What's new
What's new

Machine Showcase, Machinery's Handbook, and Stories


Dec 21, 2012
Brisbane Qld Australia
I remember having to do "copybook" with a steel pen and black ink (inkwell)....blots were my main claim to fame......in fact ,Im one of the few to consistently get blots with a ball point pen.

Joe Michaels

Apr 3, 2004
Shandaken, NY, USA

Your posting of the Leffel/Tampella label in Mr. Buskirk's confirms it: I worked on at least two turbines he had a hand in designing/building. I often wondered who and what was left of the original "The James Leffel and Company" at the time Tampella took over.

From what I know of Tampella, they are (or were) primarily a builder of paper mill machinery, with hydro turbines as a division of their operations. In the early 1980's, there was a push in the USA to develop smaller hydroelectric generating sites. A number of turbine builders came and went during that timeframe. Some were adjuncts of European firms, and some were basically designers who subbed out the entire manufacturing job to various shops. On another hydro project, we had three small ( 1 megawatt apiece) vertical Francis units supplied by Brown-Boveri USA working with Voest Alpine (an Austrian firm). That job was a near disaster as Brown Boveri, in NJ, subbed everything and anything out, as did Voest Alpine. A lot of what arrived on site from different shops either did not fit (literally), had manufacturing defects, or was so poorly designed it had to be redesigned and rebuilt. I had a lot of fun on that job, being the construction superintendent and site resident for the NY Power Authority. By contrast, the Leffel-Tampella units were fairly well built, not too many issues in putting them together, though it was apparent that Leffel-Tampella had subbed work out to US shops, with the runner ('wheel') and 'gate ring' coming from Tampella in Finland.

As I write this post, I have to review the time frame. It seems like 'yesterday' in one mental sequence, and then 'ages ago' in other mental sequences that the two jobs (Kensico, getting the Brown Boveri units, and Ashokan, getting the Leffel-Tampella units) happened. The reality is both jobs ran concurrently and it was about 40 years ago that those plants first went online. 40 years ago would coincide with Mr. Buskirk's working at Leffel.

An interesting twist on those Leffel-Tampella units concerns the governors. It was a real 'Rube Goldberg' setup. Tampella designed the governors based on Woodward UG-40 governors. These are primarily used on diesel locomotive engines (at least until digital governing took over) and on larger stationary diesel generators. The UG 40's Leffel supplied came from the Hoofdorp, Netherlands plant of Woodward and were factory modified, so Woodward Governor in the USA was initially unfamiliar with them. These governors worked a linkage to a 'distributing valve'. This was a hydraulic control valve which was essentially an amplifier for the movement of the governor's output arm. The distributing valve was made by Tampella, in Finland. The hydraulic system was US made by a hydraulic shop near Springfield, OH. It was quite a setup, with a lot of linkages and adjustments needed on them to get the thing to control the turbines so their generators could be synchronized into the grid. Leffel provided field service engineers and mechanics, and these guys had quite a handful getting the governing system to working initially. There was a kind of relay system where the field service guys would be calling Springfield (pre cell phone days, so using landlines- when they were available and working). Springfield would get hold of Tampella in Finland and get some sort of answers. When the units first went into test operation, the governing system was unstable. The Leffel field man and one of our engineers went to an industrial surplus store in Kingston, NY and rummaged thru bins of random springs to put together an assortment of different springs for part of the governor linkage, along with some other parts they found in the surplus store's bins.

The issues in the Tampella years (1981 or thereabouts) were simple: it was early in the days of 'globalization' and communications between Leffel in Springfield, Leffel at our jobsite in NY State, and Tampella were limited to landline phones, telecopiers (a fore-runner of the Fax machines, worked similar to a screw cutting lathe with an stylus using a visible arc to literally 'burn the copy'), and the postal service or delivery services. Any photographs of conditions with the units at the site were taken with 35 mmm cameras, film taken to Kingston to be developed (anyone remember 'Fotomat' ?), and prints of the photos sent via the mails. No computers, no taking digital pictures. The other issues were the fact that up until Tampella arrived on the scene, Leffel had been kind of 'existing', not doing much except occasional parts and service orders. Leffel's existing designs used a lot of castings (Mr. Buskirk is noted as having been in the Leffel's pattern shop). Along came Tampella with a totally different type of turbine design. This was a 'double regulated' turbine having wicket gates arranged radially (like register dampers) to admit water to the runner, rather than in the traditional 'barrel' arrangement. The 'runner' was basically a variable pitch propellor. The governor controlled turbine speed (until synched into the grid, which then held speed constant to maintain 60 Hz) and then load. The governor linkage worked a plate steel cam which worked a control valve for the runner blade positioner servo. The runner blades pitched to best blade angle for a given load and head, based on plate steel cams. The cams were field cut by the Leffel men using hacksaws and files. There were cams for 'summer head' (lower headwater), fall (higher headwater). This type of double-regulated hydro turbine is known as a 'Kaplan" type of turbine and has been around for ages. I do not think 'the original' Leffel built too many of them prior to Tampella coming along. In addition, it was the first foray by Leffel into using weldments for many of the turbine parts instead of castings. Back 'in the day', if Leffel designed a turbine with a 'scroll case' made of plate steel, it was made up using rivetted seams. The Tampella units used a 'lobsterback' type of casing, made of numerous plate steel weldments by a US subcontractor. There were parts on those units from all over the world map. It was a time of transition at Leffel, and Mr. Buskirk was likely caught up in it.

During that time period, I was construction superintendent down at the Kensico reservoir hydro project, and came up to Ashokan only on an 'as needed' basis for some of the mechanical work. I had my own hands full with the can of worms Brown Boveri and Voest-Alpine handed us. I never dealt with Leffel directly in those years, but some of my colleagues may well have spoken with Mr. Buskirk if he were one of the engineers at Leffel.

It was a wild time for smaller hydro turbine builders. After the 'buckets of bolts' at Kensico and Ashokan, we then proceeded ahead with a hydro project on Hinkley Dam, a bit north of Utica, NY. This got even wilder. The turbines were built by a Swiss firm (Sulzer, if I remember right), working thru another Swiss engineering firm called "Bell" engineering. This group, in turn, worked through Dominion Bridge, in Canada. The generators were some of the last low-speed generators built in the West Allis, WI plant of what had become Siemens-Allis. The plate steel turbine casings and draft tubes came from Dominion, runners from Switzerland, electronic controls from Sulzer, and on it went. It was another can of worms to get it all to come together and work properly.

A few years later, we went through similar exercises with four double-regulated vertical units from Voth Hydro in York, PA. We went to contract with Allis-Chalmers for those units and it was their last gasp, selling the division to Voith soon after. Same exercise with weldments that moved all over the place instead of being dimensionsally stable as their cast predecessors would have been. Bi Lingual drawings in German and English, parts from all over the globe and plenty of cobbed-together stuff on what was new equipment.

On the Kensico job, we had German speaking Swiss, German and Austrian people, so I could communicate in both English and German if needed. The Ashokan job had US erectors from Leffel, and they had their hands full at times with the language gap and time difference communicating with Tampella in Finland. To top it off, some of the new personnel at Leffel in those years were Norwegians, a language which has no resemblance to Finnish. On the Hinkley job, we had some French Canadians who spoke English after a fashion, and their head erector was a recent immigrant from Rumania. He spoke French, so did OK with the Dominion men, and was somewhat understandable.

I learned a lot about how large weldments behave after machining, and how fitup and field erecting of large weldments is done to make things line up and fit right. As I wrote, it was a time when small-to-medium sized hydro turbine builders were popping up in the USA. None of them wanted to go with castings unless they absolutely had to. It was also pre-CNC machining days, so some of the 'repeatability' of dimensions and hole layouts on parts was sketchy. As an example: on the Leffel-Tampella units, Leffel supplied turbine mainshafts made of ordinary 16" steel pipe with a flanged coupling welded to the drive end and a flange for the runner at the other. The coupling flange at the drive end had a spigotted fit and was a rigid coupling to a Philadelphia Gear speed-increasing gearbox. Philly Gear used an index of some sort to layout the bolt circle on their half of the shaft coupling. Leffel apparently used a pair of dividers and a prick punch. The result was two large shaft coupling flanges where the bolts did not quite line up. I solved that one using an 'old man' (hand ratchet drill) with 'bridge reamers' and finishing the holes with an expansion reamer and hone. Individually fitted studbolts resulted. As I said, between a lack of modern communications and old line manufacturers being in transition with new ownership, and the move to subbing work out, it was not surprising that we go a few 'buckets of bolts' for hydroelectric plant units. The original Leffel units were a wholly different animal. Using castings, and doing it all in-house and assembling the units on their shop floor resulted in things going together properly at the jobsites. With my own experiences being what they are, I imagine Mr. Buskirk probably had enough of the new ways of building hydro turbines and was happy to retire.