful piece of industrial art. Complete with it’s original sales brochure.  Makes me want to buy one.Not into stinky gas outboards?  How about electric?  Looks like a blender to me. Better yet, how about an example of the very first commercially available electric outboard engine, from the 1890s?  And you thought Tesla thought all this up.  To me, it just looks alarming. Complicated enough for you?  And, it was built in Newark NJ in 1915.   A whopping 3hp.  Want to fire it up?  I have absolutely no idea how.
If you want to see more wonderful antique outboards you should visit The Boathouse restaurant in Orlando FL.  We went there a few weeks ago and I wrote about it in this post.

Well, I guess that’s about it for now.   If this post has been overwhelming to you, imagine what it was like for me to have to put it all together?

Anyway, it was a really fun show so perhaps I’ll close with this teeny, tiny engine that seems to say “I’m in a huge hurry, have no idea of where I am going but I’m having a wonderful time”.   I guess that sort of sums it all up and if you were there I am sure that you’d agree that it was quite a show.  From the hands of man, wonderful things that spin and whir and belch clouds of steam and smoke.

Sometimes it’s about the journey… and what a ride it was.  The Antique Marine Engine show at Mystic Seaport.  Put it on your list.

Editor:  OMG!  That post took F-O-R-E-V-E-R to do.  Hope you like it.

3 responses to “Steam and smoke! From the hands of man.

  1. George Hallenbeck

    Thank you, the format was especially useful to understand each model

  2. This is awesome. Super cool.

  3. Bob, I absolutely, positively, thoroughly enjoyed this post! Thank you so much.

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