Northwest Pa.’s Pioneer show always a good one

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By TOM DOWNING

Farm and Dairy columnist

Attending steam shows involves some nostalgia if we have been there before, and the Pioneer Steam and Gas Engine Society of Northwestern Pennsylvania certainly is one of those for me.

I believe this was their 47th year and I know I have missed a few, but not too many. I’m not sure where they first held their show, probably at somebody’s farm, then for many years they used the Crawford County Fairgrounds on the hill above Meadville.

Then 12 or 15 years ago, they bought a farm in Hayfield Township near the intersection of Interstate 79 and Pa. route 198, which connects Saegertown and Conneautville.

Steam engines always had a strong showing at Pioneer. I recall one of the last shows at the fairgrounds having 10 engines in attendance and the only Case was Charlie Flint’s half scale from Marienville, Pa. Besides Charlie Flint, there was Morgan Hill, Clarence Fisher, Charlie McMurray, Jim Malz, Marvin Bentley, Howard VanDriest, Oliver Rhea, and probably a couple I’m not remembering.

Alas, the show has suffered the same fate as most shows and lost most of the old steam men so that for a few years they had no traction engines in steam.

Traction in action

This year we helped them out with our Frick traction engine and went up on Thursday evening to be there bright and early on the first day. In fact, we put our fire in on the evening and my very ambitious and enthusiastic helper Dave Yochim slept by the engine and kept it hot all night. When I got awake Friday morning about 6:30, he had her ticking over already.

Joining me with steam were Mark Hissa of Middlefield, Ohio, with a 13 horse power Nichols and Shepard engine, and Charles Page of North Kingsville, Ohio, with a 40 horse Case.

As usual, he brought his Meadows stone mill and ground several sacks of corn into meal which he and his wife sacked up and gave away.

Nichols & Shepard

The Nichols & Shepard engine is a matter of nostalgia in itself. I first saw it in a very derelict condition at the home of my good friend and mentor, Darryl Williams in New Castle, Pa. He had bought it in the area of Monroeville, Pa., back in the 1960s.

It turns out that many steam people knew about it and several had tried to buy it without success. I don’t know how Darryl succeeded, but he did. It was a sorry sight as it had sat for so long that the smokebox had rotted away and allowed the boiler barrel to crash down on to the axle. The wheels had rusted clear through about five and seven o’clock position and had to be replaced.

I helped Darryl remove the front flue sheet, which was too far gone, and that was a learning experience, too. We drilled, torched and punched the rivets out and then yanked the flue sheet. I remember the filler piece that came out where the lap seam was made tight to the flue sheet edge.

The remains of the engine changed hands several times. It eventually came to Mark and Morgan Hill. They managed to do the heavy repairs it needed and it had been running now for several years.

Powering kitchen

The other steam boiler at Saegertown is a Fararr & Trefts oil field boiler built in Buffalo, N.Y., and donated by the late Ralph Mead. It was thoroughly rebuilt by H. M. Eagle services in Youngstown and makes steam for a number of stationary engine exhibits in the building with it, as well as sending steam to the Steamers Ridge Kitchen where bean soup and other foods are cooked in Jacketed steam kettles. It is about a 35 horsepower boiler so has ample capacity.

Work needed

There are four engines there, too, from the Morgan Hill estate that need TLC and are not running any longer: a nice little six horse Russell Portable, a venerable Case portable of about 1887 vintage and 10 horsepower, and a 20 horse Farquhar Traction engine. They used the Farquhar on the sawmill until it sprang a leak in the firebox.

Westinghouse

Number four is perhaps the most interesting, as it is a 10 horsepower Westinghouse traction engine. I’m not sure of the connection with George Westinghouse of railroad air brake fame, but I think the same family was involved.

Their engines were very different and quite successful. Among the features were a water tube vertical boiler, vee belt traction drive, piston valve engine and so on.

The boiler is very similar to those used on Sentinel steam wagons in England built by Alley and McClellan. They had layers of water tubes at right angles to each other giving good heat absorption.

The main difference was that the Sentinel boilers were arranged to drop the firebox section into a pit for repairs, while Westinghouse attached the chassis to the firebox part and lifted the upper shell off to repair the tubes and so on.

In addition, the whole engine was very convenient to work on with the engine at body level for ease of adjustment and lubrication. No need to climb on a hot boiler for these things.

The piston valve takes much less energy to operate as there is no pressure holding a ‘D’ valve to its seat. I heard Charlie McMurray say his dad, John, had taken a course in engine operation and learned that a plain D valve took as much as three or four horsepower to operate the valve. Has anyone else heard such a figure?

There were two sets of pulleys on the Vee belt drive, allowing two speeds of travel.

The engine at Saegertown has had its original boiler replaced by a vertical firetube boiler, which makes it less attractive to some purists, but it does run and quite well. I have had the opportunity to run it a couple times while Morgan was still with us and it was quite lively, running a sawmill at times as well as threshers and so on.

Portable Birdsall

Saegertown also has a portable, which I am told was a skid engine, and is unique to me, at least. It is a Birdsall from Auburn , N.Y., and is a double simple engine on a standard locomotive boiler. Did anyone else make a twin portable?

Again the boiler needs TLC, so it has run on a limited 15 pounds of steam lately. It would be great to see it on a hundred pounds again.

So Pioneer in Saegertown is a great show with some great and unique things to look at.

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