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 January 2013

Cast Iron Art

By Paul Harvey

The calendar has just rolled over another year and the joyous excitement of the holidays is a mere memory.  But now we are looking forward to spring with the days getting longer and the sun warmer.  The museum is excited about the coming season and progress has happened all winter.  The June Show will be only a moment away as time seems to go so quickly.  We plan to be able to run the 600 hp Snow at that time if all continues to go well.  Our featured engines for 2013 will be Oil Engines and this includes all compression ignition engines or those that do not use electric ignition.  More will be written on this topic in the coming months and I am sure we will have some very impressive equipment displayed here for the show.

For many years, I have been impressed with the attention to detail in the old gas engines as well as machine tools, steam engines and other items too numerous to mention.  Parts and surfaces that could be functional in a rough, as-cast appearance are machined and polished to be pleasing to the viewer.  Bright machined finish, proportion and even paint schemes are done far beyond that necessary to make the machine functional.  I consider this the art of the old master craftsman to make not only a working machine but one that is esthetically pleasing.  I have termed this "cast iron art" and will demonstrate in the following examples.  If one just looks closely, it will be evident.  

Photo 1 shows the governor for the 30 hp New Era engine displayed here.  Surely, it would have worked just as well using unfinished parts. However, note the symmetry of design and the well finished parts including the linkage and weights.  An interesting combination of metals is used with the blending on cast iron, brass, and steel.  Standing high above the engine, this governor first catches the eye then draws attention to all the finished parts of the engine.  It is both a beautiful adornment as well as a necessary functional part.

 Continuing with the same engine with Photo 2 is the magnificent name plate.  Everyone knows what name (or information) plates look like today;  a mere stamping on a small piece of metal.  But New Era was proud of their product.  The huge plate is cast brass that has been polished then plated with nickel. But then note the date at the bottom;  it is 1894.  This detail, and I call it art, is typical of all the old engine name plates. 

The overall proportion of the machines was also important to make the appearance pleasing.  Photo 3 shows a White and Middleton engine displayed here.  Note the graceful vertical lines of the base rising to hold the cylinder by a tangential shelf and the appropriate size of the flywheels.  It all fits together so nicely to make a very attractive machine.  

 The flywheel is a very important part of the gas engine as it provides the rotary motion to keep the crankshaft turning between power impulses.  Many engines can be identified just by looking at the flywheel design.  Photo 4 shows the unusual (for American makers) spiral spoke wheels of the museum's 1880s Connelly engine.  Note how the spokes sweep toward the hub but enter it at a tangent instead of directly.  I feel that Connelly wanted to show both motion and interest with this design.  It certainly made their engine more attractive. 

 Photo 5 shows a typical paint scheme as many of the old makers used.  This early Alamo used red as the base with green striping and yellow detail work.  Many of the old makers, especially those used commercially, chose varied and interesting paint designs. 

 The crankshaft is the heart of the engine.  The crank can easily be a rough forging with the journals machined and work very well.  As Photo 6 demonstrates, some went much farther.  Notice this well finished crankshaft that includes counter-weights as used in the Lazier engine.  It is done in a disc shape, most likely for appearance.  Many other engines had well finished cranks with the throws brightly finished.  All the extra detail made a very pleasant machine to view and watch operate. 

 The earliest maker chose to use a Classic period design.  Photo 7  depicts the base and pedestal of the museum's 3/4 scale running model of the 1867 Otto-Langen free piston engine.  The base is octagonal and has sculptured cornices leading to a fluted column.  Certainly this external detail did not make the engine run any better but did apply an artistic appearance.  The engine was a commercial success and the forerunner to the future Otto designs.

 Some engines just have a pleasing appearance and want you to look more closely.  Certainly this little Angola does as shown in Photo 8.  Note the overall picture then focus on the proportions, the vertical governor half-way back on the side shaft, and the rounded cylinder head.  There is lots of brass work and finish as well as a beautiful name tag.  It is displayed at the museum. 

 Photo 9  displays a beautiful design.  This big Callahan has lots of bright machine work including the head and governor.  The flywheels are just right in size and the lines continue with a cast iron crank shaft cover that still allows view of the finished crankshaft.  The end of the crankshaft then has a machined bright cover.  Its lines flow nicely making a very impressive engine. 

 Photo 10 is my overall choice of appearance.  This is an 1893 vertical Olds that was shown at the Chicago Columbian Exposition.  The paint is amazingly intact and it has a large open crankcase displaying the well finished crankshaft.  The size and dimensions are just right.  It has a very intricate pendulum governor, gasoline hot tube, and lots of brass work.  It is truly a work of art.  

 Some makers had a good sense of symmetry which is shown in  Photo 11.  This is a Miller combination engine and air compressor.  Note how the governor is placed between the power cylinder and the flywheels.  It is directly at the center of the compressor cylinder and spaced between the two intake valves.  Many other makers also considered symmetry in the placement of the engine parts. 

 The lubrication of the engine is a critical part and there were many manufacturers of these parts.  Photo 12 shows the oilers on the 175 hp Otto engine.  These are Lonergans and feature curved glass bowls with the name imprinted as well as highly machined and finished brass parts.  Simpler devices would have been just as effective but not nearly as artistic and Otto chose only the best. I think that "oilers" showed a varied art work as well as functionality. 

 Detail to the placement of the parts of a gas engine was important but some makers did it in an attractive manner.  Photo 13 shows the arrangement of the valve, the belt drive lubricator, and the governor of the 1/2 hp Crossley.  These parts are arranged in both a functional yet pleasing design.  This little engine is English and dates into the late 1880s.  It appears "just right" as it runs at the museum. 

 Marine engines, due to the operating conditions, frequently had a lot of brass work due to rust and corrosion problems with iron components.  This engine does it very nicely using lots of brass for the functionality but also in a decorative manner.  See Photo 14 for a Kahlenberg marine engine that made any boat's engine room a showpiece. This is truly applying art into function.  

 Steam engine designers also appreciated applying art to their machines.  Photo 15  shows the inlet throttle valve and its lubricator on an 1880s Farrar and Treffts oil field steam engine.  Note the rounded flanges and the globe design giving symmetry and beauty to a simple valve.  The early steam engines had much detail to proportion and detail and could be the subject of a future article. 

 Machine tools also displayed fine finish work and artistic contours.  Photo 16  shows an early planer displayed at the museum.  Notice all the bright work that really was not necessary as well as the contour of the top casting.  This make the machine pleasant to view as well as use. 

 It is my hope that the reader will appreciate this little tour of Cast Iron Art as found at the Coolspring Power Museum.  Just keep looking and you will see this in many old devices.  I do admit that there are some "ugly ducklings" out there but all have their  merit.  Watch for the good ones and you will be amazed!

 The opening of the museum is just around the corner.  Our first open weekend will be April 20 & 21, 2013, and the big June Show and Expo is June 13, 14, & 15, 2013.  Remember History Day and the Truck Show on July 20 & 21, 2013.  For more information, please call 814-849-6883.  Have a great New Year!!!


Photo 1: Governor for the 30 hp New Era engine

Name Plate

Photo 2: New Era name plate


Photo 3: White and Middleton engine


Photo 4: Spiral spoke flywheels of the 1880s Connelly engine

Typical Paint Scheme 

Photo 5: A typical paint scheme on an Alamo engine


Photo 6: A well-finished crankshaft

Classic Design 

Photo 7: Base and pedestal of the model 1867 Otto-Langen engine

Angola Engine 

Photo 8: Angola engine


Photo 9: Callahan engine

Vertical Olds 

Photo 10: 1893 vertical Olds engine

Miller Engine and Compressor 

Photo 11: Miller combination engine and air compressor


Photo 12: Oilers on the 175 hp Otto engine

Details on Crossley 

Photo 13: The valve, belt drive lubricator, and governor of the 1/2 hp Crossley

Brass on Kahlenberg 

Photo 14: Kahlenberg marine engine

Components of Farrar and Treffts 

Photo 15: Components on a Farrar and Treffts oil field steam engine

Early Planer 

Photo 16: An early planer


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