Steam Powered Blowing Engine
Here are some photos of the steam powered blowing engine preserved at Carrick Furnace in Metal, PA. I haven't seen much about it online, so I figured I should share these photos from a recent visit:
Very nice pictures! Reminds me of the video game of Riven. Are full size pics available?
Mike, That is a really cool site how old is the engine? and do you have more pictures. I love this kind of stuff
Thanks! Here is a link to my webshots album with these images and a couple more.
Once you click on a thumbnail there, it will open a medium size image. To the upper right of that image will be a link to a full screen image. I'm not sure on the engine's age, but the furnace ended operations in 1880, so it must be earlier than that. The furnace itself was built in 1820, but I'm sure the engine came later.
Many thanks for posting these photos.
I’d hazard a guess that the engine dates from the 1860s.
Some interesting features:
The way the crank webs are part of the flywheel castings, nestling amongst the curved spokes. A most unusual feature is the way an arc of the flywheel rim is cast hollow to in an effort to balance the cranks. I assume that the numerous holes were provided to ensure that all the core sand was removed (and to get the concrete or lead in if they’d over-corrected!).
The crosshead arrangement doesn’t look as though the designer spent much time on it! Did the job, though, and you can’t argue with that.
Interesting arrangement for transmitting the movement of the eccentric via a bell crank to the slide valve rod.
All in all, a very neat, compact engine.
OK, so what is a blowing engine and what did it do? Is there a modern equivalent?
The blowing engine was a means to provide forced draft or "blast" to furnaces used to reduce metals from ore or to melt them. The most typical use was to provide blast for blowing blast furnaces to produce pig iron from iron ore.
Modern day equivalents would be turbo-compressors. The evolution of the blowing engine is quite interesting:
-human powered bellows
-water powered piston compressors producing low pressure/high volume air for early blast furnaces. These often had cylinders built of wood stave construction. These would have been in use around the late 1700's- early 1800's.
-steam powered blowing engines: first generation used beam engines, then came the type shown in this thread; some vertical some horizontal.
-cylinders on the blowing engines were sometimes referred to as "blowing tubs"
-steam powered blowing engines: later generations: much large bore/stroke, heavier frames, higher rotative speeds. Often had Corliss or poppet valves on the steam cylinders, and much improved compressor valves on the blowing cylinders. This type remained in use right to the end of the steel industry in the USA.
-steam blowing engines were replaced with blast-furnace gas engines driving the blowing cylinders. These came into use about 1900. Examples would be the few that are left at the Bethlehem Steel Works. These remained in use to the end of the traditional steel mills in the USA.
Steel Mills evolved and grew in size, and the engineers realized there was a lot of waste heat and byproduct fuels to be captured and used in the steelmaking processes. For this reason, the blast furnace gas engines came into widespread use. Thes engines looked outwardly like huge horizontal steam engines. They were spark-ignited gas engines. Some drove the blowing tubs, and some drove electric generators to power the balance of the mill complex. The blast furnace gas engines were water cooled. The jacket water was often the feedwater en route to waste-heat recovery feed water heaters on the engine exhausts, and from thence to waste heat recovery boilers using waste heat from some other furnaces. The steam from the waste heat recovery boilers was used to run other engines in the steel mills.
As things evolved, turbo-blowers or turbo-compressors replaced some of the blowing engines. The reasons for this were the turbomachinery took up a lot less room and required much less maintainence. Blast furnace gas, by in large, is a dirty and inconsistent product with low heating value. For this reason, it was never a good fuel for gas turbines. I do not think that combustion turbines running on blast furnace gas to drive turbo compressors ever really caught on. The piston type blowing engine (spark ignited gas engine) remained the predominant thing in use to the end of big steel in the USA.
Hi, I'm new to the forum but have been enjoying it very much for a couple of years now.
In reply to the question, "what's a blowing engine?", it's a large compressor used to deliver air to a blast furnace. Back in the mid-70's at the former Stelco Hilton Works in Hamilton, Ontario, the blowing engines were steam turbine-driven centrifugal compressors rated up to 100000 cfm @ 30 psig. I recall the turbines on the largest blowing engines were rated at 14000 hp.There was a blowing engine for each blast furnace as they had to operate independently for casting the furnaces.
I'm sure more knowledgeable members can provide more detail but thought this thread would be a good opportunity to say 'hello.'
Mike: Those are very interesting photographs -- thanks for posting them. But when you wrote, "preserved at Carrick Furnace", I was not prepared for seeing a seemingly abandoned engine overgrown with weeds. Nevertheless, one ought to be grateful for the fact that it has not been demolished.
The Carrick furnace site is not preserved. It is simply owned by a tiny historical society who apparently does not even own a lawn mower.
I was there last year and the place looks the same now as it did then.
Love the grove of "Tree of Heaven" taking over the site and the vines! Do my eyes deceive me or is it the famous, "leaves of three, leave it be?"
A quick search turned up some views before the weeds took over:
They show that the name Weimer Brothers is cast into the bedplate with an 1878 date. This is interesting when you compare it with the machinery at the 1876 Centennial Exposition, it seems to have the same "architectural" look but it is technologically not on a par with the engines displayed there, at lease IMHO.
That place needs a 55-gallon drum of Round Up applied from a safe distance, followed some time later by a clean-up crew wearing protective clothing.
After that, they need to erect a pole-supported roof to stop the furnace from weathering away. (See Allaire State Park in NJ for a good example.)
Then it needs an interpretive sign, because without the connecting rods, Joe Public might not be able to see how it worked.
Here's a suggestion for a pleasant idle daydream: Imagine yourself as part of a crew trying to actually make this relic work. How would approach the task ? Especially, how would you hypothetically deal with the pitted piston rods and pitted crankpins? How would you measure for the missing parts like the con rods, or would you make them adjustable?
Just because a relic is incomplete and not preserved doesn't mean that you cannot have fun looking at it and thinking about it.
My idle daydream involves a crane and flatbed truck to bring the blowing engine to Youngstown where it can be restored and operated.
The reality is that sometimes it's easier to get the materials donated for the cleanup than it would be to to find the volunteers to do the work. Charitable organizations all over the US are dying for more volunteer help. Not just highly skilled, experienced people, but often just someone to explain what things are (after its been explained to them) and keep watch over the items. Rick R. can probably relate some of his own difficulties, finding volunteer help in building the enginehouse.
Originally Posted by SouthBendModel34
It gets harder and harder to find help because the class of people who historically have been volunteers are now being squeezed out of existence. Lets face it, the lower class, who have more free time on their hands don't give a rats ass and that percentage of the population is growing. Its a problem all non profits face. As government forces more people into the dependency class and then taxes productive people out of existence, who will be left to care for history that is now preserved in the myriad museums across the country?
We now return to the topic of this thread.....
The answer to your rhetorical question, at least during our lifetimes, is "retired baby boomers" - after that, who knows?
Back to the blowing engine:
Anybody got any data on this "Weimer Brothers" firm that built it ?
In particular, dates of operation.
No one has mentioned that the link I posted earlier shows that there are ruins of the boilers back in the weedy trees. Looks like two boilers of an obscure type set on stone/brick "settings" which incorporate the fireboxes as part of the masonry. (As opposed to boilers with built-in fireboxes.) There also appears to be a "receiver" to collect the steam from the tops of the boilers.
These boilers do not seem to be the same type as would be seen on a contemporary steam locomotive. They appear to be less efficient, as they do not appear to incorporate a wet-walled firebox. (See next paragraph.)
I get the impression that there was a fire door in the masonry wall under the exposed end of each boiler. I'm wondering if there is here some use of the boiler fires to preheat the "blast" so that the furnace is NOT of the "cold blast" variety.
Another interesting aspect of the engine is the air cylinder. Would this be a piston with rings as we are familiar with in a modern compressor, or something entirely different?
The boilers are of the Lancashire type, basically riveted tanks with fire underneath. No flues or anything else that would make them efficient.
Weimer Brothers was quite a big builder of early blowing engines. Even with all of my research on blowing engines I've nor found much on them. I didn't even know one existed until I came across this one last year.
A blowing tub is built just like a steam engine cylinder except there are different types of valves. Until just now I've never given the problem of lubricating the tubs any thought. I wonder how they were lubricated... Hmmmmm
"The boilers are of the Lancashire type, basically riveted tanks with fire underneath. No flues or anything else that would make them efficient."
These boilers must have been prodigious consumers of fuel in this application.
They were making charcoal iron here, correct?
Wonder what the boiler fuel was?
Do you think there is any significance to the incorporation of the boilers/fireboxes into the structure of the furnace itself ? Any thermodynamic gain being sought here?
Any pre-heat of the furnace blast?
Please share what you know about blowing tubs.
Thanks - JRR
Thought this might be of interest:
It is a model of the now gone Weimer Bros. blowing engine used at Joanna Furnace near Morgantown, PA. I've seen it a few times at local engine shows and would imagine that it would be running this fall at the annual festival at Joanna Furnace:
The festival is well worth a visit. There are many mechanical displays plus some very knowledgeable people who can fill in a lot of details on the early iron industry:
Thanks to John for identifying the engine maker and date.
Interesting model posted by Mike. I must admit that when I looked at the first photo I wasn’t sure whether it was full size or a model. Nice, compact design, with one steam cylinder driving two air tubs.
As for the boiler, not Lancashire. Those drums look more like water tube boiler drums to me. I don’t know why there are two.
Lancashire boilers had two large fire tubes/furnaces. Many had ‘Galloway’ water tubes passing through the fire tubes. After leaving the tubes, the hot gases passed over the outside of the lower portion of the boiler before going up the stack. However, most installations had economisers, and many had superheaters, taking more heat out of the flue gas. Economisers were tubed heat exchangers through which the incoming feed water passed. Engine-powered scrapers ran up and down the outside of the tubes to remove soot deposits.
Water tube boilers caught on when the metallurgists made reliable construction practicable. They needed less floor space and allowed the use of higher pressures and thinner heat exchange surfaces.
As for comparative efficiencies, I have no idea. I have some figures for tests on Lancashire boilers with an economiser. The overall efficiency was determined to be 84% (ratio of heat in steam to heat from coal combustion).
Of course the efficiency at any time is heavily dependent on the cleanliness of both sides of the heat exchange surfaces. Good access was available for chipping scale off the inside and outside of Lancashire boiler tubes. I would imagine that there were more difficulties with water tube boilers. Boiler feed water purity became more important for keeping the insides of the tubes clean, while steam soot blowers looked after the fire side of the tubes.
I've just remembered that there was a long thread about boilers, here:-
Last edited by Asquith; 08-06-2009 at 07:33 AM.
Reason: Link added