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19th Century Steam Launch engine Plant.

Some detail shots. Burner "swirl" chamber..all made out of pipe. I thought this part was a casting but the bottom of the swirl chamber looks exactly like the top of a one gallon paint can lid. Thin tin with the edge turned over to fit the bottom tightly.

Also seen are the air mixers which also look fabricated.

The last pics show a charred area of the plinth beneath the firebox. Whoever built this used Redwood which doesn't burn as well as other woods but..he's lucky the boat didn't burn down to the water line.


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Some scary shots...the condition of a couple of outlet pipes which screwed into the center column.

One of the beautiful drain cocks which snapped off in my hand. You can see the corrosion where apparently it had some kind of fracture or stress beginning to crack.

Also some strange deep grooves on the bottom side of the column..plus the capped of end piece welded into place. Joe Michaels was correct. The center tube is not cast iron.That beautiful top cap threw me off. I wonder what this started off at originally?


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Some detail shots of the "tubes" or "quills". Four of the bottom row of tubes protrude to the outside of the firebox and are capped off.These sit in four slots cut into the top of the firebox. Why it didn't separate when I laid it on its side..the tubes must be a tight fit indeed.


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Finally the most interesting part..tube end swedging or forging. Looks almost like a big square headed setscrew was used for a plug.

I'll borrow the camera from work and get some internal pics showing the inside of the center column. Also I'll remove at least one of the quills and see how they're made.

I have this sinking feeling... :)


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The latest batch of photos show a lot of detail. The center barrel or drum looks like it was made from a piece of steel pipe with a visible butt-welded seam. The bottom of this barrel or drum appears to have been fitted into the pipe, and looks to be a piece of flat steel plate. The end of the pipe used for the center drum looks to be swedged over to capture this end "head" (taking the actual load from internal pressure), then it looks like oxyacetylene welding was done to seal the end head and barrel joint.

The "ropey" bead of weld look like oxyacetylene welding, so we can begin to date the boiler- maybe built in the 'teens or 'twenties. The "strange deep grooves" in the bottom of the center pipe (column ?, which I call the "vertical drum" or "center drum") look like damage done during the forging over of the pipe wall to capture and hold the bottom end head (plate disc). Could be gouges from overheating and mis-use of an oxyacetylene torch, could be hammer marks or marks from the edge of an anvil.
I tend to think the person building the boiler cut a disc of plate that fit snugly into the 4" pipe, then heated the bottom edge and a little ways up the pipe wall to do the "forging over" or swedging. Whether they heated the pipe in a forge fire, or heated it with an oxyacetylene torch, they then had to beat the end of the pipe wall over and in on itself, flanging it inward. They may have also realized that in order to keep the disc of plate from falling loosely into the 4" pipe (rather than remaining just inset from the bottom end), they had to deform the pipe wall inward to form a "reverse knuckle"- what you see on oil drums, only turned "outside in". Once they had a bit of an inside knuckle to stop the plate disc from going further into the pipe, they then started on the flanging-in of the bottom end of the pipe.
They may have decided that the "inside knuckle" might be weakening the pipe, and got the idea to fill in the outer area of the knuckle on the pipe wall with weld- then dress that down to something of a smooth or reasonable contour. The diagonal "has marks" or grooves in the second to last photo of the bottom end of the 4" pipe look like marks from oxyacetylene welding, trying to "wash" and blend a heavy weld deposit using the torch flame. In the first photo, it is clear that the bottom end of the 4" pipe was forged over to provide a solid seating for the disc of plate closing the bottom end of the pipe. It is also clear that after the forging-over or inward flanging was done, the weld was more of a seal weld than a structural weld.

The last of the mysteries surrounding this boiler will be to find out if the "quills" are simply straight pipe nipples, or whether the ones with the squared ends have inner tubes to promote circulation. In the photo where you are holding two piece of pipe from the boiler, it is pretty apparent that scale buildup and heavy internal corrosion were present.

I think this boiler is destined to be a "static exhibit", beyond any restoration and return to steam service. If you want to restore the marine steam plant, I'm happy to help you design a suitable replacement boiler. Possibly a "tube type" boiler (sometimes called a "flash" steam boiler) similar to what is in a "Steam Jenny" or other packaged "steam generators" using a coil of pipe or steel tubing would be a good choice. A modified design of this type of steam generator might consist of a few concentric coils of steel tubing tapped into a vertical center drum so there was some steam releasing area. With this approach, you may be able to have a better boiler fitting into the original's "envelope" and not too different in outward appearance.

If you do want to consider a replacement boiler design, fitting within (approximately) the same overall envelope and having the same center vertical drum, I'd suggest the Ofeldt design. It is a design I stumbled on years ago in some text or other, and it came back to mind last night as I wracked my brain to recall a design of boiler that would be simple and approximate the overall appearance of your porcupine boiler. The Ofeldt boiler is perhaps the simplest of the water-tube steam generators, and uses the same center vertical drum. An Ofeldt boiler consists of a center drum with a steam separator built into the topmost portion. This drum is surrounded by vertical close-radius coils of tubing (looking like springs, or the "worms" off still condensers). The coils are connected radially to the bottom of the drum, ascend along the sides of the drum, and are connected into the upper area of the drum. The result has got to be a lot better circulation.

Ofeldt patented his boiler in 1922, and I believe it was as a replacement steam generator for steam cars. It appears to be a fairly easy piece of construction, and has nowhere near the number of tappings into the wall of the center drum. Some smaller Ofeldt boilers have been built using a steel pipe center drum and coiled copper tubing. An idea would be to fabricate the drum with forged steel "bosses" ("thred o lets" or "half couplings") welded at each tapping location. This reinforces the pipe wall and makes a smoother flow path inside the drum. I'd consider using "Swagelok" fittings for connecting the coils of tubing to the center drum. Coils could be made of steel, stainless steel, or copper tubing. The Swagelok fittings can be purchased in steel, stainless steel, or brass. I'd go with steel fittings, and if using a copper coil, use the brass ferrules in the Swagelok fittings. This gets the correct "bite" into the copper, while the fitting body, being steel, can better resist the temperatures and environment in the firebox.

In making the Ofeldt center drum, I'd use a piece of 4" seamless drawn A 106 pipe (better for higher temperature applications), and try to get the pipe connection bosses TIG'd into it. For the bottom of the drum, I'd use a standard weight forged steel butt weld pipe cap- not particularly expensive, and much better in terms of having no square or sharp corners to trap scale and mud, and a rounded bottom to better resist internal pressure as well as to help with circulation. On top, I'd use a machined plate steel flange since regular pipe flanges are way too large and heavy for this sort of application. A machined plate steel flange with a facing cut taken on it after welding to the pipe would provide access into the drum for cleaning and inspection. The top of the boiler could then be fabricated out of steel pipe and bar stock turned to replicate the original boiler.

A circular casing surrounds the drum and generating coils of an Ofeldt boiler, so the outward appearance is much like your original porcupine boiler. Some of the original fittings could be re-used on the new Ofeldt center drum.

What we'd need to do is get a set of measurements on your original porcupine boiler, starting with casing inner diameter and length, center drum diameter and length (dimensions inside and outside the casing), and the quills: including quill lengths, diameters, and number of each size. This lets me calculate approximate heating surface, figuring not much contribution to heating surface is made by the "ligaments" (areas of the center drum between the tapped holes). Once I have the approximate heating surface, I can then play with numbers to see what combination of coils will produce a similar amount of steam in an Ofeldt design.

If copper or annealed steel tube were used for the coils, you may be able to wind them around a mandrel in a lathe run at its slowest speed.
You sure have a knack for coming up with some interesting goodies that make for some interesting reads. Get the two Joe's involved and the reading even gets better. Whatever direction this project goes will be interesting and is sure to keep me coming back for more each night!


Joe..I really appreciate your input on how to salvage this boiler.It means a LOT to me that you are willing to do this AGAIN :)I'll have to make a decision as to what direction I should go on it.I'm sort of going through that stage where the disappointment needs to subside a bit before I can rationally approach it.I will continue its disassembly but took a few hours to look the engine over and clean a few parts..a diversion from reality :)

I always do "segments" of old engines when cleaning and restoring. On something like this little steam engine I'll start on one section...clean it up and reassemble.Then move on to the next "section" and so on and so forth until I've hit every section. Then I have a pretty good idea of what needs to be done.This gives me time to think about things as well. I never tear anything down into its sub components until this primary cleaning and reassembly has been done.

This section surprised me. The main bearing cap on the eccentric side is a proper cast iron Babbited cap. Not so on the flywheel side.This one is a rough brass casting with no Babbitt pretty much "ham fisted" to fit. I had to fit small spacers beneath the cap bolt heads just to get them to tighten up.What I thought was a worn out bearing turned out to be lack of thread length on the cap bolts allowing the cap to float.

Also note the lack of machining on the engine crank bearing support..no machining at all.Just a rough cast and chiseled finish where the main cap snugs.

Moving on to the eccentric strap.It appears there is one original and one perhaps cast off this one using it as a pattern.All the steel parts are severely pitted.The eccentric rods are actually forged and not a bad job at all.I'm convinced this little engine was heavily modified during its long life.It is an enigma...how such a thing was heavily modified many years ago..probably during the time the boiler was made. Joe figured 1930's or so based on the acetylene welding and other clues.

So we have someone forty or fifty years after this engine was made rebuilding..no..Lets say modifying it for a launch engine. Even in the 1930's this engine was ancient and it doesn't make any sense to me why someone would have gone to so much trouble. There was a lot of casting and machining of parts. Some pretty good and some not so good. He must have had a lathe to turn the sheaves and straps. A paradox for sure.


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Moving on are pics of the valve eccentrics and link. I like the way these look even though they are heavily pitted.I'm beginning to think this plant was near salt water. We don't usually get this heavy pitting in the central valley..although Delta fog could do it.

Valve guide is shown along with another detail shot.

The flywheel has a chunk broke out of the hub on the backside toward the engine.Not sure what to do with this yet.Easiest fix would be to turn the broken hub concentric and build a sleeve fitting around it with a set screw to pull it back into position.


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The brass plunger pump is a casting as well.It needs a good cleanup. Plunger is forged from 1/2" diameter round stock. It fits very loosely in its bore..not a good thing. The forging done on the end which attaches it to the crosshead just happens to cover the oil hole which lubricates the crank pin.

This pump casting is actually a nicely made piece.These pictures show some really nice work and some poor work. This is why I call it an enigma. Don't misunderstand me. I appreciate all this work and think it adds much to the engine and the story it tells. I especially like the way whoever did this figured out how to add reversing gear to a very simple steam engine. It works smoothly and perfectly.The other parts seem to function as well. I will probably use this as a feed water pump on my small fire tube boiler..just for the fun of it.

Seeing these pictures allows one to translate the workmanship here..to the workmanship on the boiler.The person who put this all together did a fantastic job and I'm very sure his little boat performed and gave him pleasure. The reality of sitting out in damp moist weather for probably fifty years or more only adds to its mystery.

Its a lot of fun working on these old steam engines :) Warren's comment I really appreciate.It makes it all worthwhile when I know others appreciate these long winded posts. Thanks Warren!


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I haven't had much time lately to read this entire thread but did notice a few things I'd like to comment on.

There was some skepticism on the circulatory traits of a porcupine. They circulate water almost too well. A guy I've known my whole life has always had porcupines in his boat. The flow of water in them is extreme that they scour themselves clean and eventually get to the point that they wear themselves through. They are quick steamers and have great steam generating capacity.


That is a displacement pump, not a plunger pump. The rod SHOULD be lose in the pump body. Chrome hydraulic rod and some good Teflon packing will have it pumping in short order.

Thank you for the information about the porcupine boilers. I was looking at the photos of Lester's porcupine boiler, and could not imagine how the circulation of water happened in it. It seems counterintuitive to have water in what amounts to a "dead end porcupine quill" develop any kind of regular circulation. My mental image of the process inside one of those quills would be- after initial firing of the boiler- for the water within the quill to heat up and want to expand and circulate upwards in the center drum. How more cooler water made it into the quill is what has me wondering. It would almost seem like there was a counterflow going on in the quill tubes to maintain circulation. Or, as the boiler reached the point of making steam, the water in the quills would be flashing to steam, forming steam bubbles within the quills. These steam bubbles would blast out of the quills into the center drum and then up to the surface at the top of it. The void left by the exiting steam bubbles would be filled with water in a sudden rush, again, a counterflow at the entry to, or within the quill tubes. While I visualized circulation occurring, I kept coming back to the fact that some counterflow had to occur within the quill tubes for it to happen. My interpretation of this process was that the forming of the steam bubbles within the quill tubes and the flow into the center drum and resulting inrush, or at least counterflow, of water would be a process that happened in a kind of "fits and starts" sort of way. Kind of like the way some coffee makers sound when they are having water heating, possibly flashing to steam and mixing with cooler water in the tube, rising up past the water tank and into the top to sprinkle on the coffee basket. I also imagined the porcupine boiler was somewhat noisy and prone to vibration when steaming with a flow of steam going out to an engine or other use.

I had no doubt circulation did occur, it is just my mind cannot grasp how a more defined circulation process occurs (such as is had in more common watertube boiler designs). I knew that with the blind-ended quill tubes, forced circulation, as would be the case on a "monotube" (coil type) of steam generator was not possible. Natural circulation likes a well defined path or loop, and the porcupine quills do not present this.

As you note, the guy you've known over your whole life has had success with porcupine boilers in his boat. Putting this together with my imagained set of conditions within the porcupine quills, things come together for my thinking. What likely happens within the porcupine boiler is a very turbulent flow, and this causes a rapid steaming. This very turbulent flow within the boiler likely causes some cavitation erosion and short life. I imagine the quills are effectively "shotgun barrels" for the steam formed within them to blast out of. The steam bubbles blasted out of the quill tubes may impinge on the opposite wall of the center drum, or have head-on collisions with steam bubbles being blasted out of other quills. I can imagine there is erosion due to localized high velocities as well as cavitation in porcupine boilers which are steamed hard.

In a small boat with occasional steaming, a porcupine boiler is likely a good thing. If your friend's experience is any indication, they produce a lot of steam for the size and weight. If they wear themselves out in hard steaming service, they are not a particularly complex boiler to rebuild or replace outright.

I'd be inclined to build a porcupine boiler using schedule 80 pipe for the center drum, to get a heavier wall, or perhaps a piece of drawn-over-mandrel seamless steel tube with an even heavier wall. This would give much more thread engagement on the quill tubes, and might allow the quill tubes to be fitted so that they did not project beyond the inner circumference of the drum wall. Another thought would be to use "thread-o-lets" welded to the center drum. These provide a reinforced or "compensated" tapped opening for each quill tube to screw into. They also provide a smoother entry and exit for the mouth of each quill tube. Or, to keep weight down, I would consider using forged steel tapped "half couplings" welded to the center drum. Either way, it is an improvement over holes tapped in standard weight pipe wall. It will make the center drum a bit heavier, but would give a much longer service life to the center drum. I'd make the quills out of seamless drawn A-106 grade steel pipe, going with schedule 80 to get more meat at the threads. I'd end the quills with a machined and fitted end plug, TIG welded into each quill pipe. This end plug would be machined from bar stock and have a Hemispherical concave inner end to give some kind of smooth surface for the water and steam to do their "U" turn against.

The result would be a heavier built Porcupine boiler, but one that would function as per the one Lester has in the little marine steam plant. It would be a much more rugged boiler, and better able to withstand all the conditions it would see in hard steaming service.

The other good part of this design is there is no single large pressurized element of the boiler, other than the center drum. Even this is fairly small in its proportions, so developed tensile stress in the walls is not going to be too high for a steam pressure of 100 psig or thereabouts, even with standard weight pipe. However, the tappings are the weak link. The area between the tappings is known as the "ligaments", and with tapped holes and closely spaced tappings, and possible steam bubble impingement (and resulting erosion), the ligaments are where a failure in the center drum is likely to happen.

It is a fun mental exercise to think through how a porcupine boiler might function, then how to build one using today's methods and engineering considerations. Building the actual boiler would not be a bad project. The center drum is small enough to set up using a dividing head on a vertical milling machine to locate the holes. Tack weld a piece of bar stock across each end and put a center in it, and it can be handled on a dividing head and foot stock. Get inside the center tube after the drilling of the holes, and with a small air die grinder and carbide burr, chamfer the entry to each hole on the inner wall. It is also small enough that the ends of the center drum can be machined and bevelled in a lathe. The center drum is the heart of the boiler. With some head scratching and imagination, along with modern methods of construction, it can be made to address engineering considerations that the original builder never could.
I have gotten two of the top water tubes ( Quill's) removed and they were not easy to remove :) The highest two rows are capped off with malleable steel 3/4" pipe caps. Beginning with the third row the Quills have the forged heads. I'll take it to work and split it to determine how it is made.

I haven't had a chance to borrow a fibreoptic camera from work. That particular camera always seems to be out in the field with our tech. I also seem to be losing some of my vision capability as these tubes didn't seem to be this bad when I checked them over out side. However the condition became readily apparent when uploading the pics!

Nothing at all is fitted internally within these tubes. There are no indicators in the main "steam drum"..bits and pieces non existent of any devices used to redirect the water and steam within the tubes themselves. Also peering within the steam drum ( I tried to get an internal pic ) the walls show a heavy uneven coating of scale and corrosion quite thick in places.

The 3/4" pipe (?) threads are so short on the Quills I really cannot even say it is a pipe thread.The Quills are threaded all the way into the drum to the very last thread.If it is a pipe thread it must have been fun getting this to happen.

So Joe..yes. Destined to be a static exhibit at this point. I appreciated how JBoogie described the action of a plain Quilled Porcupine..scours itself wearing itself out. Interesting!

Joe Michaels..I really appreciate you offering to design something to fit into this rusty hulk and fully aware of your capability to do so. I think it best in that case to start anew and build a completely new boiler..something beyond my skill set.

Thank to all who responded. It was interesting learning about this boiler. There is quite a story behind it which shows skill and a deep determination. I wish I knew who built it. This would add much to its value. For now I'll reassemble it with its gauges and valves and let it speak from beneath the shadows of our apple tree :)


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I am sorry things will not work out for you with this boiler. Were you in close reach geographically, I have no doubt the two of us would be building you another watertube boiler to fit in the existing envelope and maintain the look and function of the original.

I did find a few articles on the porcupine boilers as applied to steam launches. The articles pretty much stated what JBoogie had said. In one article, the dimensions of the porcupine boiler and the engine it supplied steam to were given. In that same article, the builder of the porcupine boiler had added what is known as an "economizer" as well as a superheater. The economizer is a feedwater heater that uses the flue gases in the uptake area above the steam generating section of the boiler. The superheater was "found to be necessary" according to the article. My guess is that the "superheater" was more of a steam drier. The article mentioned the rapid steaming capability of the porcupine boiler, and described the scouring effect- no scale could form in the porcupine "quills". This same article mentioned that baffles were mounted in the center drum to direct flows from the quills, but no details were given as to the baffles. What the article did say was the center drum was a chunk of 6" standard weight steel pipe, and the quills were 3/4" pipe. The quills were "arc welded" (term used in the article) into the drum, and plugs were welded into the ends of the tubes. This boiler was fired on solid fuel, and was said to be a "good steamer".

As for the method of joining the quill tubes to the center drum on your boiler, I think the builder was no novice at pipefitting. What he did, having a knowledge of pipe threads, was to drill the holes for each quill tube into the center drum's wall. He then used a tapered "pipe tap reamer"- looks like a pipe tap without the threads, and is used to establish a tapered hole of the size to be tapped with a tapered pipe tap. Chances are the builder marked the reamer with the depth needed to open each hole to a diameter such that the larger diameter threads on the pipe tap would be cut. The tapered reamer opened the hole and provided the correct taper, so the pipe tap then cut a few threads on the larger diameter section of the tap. Threading the quill tubes may well have been done with a pipe die-stock having adjustable chasers. This let the builder cut pipe threads of a diameter to match what he'd reamed in the wall of the center drum. The result was a near perfect makeup of the quill tubes into the drum wall. The other piece to the puzzle was to run the quill tubes into the center drum tappings until the threads jammed hard. This helped provide some rigidity to the connection between the quill tubes and the drum wall on an otherwise short length of thread.

I am guessing the builder played around with the pipe tap, pipe tap taper reamer, and the diestock until he got the right combination of hole diameter/reamer depth and the right setting on the adjustable chasers on the diestock. As short as the threads on the quill tubes are, I doubt the builder used a pipe machine. He needed to maintain a close control on the threading and was kind of "cheating" things to get the advantage of the larger diameters on the tapered threads but with a very short threaded length. He needed to keep the length of threads on the quill tubes about equal to the thickness of the wall on the center drum in order to minimize entry restrictions on the quill tubes and reduce turbulence.

My own mental image of the person who built this boiler is of a man who worked in a maintenance shop in some sort of running plant. Maybe a hospital, hotel, institution of some sort, office building, department store, steam laundry, brewery, creamery - the possibilities are endless- but any of these places years ago would have had a steam plant and a maintenance shop. The person who built this steam plant maybe had shipped in the Navy or Merchant Marine and wanted his own steam plant for a small launch. He did not have much money, so he used what he could afford or had at hand. He probably spent a lot of his free time building the boiler as a "government job" if he did it in the shop where he worked. Or, he may have built the boiler at home. I am inclined to think he may have drilled the holes for the quill tubes in the drum at work and done the reaming, tapping, and threading in his home shop. He likely did the oxyacetylene welding at work. The builder of this boiler was the kind of person who knew how to scrounge materials and parts, and he knew how to take what might be considered as scrap and use it in this sort of project. The classic piece of advice given to steam plant engineers and firemen years ago included: "Do not throw away worn rubber steam pump valve discs. These can be cut in two and used for shoe heels."
This was the sort of thing the person who built your boiler was likely to do. I imagine he lived in a small house, and made all his own repairs to the house. His home shop was simple, maybe just a bench vise and a good assortment of hand tools including pipe wrenches, pipe cutter and die stock.

I imagine the builder of your marine steam plant was no stranger to the operation and principals of boilers and steam engines, and he was a good all around mechanic- able to pour babbitt and scrape and fit bearings or set valves on steam engines. He applied what he had learned by the school of hard knocks to what he could afford in the way of a small engine and fittings to come up with a working small marine steam plant. Your little steam plant speaks volumes, and speaks well of the person who designed and built it, doing it with minimal budget and not much in the way of shop equipment. Machine shop work may well have been government jobs, asking buddies to do him a favor and machine parts, or asking the boss if he could work on the parts in the company's shop. The varied nature of the workmanship on the engine parts speaks of this kind of "patchwork", getting work done wherever and whenever access to shops or people willing to do the work maybe as a barter, maybe as a favor.

I like to think the fellow who designed and built the little steam plant got some good satisfaction out of steaming it in a small launch and taking leisurely cruises on quiet backwaters or lakes. Given the type of small size steam fittings on the boiler, and the oxyacetylene welding on the drum, I go back to my original thinking that the little steam plant dates to some time after WWI, maybe the late 'teens into the 'twenties. By that point in time, if a person wanted to power their small boat or launch, they could more easily have installed and operated a gasoline engine, or an outboard. This fellow wanted a steam plant, and despite the nature of a steam plant (being more complex and more skill required to operate them), this fellow had some over-riding reason for wanting a steam plant. It was not a desire to have a power boat, or we'd not be having this thread- he'd have put in a gasoline engine or hung an outboard motor on his boat and passed into oblivion as far as we are concerned. Our paths would not have crossed. The fellow who built this little steam plant clearly appreciated, understood, and had a working knowledge as well as practical skills and ingenuity. He made the little steam plant happen when he might not have been in a position to afford to buy a real launch engine and boiler. I like to think this fellow had either a marine engineer's license or a stationary steam engineer's license (or both, having "swallowed the anchor" to come ashore, maybe to be a family man instead of off at sea). He likely had his license on the wall where he worked, "under glass" as they used to say, as a stationary engineer or marine engineer is required to post their license in a conspicuous place in the plant or aboard the vessel they work on. Chances are he wore a necktie to work, and was a careful man in all that he did, and a good solid citizen in his community. We'll never know, but it is nice to get a sense of the man who designed and built and operated this little steam plant from the work he did on it.
I have finally finished the little "Charles A Strelinger" steam governor rebuild. This governor was listed as a casting set. Available in several sizes this is the smaller 1/4" NPT version. Cast iron castings was a dollar...brass two dollars.

This poor governor was beat to death. It was also bent and required careful straightening of the upper part. I sourced a new set of Miter gears and adapted them to work. I made everything new excluding the castings and pulley.I draw filed the castings and removed the flashing and sprue's still left on the castings..a very poor job was done originally by the initial builder.

Also there was a chip on the steam inlet flange and a small crack about the length of two threads. This I carefully turned off and threaded it 40 tpi. I made a ring to screw onto this and further secured it with JB Weld. I think overall it turned out nice and it works perfectly. One of these days I'll get it reinstalled on the engine :)


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Joe Michaels.. One of these days we may have to re-engineer the internals of this old porcupine. It has a character to it which has grown on me and is much too nice just to leave as a static display :)What I especially like are all the old period fittings.

Today I picked up a truck load of copper,brass.steel..all kinds of cut offs and sheet..blocks of bronze...from an 80 year old friend of mine who has built model gas engines over the last 20 years or so. He has sold most of his models but knew this material would probably end up as scrap so..he gave it too me along with a rather large steam engine casting set. A good friend and finding a home for these things as he is dying and has only a short time left.

His kids and Grand Kids have absolutely no interest in these engines so he sold them off one by one. I bought an Atkinson cycle engine from him today..one of his first builds and a pretty good job. He made all the castings and basically made it from start to finish..a Gingery design. It was high on a shelf covered with twenty years of dust and no..his kids didn't want it and he felt it wasn't worth listing it for sale. He charged me a hundred dollars..basically giving it to me.

My point is..how could his kids and Grand kids not want that? For 150 years men and boys have been interested in Power in Flywheels..steam,Gas hot air. Every boy wanted a steam engine and many many men built steam engines for themselves. This doesn't even begin to include all the small steam stuff available through companies likes Coles, Steven Dockyard, Bassett Lowke and uncountable others.

Some things should never change and interest in basic engines and mechanics which these engines teach should never die and fade away. Then you have families who raise children who have no interest in what their parents have created by hand..no appreciation for beautiful things hand crafted and built by their own flesh and blood. What happened? What in Gods name happened?

My Grandfather gave me an old wooden box set of tap and dies when I took first place in VICA..Vocational Clubs of America back in 1975. He is gone now and nothing could make me part with that set of threading tackle. Value..maybe 30 bucks. Most young people cannot comprehend what these things "mean" in terms of the human struggle to make life easier for them and their children.Something dear and irreplaceable is quickly being lost. I wish I knew the answer.

You and many of the brethren who "populate" this forum are of like minds and sentiments. Unfortunately, we are getting fewer as age takes its toll and ever fewer younger people join our ranks. A lot has changed in this country, and I blame society in general for a "watering down" of standards and the educational system for doing a fairly thorough job of destroying much of the awareness of the skilled trades and technical professions along with this same "watering down". With it came a destruction of the work ethic and the pride in doing a "real job". Add the litigious society we have, with people trying to idiot-proof everything and anything and eliminating shop classes, and add the greatly reduced manufacturing sector in this country and the factors are all there for what we are seeing and experiencing.

Now, the idea of something a young person might want to play with is a computer simulation at best, or a "game" dealing with death and destruction at worst. In the sixth grade of grammar school, back in about 1962, all us boys took "shop". No fancy disguising of the name into "technology". We worked with simple tools- carpenter's planes, wood chisels, handsaws, brace-and-bit, and "eggbeater" type drills to make simple wood projects. Shelves and neck-tie racks and bird houses. Even kids who lived in apartment buildings learned to do simple woodwork and put up a shelf. Now, shelves are often made of plastic or particleboard with fake woodgrain contact paper and are often stuck to the wall with some sort of adhesive.

Kids worked on cars as that was what it often took to have a car. Kids grew up in households where using tools, maybe not for major jobs but for things like tightening a gland nut on a radiator valve or changing a faucet washer or tightening the screws on a loose hinge were done without a second thought. Now, it's "we gotta call someone..." and that "someone" is often a recent immigrant to our country. Ask kids entering HS or college what they intend to study and the majority of them will answer: Business Administration or something related to it. We are not seeing large numbers of young people going into the technical fields, let alone the machine trades. G.E. recently was ADVERTISING for apprentices in one of their turbine bucket plants for the "advanced machinist/toolmaker" program. The requirements were about as loose as it gets: HS diploma or GED and some knowledge of mechanical work, even fixing cars or plumbing, and a short essay as to why the applicant was interested in the job. Starting salary was about $23.50 an hour with free tuition for an associates degree. They were looking hard for apprentices. I got a postcard in the mail from the Ironworkers union, asking if I knew of any young people wanting to enter their apprenticeship program. Time was, jobs like either of these were sought after and a person had to know someone or be related to them to get their foot in the door.

Simply put, things have become too easy and too over-simplified such that a couple of generations never had need of any awareness of technical matters, let alone things like workings of engines and machine work. The other day, my wife and I were sitting in Midway Airport waiting for our flight home. A lady was on a cell phone and it was clear she was trying to figure out a quadratic equation, something I told my wife I could do in my sleep and had learned in 9th grade Algebra in 1964. When the woman got off the phone, still in a quandry as to how to solve the problems, I kidded her. She asked for my help. I walked her thru the basic formula for a quadratic equation, touched on "signed numbers" ( = or -), and showed her how to get the roots of the equation, all in about 10 minutes or less. She asked how I knew it cold and my wife answered for me, saying I was an "old time engineer". The woman wanted to know what the math was good for, and I told her I use it in engineering. She said her own father was an engineer, and that the math was for her son in a "gifted and talented program". Holy hat ! That stuff used to be standard 9th grade algebra.

I treasure many seemingly insignificant things because my father or men who "brought me up" in the machinist trade and engineering profession passed them along to me. The K & E slide rules I used thru Brooklyn Technical HS and thru engineering school are in my desk as are drawing instruments my father passed along to me. Some of Dad's old "Audel's" books are on the shelf. Back when I was a kid, people were often studying from real books and correspondence courses, trying to better themselves. Maybe "distance learning" using computers has taken the place of this, but the course material is way different. Dad was studying architecture, civil engineering, and building construction. His notes are pencilled in the margins of some of those books, grappling on his own with such things as bending moments and radius of gyration. No handy computer to talk him thru like a lecture in school. No pocket calculator to make things easier.

Unfortunately, at least two generations have pretty much lost the entire feeling of "making something real". A young person's idea of making something is done on a computer more often than not. Even human life has lost much of its meaning given the nature of many of the pastimes available on computers.

I am going to be working with a local machine shop to setup a program to introduce awareness of manufacturing jobs and skilled jobs to young people, possibly with an Explorer post as well as thru the schools. I hope we can do some good as the local machine shops cannot get young people willing to put the time in and learn the machinist's trade. As it is, they take young engineers and have them on the shop floor for three years before they bring them into the office and trust them with engineering jobs. I am going to be doing some mentoring and the shop says they NEED an old dinosaur like me to teach young people the basics. They did ask me, not entirely joking, if I knew some way of teaching the work ethic.

I was recently tickled when our son, now 30 years of age, asked if he could have a toolbox of his own. He knows how to use basic hand tools, and knows how to handle an axe and chainsaw. He knows how to stone a knife or axe to sharpen them. His degree is in Global Studies and he is fluent in Spanish and Arabic. For the past 6 years, he has worked as "contractor" doing technical writing. Recently, he told us he realized he needs a "real profession" to succeed in this world and getting bounced from one temporary job to the next won't do it. He had a long serious talk with us and I told him the satisfaction that comes from the "doing". Our son is the first to admit he does not have the head for the math and sciences, so is headed into law school, hoping to use a law degree to be an advocate for working people in this country. I did find an old Craftsman "hip roof" toolbox in the local surplus store, cleaned it up and filled it with New Old Stock US made Craftsman tools along with some of my own tools, some tools I made, and some good older US made hand tools. I made a new handle for the toolbox out of micarta and scrap steel, and punched my son's name onto the plate the handle is mounted to. I took a great deal of satisfaction in fitting out that toolbox. When our son left home, I knew he'd be living in apartments, so took an olive oil tin and filled it with basic tools such as a claw hammer, screwdrivers, Channelocks, vise grips, hex key set, adjustable wrenches, small pinch bar, wire cutting pliers and steel tape measure. Our son used those tools pretty regularly as he bought and and diassembled used furniture to move it, then reassembled it in the apartment. I know our son will treasure some of my tools, some of which were his grandfather's.

As an "aside": my buddy came to visit us from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, riding his 1975 R 90S BMW motorcycle. He had left the original final drive (hypoid gear drive) with me for rebuild back in 2012 and was running a final drive with a "sidecar ratio" in the interim. I had machined off the weld holding the output spline shaft to the ring gear and pressed in a new retro-fit spline shaft. A buddy TIG'd this to the ring gear. When my buddy arrived from the UP, we got into the setup of the original final drive. BMW had used some kind of bronze thick shim washer which has disintegrated in the original final drive. Along with worn splines on the output shaft, this was why we were doing the rebuild. BMW offers those thick shims to set the backlash in the gears, but they are expensive (and now made of steel). Rather than order an assortment, I miked the output shaft and bored a chunk of Stressproof steel for a "wringing fit" on the output shaft journal. I then parted off a few shims of different thicknesses based on the on-line parts listings. I tried these shims and when I had one that felt pretty good for backlash, I finished it up on the surface grinder. About 0.005" backlash and a good "blue contact" on the gear teeth. Ask a young person about "Prussian Blue" or what a shim is and you will likely get a blank look.

My buddy headed home to the UP with that shim in the final drive. That same chunk of stressproof steel was bought to make some gear blanks for cutting spur gears for another friend's old Rivett lathe. There was enough left to make the shims for the final drive.
As we went back together, we needed a seal driver of some size. 3" PVC pipe would work, but the only piece of it on hand was cut out of the sanitary drainage lines when we modified some of them. So, with a chunk of used PVC pipe, I chucked it in the lathe and made a quick seal driver- which we named the "s--thouse seal driver". My wife came out to the garage to find the two of us laughing, drinking Yuengling's beer, and happily putting a motorcycle back together. A 1943 LeBlond roundhead lathe and a chunk of used pipe that still had a bit of brown staining in it and we were uproarious with the outcome. My buddy is 70 and I am going to be 68, and we still kid around and ride motorcycles over long distances and work on them and make the same kind of off-the-wall or raunchy humor we did when we were in our twenties. Even my wife will ask when I've machine a part and put it into place if it is a "Honeymoon fit" (male and female parts fitting closely and properly with no slop)- she's been married to me over 36 years, and knows me quite well by this point.

We also replaced bearings and seals in the transmission of my own 1978 R 100/7 BMW bike. About 100K miles, so due for it. It required using parallels and a depth mike and doing some simple math do figure the shims to set the end clearances. Jobs like these never ceases to give me a tremendous and perhaps disproportionate amount of satisfaction. To know parts I made are singing along in a motorcycle doing 70 + MPH for 8-10 hours at a rip, and knowing we got our motorcycles repaired or overhauled with tools I've made is a feeling few people know or even understand in today's world.

As for your porcupine boiler, I am ready when you are to tackle the design. I am a bit leery of unknown copper based alloys for things like boiler parts. Without knowing whether an alloy is brass or bronze, using it for something like a steam drum seeing steam over about 15 psig, and seeing flame impingement could result in an in-service failure. A pure copper tube, seamless draw makes a good model boiler drum, and copper was used for full sized locomotive fireboxes in England and Europe. Alloys of copper are another matter. In any case, I am more than happy to work up a design for the porcupine boiler. I just got done with some detail sketches for a "knuckle patch" on the firebox tubesheet of a steam locomotive boiler, and re-copied the 101 pages of boiler calculations I ran for that boiler some years back. It is due for another FRA Form 4 boiler registration and is opened for inspection. A repair to the firebox tubesheet is needed, so I got the call yesterday. I am like an old fire-horse, allegedly put out to the pasture of retirement, but never failing to prick up my years and get the spring into my gait when I hear the proverbial bell go off. Your boiler is one of those "bells", and as I told the fellow with the boiler repair job, "Our kind has to stick together as we are getting fewer".