Foundry patterns still valuable to collect


The show season is well underway for 2015 with some of the early and well known shows in the past, or upcoming. Since I have not been to many I have not seen much machinery to expound upon.

I mentioned earlier that there are more engines to play with than previously, due to some engines being resurrected or rebuilt from a derelict condition. The latest such is a Ten Horse Russell in Odessa, Missouri, which was rebuilt recently, by a team from a show at Lathrop, Missouri.

It was featured on the cover of the late number of E & E Magazine.

It was one of many Russell engines sold by the George O. Richardson Co. of St. Joseph, Missouri. They were one of Russell’s major dealers and sold threshers, sawmills and other products of the company, in addition to engines. This was No. 9,713, built in 1900.

When I was researching Russell & Co. for the book I wrote, I got a request from Missouri for the proper color scheme for a Russell sawmill that was being rebuilt for the third time. Alas no one knew for sure as none of the catalogs showed the paint scheme. We guessed red and black.

Pattern shop

In searching around for topics, I was struck by one of the few remaining signs for a pattern shop in our area.

I’m talking about Foundry patterns, which are mainly wooden shapes designed to be imbedded in sand, which are then pulled out, leaving a space in the sand into which molten metal is poured and allowed to cool, leaving a solid metal item.

It is one of the oldest methods of making metal parts and both the pattern-making and the foundry-pouring are arts of their own, with particular terminology and methods.

In earlier days when many mills were working strongly, pattern shops were much more common than now but there are a few left.

Patterns run the gamut from quite simple to amazingly complex. To me they are often a work of art.

I own several professionally made patterns and have made several myself, mostly for simple grates or firebars for boilers.

Made from patterns

Parts for steam engines were often castings made from patterns. Most engines had a lot of cast parts, since welding was not yet a widely used method. One of the built-up engines with relatively few castings was the Twentieth Century engine built at Boynton, Pennsylvania.

It was a double-cylinder undermounted engine, quite different from most. One of the engines with the most cast parts was the Peerless, or Geiser, built at Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, up until 1911.

Several of the professional patterns I have were made by Mr. Earl Yost, a neighbor whose son I went to school with many years ago, and then taught with for many more years after we both graduated from Slippery Rock State College.

Earl called his shop the Empire Pattern Co. and he told me one day he had five or six men working there in the late 1940s. He gave me several obsolete patterns which I used for firewood.

Many of them were for bushings used to surround shafts in machinery. Presumably the bushings took most of the wear.

Terms for patterns

Some of the terms used for patterns include cope and drag, which is simply the top and bottom parts, respectively, of a two part pattern. With a little thinking, one can imagine that some patterns would have to be split or made in two halves in order to get them out of the sand.

This would include spherical shapes and some cylindrical shapes, too. In some cases where a hollow casting is to be made, a section called a core is used. The core is a block of sand of the proper shape sometimes hardened with a binder of some sort and sometimes baked in an oven to make it more durable.

If the molten metal drops very far into the mold it can erode the sand, of which the mold is formed, and at the same time pollute the metal being poured. The man who makes the molds, or the molder, needs some talent to make it work properly.

After the sand is tamped around the pattern and the pattern removed, a passage must be cut through the sand to allow a channel to pour in the hot metal, and usually another passage or two, often called risers, to allow for the escape of air while the metal flows in.

The box that holds the sand mold is called the flask and can be wood, metal or plastic, and can have handles and clips to hold it in line while being used.

It is not unusual to see wooden flasks with scorch marks where hot metal has escaped and burned it.

Another trick

Another production trick used to speed up the process is called match plate patterns. In this case, the cope and drag of a pattern are carefully built on to a metal plate of appropriate size to the flask to be used, and having clips for alignment.

In use, the plate is set over half the flask and the sand rammed in, then it is flipped over and the other side rammed. Then, the plate, with attached patterns, is removed and the two halves of the mold are placed together, ready to receive the molten metal.

In the old days and especially with iron, it was common to set the molds on the floor of the foundry near the furnace and if a crane was not in place, a channel or trough was formed in the sand floor below the tap hole of the furnace (also called a cupola), so the molten metal would run out along the channel and often branch out into convenient sized pockets in the sand.

The similarity of appearance to a brood of baby pigs feeding off a sow gave rise to the term “pig iron.”

The piggies would often be broken off from the channels and could be bent to ride over the back of a pack horse or mule for transport to a blacksmith shop or other shop for further processing.

Cast metal, especially iron, is often brittle and so it breaks off rather easily.

Many foundry departments had large stores of patterns which were lost if a fire occurred, which was rather common.

Russell’s burned out about three times over the years, as I recall.

Sold patterns

Fortunately for the steam hobby, Frick and company offered their patterns for sale when they no longer wanted to supply parts, probably in the 1950s.

A group of collectors pooled their resources and bought them up, and stored them in a barn or two.

As a result, many parts for Frick engines and perhaps other machinery, too, can be made brand new. Most, if not all them, are made by Cattail foundry in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

The man in charge is Emmanuel King and the work I have seen of his is beautiful.

One special method of making intricate or artistic shapes is called ‘lost wax’ casting. In the original application, the pattern was made of wax and after the sand was tamped solid, the wax was melted out, leaving a space into which the metal was poured. Any leftover wax would be melted by the molten metal as it flowed in.

With the massive proliferation of plastics in the modern age, a variation is now possible where the pattern is made of light porous plastic, which disappears when the hot metal touches it, much like the wax of older times.

Clothing patterns

I feel obliged to mention a very different sort of pattern in closing, and that is clothing patterns. My maternal grandma and my sister both did a lot of sewing and used the tissue paper patterns used in that system.

When the Portersville Show was first developed, we sold oak stripe engineers caps for the men and sun bonnets for the women. I got some sun bonnet patterns from grandma that I still have here in a drawer and I asked her why they wore them.

She told me that at the turn of the century it was in fashion for girls to be pale.

Having a sun tan or burn was a sign of working out in the fields and not considered feminine. So sun bonnets kept them in the shade. Her favorite was one with eight or ten sets of snap fasteners that folded out flat for ironing.

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