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OT: A tale of a steam engine indicator

Joe Michaels

Apr 3, 2004
Shandaken, NY, USA
While the subject of steam engine indicators is a bit off topic from machine tools, it has come up at some length on this 'board from time to time. I own two (2) of the "classic" indicators, ca 1900-1920, complete in the wood cases and with reducing motions and assorted springs. While I have not "taken cards" on a steam engine in years, I still appreciate the steam engine indicators as a fine instrument. Years ago, on a job with the late Mike Korol, the Skinner erector, we took cards on some Filer & Stowell 4 valve engines. Mike had a Bachrach indicator in a fiberboard case, and described it as a "Maihak" type instrument. I was impressed with that indicator- a lot more rigid than the lighter "classic" indicators of the 1900-1920's. Mike passed along his indicator to someone else, and eventually passed on from this life.

A few weeks ago, I was browsing around the web and found a steam site called Discover Steam (IIRC), with classified ads and reasonable prices for all manner of steam related items including launch engines, railroad items, etc. One item was a lot of five Bachrach indicators, one hundred dollars apiece or $425 for the lot. The photos showed a complete instrument in the gray fiberboard case, as Mike Korol had used. One hundred bucks for a Bachrach indicator is dirt cheap as "classic" steam engine indicators on eBay seem to be (at least in the seller's eye) worth $1000 apiece. I contacted the seller of the Bachrach indicators and he said the lot of five was bespoken for, but would pass my name along to the buyer. The buyer of the 5 indicators agreed to sell me one, for which I paid 300 bucks including shipping from Canada.

The instrument arrived and it was in excellent shape, well cared for. Even a nickel-plated "made in USA" small oil can with spout cap was in the case, as were all the appropriate wrenches, glass tube of pencil points and pad of indicator paper with Bachrach's name and address on it. There were several springs for the indicator, but all were for the same pressure range, which has a scale of 3mm = 1 atm (14.6 psi), maximum being 240 psi.

The range of the springs and the fact the springs were all the same range got me to thinking, wondering where the indicator had been used. I contacted Bachrach to see if they had a manual and lower pressure range springs. Their engineer said in 36 years he'd been with Bachrach, he had never seen one of their engine indicators, and no one was left at Bachrach who knew anything about them, nor had they any springs or a manual.

Reasoning that the indicator was a Maihak (German) design, I quickly discovered Leutert, of Germany, still makes that same style indicator. I contacted Leutert, who were quite prompt and helpful. Unfortunately, while they took over the Maihak indicator manufacture, they now only build them for indicating large marine diesel engines. No lower range springs available, and their instruments are made with a much smaller piston diameter than for indicating steam engines. Leutert did send me a manual, on line, in English.

It was time to get the indicator ready to go to work, come spring, up at Hanford Mills. I removed the union gland nut from the indicator, discovering it was held in place on the male cone by loose ball bearings put in through a setscrew hole and filling two half-spherical grooves- similar to packing a ball bearing assembly.

Once I had the union apart, I was able to measure the taper on the male cone. I was also able to measure the threads on a male threaded indicator "holder" fastened on the case for holding the indicator when changing springs or similar. The thread was an eye-opener. Figuring it to be metric, I miked the OD and came up with 27 mm with a few thousandths clearance on the OD. I then tried a metric screw pitch gauge on the thread and came up with 2,5 mm pitch. Some math disclosed this to be with 0.002" of a pitch of 10 threads per inch. A 10 threads/inch pitch gauge fit as well. I checked with Leutert: their indicator cocks have a the strange thread of 27 MM x 1/10".

Making a matching adaptor to connect to the union on the indicator and connect to 1/2" tapered pipe threads is no big deal. The higher pressure rating on the spring, and the fact there were five indicators all with the same spring rating in the lot had me thinking. My reasoning was the higher pressure range on the springs would be consistent with a marine Unaflow steam engine. The fact there were five indicators in the lot, all the same, supported this thinking. Marine unaflow steam engines were built in multiple cylinder designs, all cylinders the same diameter (except on the steeple compound versions).

One evening, as I was heading upstairs from my shop, I saw the fluorescent lighting reflecting off the lid of the Bachrach indicator case. Some faint printing was showing up. I looked closer, and faintly stamped into the lid was: "SS Prince George Eng Rm" I googled the SS Prince George and discovered there had been two ships of that name, both being operated by the Grand Trunk Railway of Canada. The later of the two Prince Georges had two Unaflow engines of 6 cylinders apiece, 3000 HP, running on (IIRC) 240 psig steam. Mystery of where the indicator came from was solved. The Prince George with the Unaflow engines went into service in 1947 and was in service at least into the 1970's. She then went into a spiraling decline and wound up a derelict hulk and was burned and scrapped, maybe in the 1990's. How the indicators made it out of the Prince George's engine room is anyone's guess. My guess is the first guy to have the indicators had six of them, one for each cylinder of a main Unaflow engine for taking cards simultaneously. That guy perhaps kept one indicator and put the remaining five up for sale, and the guy I got my indicator from obviously sold one to me, leaving him with four. He said via email that they wanted to indicated some traction engines and a locomotive.

As for my indicator, I plan to use it as it is. I took it apart, cleaned the old cylinder oil off the piston and cylinder (Hoppe's Number 9 gun bore cleaner), and put it back together. It is an extremely well made instrument, a lot more to it than the old "classic" indicators.

As for the higher pressure range of the spring, I can address this in a way not available to the oldtimers. If the card is too small to easily work my planimeter on, I can simply enlarge the card on a copy machine. With the atmospheric line and admission lines drawn on the card, and a gauge at each indicator tapping, I will be able to get the scale on the enlarged diagram for the pressure. The stroke will also be scaled off the card. I have a couple of reducing mechanisms from the old classic indicators, so making a bracket to use one of them is no problem.

The springs for the Bachrach or Maihak indicators use a double lead spring. There are two coils, wound in the same manner as a double lead thread, from one piece of spring wire. The top end of this spring wire is bent to span the diameter of the spring, and engages a slotted rod. The bottom of the spring is silver brazed to a base nut which has relieved steps, much like a ratchet, meeting the helix angle of the spring coils. Not an easy spring to duplicate !

The Hanford Mills engine runs at 200 rpm, and when we took cards with one of the old "classic" indicators, the diagram looked OK, but the lines showed a consistent fine "sawtooth" or jaggedness throughout the diagram. My guess is the indicator (brought by another guy) had some lost motion in mechanism for the pencil, and possibly some flexure in the frame.

Meanwhile, I am quite pleased with the Bachrach indicator, and knowing its history makes it a bit more special. The Unaflow engines in the "Prince George" were likely built to Skinner's design by a Canadian firm (Canadian Vickers, I think). I am sure some of our Canadian brethren will have some familiarity with the "Prince George".
Joe ,
Thanks for sharing the story about your indicator .
Here are some links that I found about the original and the newer Prince George

Old Time Trains

The burned out hulk of the the Canadian National Railway's SS Prince George; off Ketchikan, Alaska; the name of the ship is just visible on the stern - RBCM Archives

The burned out hulk of the Canadian National Railway's SS Prince George after the fire at Ketchikan, Alaska - RBCM Archives

The aft lounge aboard the Canadian National Railway's new SS Prince George, just prior to her maiden voyage; - RBCM Archives

The Canadian National Railway's new SS Prince George, just prior to her maiden voyage; the forward lounge - RBCM Archives
There may be more in some of the old magazines on archive.org and the Hathi Trust sites on the older ship since the magazines will be out of copyright .
I didn’t see more yet on the newer ship in the photographer’s file
since I got side tracked exploring the site and found this related to the Prince Rupert dry- dock machine shop and some others that I will post in other threads.

I have a Maihak indicator with a Bacharach, Pittsburgh, Pa. dealer plate inside the lid. There is a Made in Germany rubber stamp impression in the lid next to the dealer plate. The indicator is stamped MAIHAK.

There are five springs marked:
1 inch = 40 lbs max 66 lbs piston 1/1 There is one of this size.
1 inch = 60 lbs max 120 lbs piston 1/1 There is one of this size.
1 inch = 100 lbs max 200 lbs piston 1/1 There are three of this size.

The two piston/cylinder sets are .5638 inch and .7977 inch diameter. The larger one has 2x the area of the smaller one.

The blank cards are from Ashcroft, advertising Thompson indicators.

No pencil leads, but there is a glass oil bottle.

No steam boat provenance on this one. It was property of the US Corps of Engineers. Wonder what they did with it.

Joe, do you want it for $150 plus shipping?


Hi Joe,
I find your "tale of a steam engine indicator" very interesting and thank you for sharing it. My interest is, I have 5 indicators 3 of them being Dobbie-McInnes types and the other two being Maihak types as pictured. More interesting is that one of the Maihak is for Ammonia reciprocating compressors. I have owned these indicators for the past 35 years when an elderly man who had a used machinery business retired after starting this business in 1947. He gave them to me along with his fathers personal engineering books.



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Thank you for your kind offer. YES !! I will buy the Bachrach indicator from you, PM sent.

The US Army Engineer Corps used to have quite a number of steam tugs, steam derrick barges, and steam dredges as well as other self propelled steam vessels ("snag boats" ?) for use in maintaining navigable waterways. A friend of mine had been a fireman on a US Army Engineer Corps dipper dredge operating out of Duluth, MN, in the 70's. This was a monster, known as the "Gaillard" and had been built for use in the construction of the Panama Canal. I was aboard the "Gaillard" once, and was surprised to see that she had non-releasing Corliss type engines on her main hoist. The Corps also had a towboat or snagboat (unsure which) that had Nordberg poppet valve steam engines. When this vessel was no longer in use and sold a few times along the way, the engines wound up in a new excursion steamer (possibly the "Natchez", running out of New Orleans ?".

The US Army Engineer Corps had quite a bit of steam powered floating equipment in service well into the 1970's and possibly as late as the 1980's. The Corps never skimped on anything they did in this regard, so having a Bachrach/Maihak indicator either in a district engineering office, or aboard some of their rigs and vessels made perfect sense.

Bachrach used to import the indicators from Maihak, a firm in Hamburg, Germany. In about 1939, with the situation in Europe being what it was, this business arrangement ended. At that point, Bachrach began production of the same indicators in the USA under their own label. This is the instrument I recently purchased.

The Bachrach instruments are pretty much one and the same as the Maihak instruments, perhaps with some of the threads on the fasteners converted to US sizes.
The other thing Bachrach did was to switch from wooden cases to a fiberboard case with riveted sheetmetal corner angles. Not quite as elegant as the Maihak wood cases, but perhaps a bit more durable. My guess is Bachrach was already using this style of case for other instruments, and with the idea of WWII coming, Bachrach may have figured the fiberboard cases were more easily produced in large numbers. With WWII coming, Bachrach no doubt knew there would government contracts to supply steam engine indicators for use on Merchant vessels (Liberty ships) and Naval vessels (some heavy tugs and auxuliary ships as well as "casablanca" class carriers got Unaflow engines).

Jim Kennedy:

Thank you for posting pictures of your engine indicator collection. It is quite a collection, indeed. A point to check on the "Ammonia" indicator is the construction of the piston and cylinder. Ammonia attacks copper bearing alloys, so most of the indicator builders offered indicators for ammonia service with steel pistons and cylinders. Ammonia refrigeration was commonplace in commercial ice plants, breweries, meat packing plants, dairy products plants, and in larger refrigeration installations such as walk-in coolers and freezer lockers as might be found in hospitals, hotels, institutions, or aboard ships.

Diesel engine indicators typically have much smaller pistons than steam engine indicators. They often have a smaller paper drum, to accomodate higher speed diesel engines.

The degree of complexity and the art of the instrument makers in building the instruments you posted photos of is quite amazing. I think it is a facet of instrument work that most people never knew about. Once electronic instrumentation came on the scene, the days of the mechanical engine indicator were numbered. Even in the '60's and 70's, lab engines were being indicated using pressure transducers and crankshaft position transducers, with input to an oscilloscope. Any performance testing of engines, turbines, or similar used to be a really involved process, requiring lots of people taking simultaneous readings of different functions. I saw this with hydrolectric turbines and "index testing" of the turbine runners ("water wheels"). By the early 1980's, lab testing of hydraulically similar model runners and turbines was using computers and gathering something like 1000 discrete points of data every 12 seconds, and distilling this to a mean value for each parameter. Next step, in a few more years, was computers and printers producing plots of the index curves rather than doing it on graph paper by hand.

The indicators required a very fine design to reproduce an accurate representation of the processes occurring within a cylinder of an engine or compressor. Add the dynamics of fluctuating pressures and reciprocating motion to be recorded, and try to keep inertia and deflection of the parts as low as possible with minimal lost motion.... and it became quite a challenge. The finely finished small parts in the pencil linkage (motion), and the blued steel of those parts always impresses me, as does the finish overall of these instruments.

Back "in the day", steam engine indicators were "cutting edge technology" as were competing designs of steam engines and their types of valves and valve gear. Old indicator advertisements in trade publications touted testimonials from plant owners as to fuel savings, reduced maintenance, and similar. There are tales of indicator salesmen being quite aggressive and inventive to make the sales of their instruments. One classic old tale is told of a large mill steam plant in New England. The chief engineer and other management were tight fisted and would not let salesmen onto the property. The mill had a railroad spur with track running onto the property thru a gate in the mill fence. One enterprising indicator salesman inveigled the crew of a locomotive shunting coal cars into the mill into letting him ride in the engine cab. He got through the gate, onto the mill property, and right to the powerplant. He made his case to the chief engineer, indicated their engines, showed how better valve settings would cut costs- and made a sale. Some salesmen, would make the sale by offering the use of the indicator on a trial basis. If a savings in fuel or maintenance resulted, the sale was made.

As a kid attending a public grade school in Brooklyn, NY, I discovered the boiler room. The boiler room had some horizontal return tube boilers, hand fired on anthracite (hard) coal. It also had two small steam engines. These could be belted up to run forced air heating blowers for the larger spaces (auditorium, basement gymnasiums) in case of a power outage. These engines were enclosed, horizontal high speed engines. Each had nickel plated indicator piping and the three-way indicator cock. I succeeded in getting "banished" to the boiler room by pissing off the gym teacher (I had motor skill delays, so was a dead loss at any ball games, nor had I any interest in sports). As a kid, I used to read my father's "Audel's" books on building construction, plumbing, as well as the "Millwright's Handy Guide" and an Audel's text for steam stationary engineers. Stories and books kids in grade school read held no interest for me, and I would devour technical books. Aside from being an odd kid, I knew where my life's path was headed. I'd pester the stationary engineer and fireman in our grade school with endless questions, and learned that little steam plant thoroughly. Almost sixty years later, I am still doing engineering and some teaching around this sort of small, simple steam plant.

Thank you for posting your photos.
Interesting history about these instruments. I found a copy of Indicator diagrams for Marine engineers. enlarged fifth edition June 1919. It was severely water damaged on page edges when I paid 20 cents for it in the 1970's in a bookstore closing out on Robson street in Vancouver. I have a Dobbie McCinnes indicator that came off a Canadian naval ship that I picked up in a second hand store for 25 dollars near the same time. It is missing springs but the body is intact.
The text should be scanned before it is lost.
I am extremely interested in the post by Joe, and the subsequent follow up by the other folks also, I well remember Dobbie Mcinness,s showroom in Glasgow as a kid in the 1950/s This was a most handsome shop, with all sorts of most interesting items of engineering instrumentation in the window, always beautifully displayed and presented in a very tasteful manner, In the window display also was other items such as various patterns of handsome pressure guages and surveyors theodolites plus other items which was well beyond me in complexity and use, dobbies by this stage were also agents for Stanley theodolites I have a recollection Stanley of London may have taken over this Scottish firm in the late 1960-- to early 1970 era, Well the rest is history

My father & mother (Long suffering souls ) Used to allow me some time to look into this shop window, and drool over all the lovely things till boredom and a sense of urgency made them drag me away, Although Dad did not I imagine quite grasp what the purpose of many of the objects on display represented he tended to have more of an interest in such items as his "diminutive offspring" realised He always had a built in admiration for fine craftsmanship In later years I have always regretted not wandering into Dobbies and asking them about the lovely things they made, I suppose it was due in many ways to changing patterns of the products they had on display,By and large gone was the lovely bright highly chromed instruments , Modern stuff does not "Float my Boat" In fact the modern designs leave me cold.

Another thought on Dobbie MaCinness I recollect was their factory had been in the early 1950 period decanted from the City of Glasgow and reinstalled in Hillington Industrial Eastate, two streets from the factory in which I served the latter part of my apprenticeship Along with the likes of Dobbie MaCinness was another firm whose products could be found on a great manner of ships, this was Chadburns Ltd, a very prolific maker of ships telegraph gear, This I believe was not Chadburns main factory but a branch of the larger works

In its day Glasgow and its surrounding area's had a fair number of instrumentation concerns, An old brassmoulder I worked beside had been one of the foundry staff in an old Glasgow instrument concern called Thomson Skinner & Hamilton who made all sorts of scientific instruments including scientific weighing balances, He was heartbroken when they closed shop in the mid 1950 era, I guess times were a changing.

However back to indicators, When the late Paisley marine engineering firm of McKie & Baxters closed shop about 1969 the company secretary of this concern presented me with a nice Dobbie MaCinness indicator , It was a case of take ones pick from about eight sets of them, I would imagine the lest went into the scrap skip, Five years later I was in another works which was closiing down and lo and behold I found a Dobbie MaCinness & Clyde indicator catalogue with a huge range of various models for mant diverse applications, It is a catalogue from I think the early 1900 era Because the nameClyse was out of the company title for many years
How things have changed over the years and not always for the better, Like Joe's Bachrach, The names of these firms were known the world over.
Our mill engine museum has a fairly large collection of indicators, and we run our Robey horizontal cross compound with an indicator mounted. Explaining its purpose and function to visitors can often be a bit challenging, so we have made up some charts which show typical cards and what they can tell you about the performance of the engine, faults and problems.

A problem with museum engines is that they usually run on no or minimal load. To get useful cards we would need to put a load on the engines. We potentially could do this with our cross compound because it was used for part of its life as a university teaching engine and has an additional small flywheel fitted which could be fitted with a brake as it presumably was at one time. I speculate that a typical lab session was to measure the ihp and then compare to the measured bhp.

Another project that I might get to at some future date is to make a modern indicator, using a microcontroller, a display screen, an encoder and a steam pressure sensor. This might appeal to the younger visitor and could actually be useful for our own maintenance work.
Looking back at my posting I forgot to say that Dobbie MaCinness's showroom was on Bothwell Street Glasgow, and it is also of note that the inventor of the engine indicator was none other than James Watt, who whilst in the employ of Glasgow University (Situated about a mile and a quarter westwards from Dobbie MaCiness )carried out his experiments on the seperate condenser, I would imagine that Watt would no doubt dream up his primitive forerunner of the steam engine indicator much later whilst in his works in Birmingham We have much to thank Watt for in his method of computing the measurement of what a horse power was, & the method of computing the action of the steam in his engine cylinder with the indicator.
Cutting Oil Mac:

You are a kindred spirit ! As a kid, I used to go on jobs on some Saturdays with my father. He'd sometimes bring a surveyor's level and I'd hold the rod for him as he shot grades on pile caps or other work. I was always fascinated by this sort of instrumentation. Dad would sometimes spread the tripod legs as much as possible and adjust the leg extensions so a little guy like me could look thru the 'scope. He's show me how to level the instrument, and then I'd shoot a few levels with him holding the rod. Sometimes, to keep it simple, Dad would use a 6 foot wooden folding rule as the rod. In the "pre pocket steel tape days", tradesmen, construction inspectors, estimators and similar carried 6 foot wooden folding rules. Probably a nearly bygone thing.

The instrument which captured my imagination when I was a kid was the engineer's transit. As a little guy, I could not figure what the "wheel" on the side of the instrument was for. Dad explained it, but we never had a chance to use a transit during those times.

In college, I took a lot of civil engineering courses in addition to the basic mechanical engineering requirements. One course I took was surveying. In those days (1972), we were required to go to a 2 week surveying camp. At the camp, we learned to use the common surveying instruments of the time. I got to use the engineer's transit quite a bit, along with "wye level", "dumpy level", and finally, the Wild Theodolite. I loved it. For the work I've done over my career, a knowledge of basic surveying has been invaluable. We could see the handwriting on the wall, even in that summer of 1972 at Surveying Camp. One exercise consisted of getting the distance across a defile or ravine. The camp had a number of concrete survey monuments all over, with bronze "buttons" having a punch mark at the coordinate centers, and each monument had an identifying number. The professors putting on the course had a book, kept in a safe, with the coordinates and elevations of every monument. If we were sent out to get the distance between two monuments, the distance was a proven value done to what the surveyors call "first order work". Getting the distance began with taking a 100 foot steel tape and tape grabs and a spring scale. The tape had to be stretched between two monuments exactly 100 ft apart and the tension on the spring scale recorded as the tape's length varied slightly with ambient temperature changes. Once we had that value, we then made a table of tensions to pull for various shorter lengths and kept that in our pockets. We then took a canvas "mule bucket" with a handaxe, machete, wood stakes, (2) extra plumb bobs, "chaining pins", and surveyor's flagging. We also took a transit with its plumb bob, and a couple of "range poles". Then, the games began. One guy (who got off easy) took a range pole and shagged thru the defile to the opposite monument and stood there with his range pole, point in the punch mark on the monument. We then set the transit up over the nearer monument, having to level the instrument and move it so the plumb bob was centered over the punch mark on the monument. Amazing how many guys could not get the hang of setting up a transit over a punch mark and keeping the instrument level. Modern instruments with "optical plummets" eliminated that.

Once we had the line established with the transit, the tape was stretched with one guy holding the "dumb end" and walking out as far as he could while the transit man kept him on line. The "smart end" of the tape was over the starting monument, and when the guy on the dumb end had walked as far as he could while still holding the tape level and on line, the guy on the smart end dropped a plumb from the tape to the monument punch mark and the guy on the dumb end dropped a plumb to the ground. Another crewman put a "chaining pin" in the ground. At this point, we "broke the chain" and repeated this same process using the chaining pin as a starting point. It was not uncommon to have ten or fifteen "breaks" getting across a ravine. We then started at the opposite side and came back the same way. As the professors put it, "the numbers have to close". We were getting eaten by mosquitos, sweating, and knowing we'd be up well into the night getting our survey field books in good order.

Worse, in some regards, was using the transit or theodolite to "do a closed traverse"- a kind of irregular polygon between a number of those monuments. We had to get distances using the steel taping, as well as the angles or "bearings". Then, come night time, we'd sit up with logarithm tables and logarithms of trig function tables, converting the survey data into coordinates. Before pocket calculators, we could check ourselves with slide rules, but for the degree of accuracy required, we ran the calculations longhand using logarithms rather than doing endless multiplication. As it were, we'd be interpolating off the log tables for hours it seemed, swilling endless cups of coffee to stay awake. On about 3 or 4 AM, when the numbers closed, we'd go to our bunks. At about 6 AM, we got rousted to start another day.

We had one old surveyor as a teacher aside from the professors. This surveyor had been the party chief when the White House was rebuilt in 1948 (reframed with steel to repair damage from when it was burned during the war of 1812). This same surveyor told us he had been party chief on the Chesapeake Bay bridge/tunnel, and his levels over several miles, coming and going closed to within a couple of hundredths of a foot.That old surveyor wore WWI style breeches and a khaki shirt, had a magnifier on a silver chain hanging off his breast pocket and wore a Spanish-American War style campaign hat. He was white haired with a heavy handlebar moustache, and knew every dirty manuever kids could pull to make survey numbers close. He was a great teacher.

On the final day of surveying camp, a salesman for the Bruning company arrived. He had the first generation electronic distance measuring instrumentation to demonstrate. It was as big as an old television set, had a neon number display, and ran off a car or boat battery. A Redfield rifle scope was mounted on top of the instrument to aim it at the reflector/target. The salesman asked for two monuments to get the distance between. One guy was sent with the relector target across a ravine. No sooner had he put the target on the punch mark than the salesman showed us the distance reading to three places to the right of the decimal. The professors had their secret book of monument data, and confirmed it. We were dumbfounded. It was the shape of things to come.

Where we had to keep field books written in hard lead pencil, and use basic instruments and calculations, things have progressed to where surveyors now use "total station" instruments. Aim at the target and the instrument records angles, computes true distances as well as projected distances on slopes, and puts things on coordinates. The information is downloaded at the office and a CAD printer does the rest. It's all remarkable, but the new instruments just don't resonate with me the way a classic engineer transit or theodolite does. For the kind of erecting work I have done, using basic optical instruments including what is known as a "jig transit" and a "tilting level" were all I knew to use. Laser technology arrived, but I saw no reason to learn about it. Similarly, I was taught to align machinery shafts with couplings using dial indicators. A few quick calculations and shim corrections were made. That went the way of all else with the new portable laser alignment kits. These handy systems will check coupling aligment and with software built in, tell the millwright or mechanic how much shim and where, or whether a "soft foot" condition exists. It's wonderful when it works, but unless a person understands the theory of the alignment work, they are taking things on blind faith.

I find myself wondering if mariners still use the sextant, or simply rely upon GPS. As a kid in grade school, in sixth grade, our teacher taught us about the sextant when she taught us about latitude and longitude. We saw an old photo of a ship's officer in his dress uniform, on the open bridge of a ship, "shooting the sun". The
sextant was a fine instrument, but took some skill and some figuring afterwards to get one's position. Instruments such as the ship's chronometer and "log"- a kind of seagoing odometer which used a streamlined propellor on a cable streamed aft of the ship to drive the instrument- where what the old mariners used. They made incredible voyages in clipper ships, tacking all over the seas to utilize the available winds. I marvel at how they navigated with those methods and marvel at the instrument makers of those days. A pocket plastic GPS unit inspires marvelling in me, but not any sense of what a fine mechanical instrument would do.

BTW: The name "Chadburns" is fairly universal. Up on the US Great Lakes, the old steam powered ore boats had the basic engine room telegraph systems. Many were made by Chadburns, or a US licensee. It was quite common to hear older merchant mariners refer to the "Chadburns" rather than "engine order telegraph". The actual engine order telegraph might have been made by Bendix or Cory, but the oldtimers called it the "Chadburns".
Joe -

Your reply on the one indicator that Larry offered got me thinking. I don't know where in Indiana he lives, but it would not surprise me if the indicator came off one of the dredges the Corps of Engineers uses on the Mississippi/Missouri/Ohio River system. Spent a lot of my Army time as a combat engineer - never was on the Civil Works side, which is mostly civilian and maintains all navigable waterways as you noted.

Some quick searching found that at least one steam powered dredge - Potter - which was built in 1932 was still operating under steam until refitting to diesel-electric in 2001. So steam held out longer than I thought it would have. Maybe something even later, I stopped looking when I found this one.

Interesting thread. And your surveying stories bring back memories watching the civil engineers do as you were saying back in college. The monuments on campus had only been surveyed for about 100 years - I think a similar 'truth book' was locked up someplace. The Civil Engineers had to either get an approved summer job on a survey crew the summer between freshman and sophomore year or do a summer school survey course that was much as you describe.

The risk of not understanding the new technology reaches into many fields as you noted. One of my pet peeves is the use of GPS. Now it is a great tool, highly accurate and I am a user of it - and worked on highly complex systems that utilized it. What most people don't think about is that it is one of the weakest signals out there. As such it can easily be jammed - or worse yet, 'spoofed'. It is actually pretty easy to set up a transmitter to send a signal that will induce an error. Depending upon what you are trying to do that can have deadly results. Some of us still know how to read a topographic map, use a compass and navigate the old way. Same could be said for shooting the sun or stars with a sextant. Topo maps are not much good in the middle of the ocean if the GPS goes out - or worse yet is spoofed.

When you indicate that engine at Hanford Mills is it a time when the place is open? A couple of hours from here and it would be interesting to see the process.

I bought my Bacharach/Maihak indicator in 2006 from an eBay seller in St. Louis, who had two of them for sale. So yes, it probably saw service in a Mississippi River Army Corps of Engineers vessel, which could have been the one refitted in 2001.

Joe mentioned snag boats. Anyone wondering what a snag boat is, or what it does and why it is needed should visit the Arabia Steamboat Museum in Kansas City, MO. The museum has remains of the river boat, its engine and its cargo that sank after hitting a snag in 1856. The river changed course, leaving the boat buried under a cornfield waiting for some very determined people to dig it up. They have the snag itself in the museum. It is a big tree trunk that lay beneath the surface and pierced the hull of the boat. Snags sank a lot of steamboats back in the day. The Arabia story is well worth looking at and the museum is fantastic. Think of a boatload of new merchandise buried in 1856. No doubts about the age of that stuff.

This picture should give you an idea of what I meant by determined. http://1856.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/DigSite_1.flat_.jpg

A Historic Kansas City Attraction &laquo The Arabia Steamboat Museum - A Historic Kansas City Attraction Arabia Steamboat Museum – Kansas City

Watch the Malta video. Those people found another wreck.

Thanks to Larry Vanice's kind offer, I now own another Maihak type 50 indicator as well as a Lasico Planimeter. Larry understated the condition of both of these instruments. The Maihak indicator was sold by Bachrach, and is in as close to pristine condition as it gets. The fine "rope" knurling on the grease cup and all the other finely finished parts have no dings, nicks, or signs of hard use or worse. Whoever put the instrument up after its last used even removed the piston and put it in the holder in the case. The instrument has two different pistons and cylinder bushings, so can accomodate quite a range of pressures. It also has the right springs for the steam pressure range of the Hanford Mills engine. The wrenches with this instrument are nickel plated on the heads and black enamelled on the handles with no scratches or dings on them. All of the other service tools are in the case as well. The instrument DID see use, but whoever was using it took extremely good care of it.

This indicator came in a fitted wood case, with Bachrach Industrial Instrument's label on it, but Maihak's name on the indicator. This means the indicator was sold by Bachrach before 1939. After 1939, due to the political situation developing in Europe, Bachrach began making the same indicators with minor changes in the USA.

The other good part of this older instrument is that it uses ordinary pencil leads such as are used in mechanical drawing "lead holders". The newer Bachrach instrument I also have uses a very small pointed stylus and requires a waxed paper for the card.

The instrument I got from Larry Vanice even has an adaptor for the tapered coned union on the instrument, to connect it to some other thread (looks like a straight thread with possibly a copper ring gasket used). This adaptor also fits the newer indicator. Meanwhile, I had made an adaptor, tapped for 1/2" NPT, so am ready to connect the instrument and run indicator piping on the engine.

In the interim, before Larry Vanice's indicator arrived here, I had contacted Leutert, a German firm who are the successors to Maihak. Leutert still makes the type 50 indicators. They very kindly sent me what seems to be a lifetime supply of pads of the special indicator paper, and two tubes of the stylus points as a gift !

So, it looks like I am well stocked with indicators, now owning two of the old tradtional ones ( a Lippincott, and a Robertson, with reducing motion), and now these two Maihak instruments. I also have a planimeter to play with after taking the cards, though the instrument I got from Larry Vanice has the wooden scales with it for the different spring rates, as do my older indicators.

Thanks again to Larry Vanice for selling me a great Maihak engine indicator and the Lasico planimeter. Come spring, hopefully, I will get to pull a set of cards on the Hanford Mills engine.

The newer Bach
You know already Joe, having one steam engine indicator frequently brings more.

The effect is cumulative, and cascading. And difficult to reverse.

Before long you'll be using indicator boxes as foot-stools and thinking about indicating your air compressor to determine the condition of the reed valves.

Joe in NH
Funny thing is I had the parts, pieces, and hardwood boxes for a bunch of the old traditional indicators. This was the remains of stuff from the old thermo lab in my engineering school. A number of "almost complete" indicators, some with broken pencil arms, some with missing parts off the parallel motion, some with broken recoil springs on the paper drums... no two of the same instrument so no making one complete one. Loads of mis-matches springs, reducing motions and much else. I lugged this collection around through a few moves and finally gave the lot to Nick Stanley, a young engineer, who participates in the Pageant of Steam out at Canandaigua, NY.

I kept the two working indicators. Having seen what taking cards, and the resulting card looked like on the Hanford Mills engine at 200 rpm, I idly had been thinking of a Maihak indicator for years. Maihak rates their instruments for use up to 300 rpm. I suspect I have my life's quota of engine indicators now.

In a funny side note: some years back at the powerplant, a bunch of us had to take a special "pulmonary exam" to be cleared to wear respirators and air-supplied masks. Part of the testing involved the usual lung capacity test (spirometer, I think). The test also included blowing your lungs out into another instrument and doing this through a couple of complete breaths. On a small monitor, a classic "P-V" diagram appeared. P = pressure on the vertical axis, V = volume on the horizontal axis. I was astounded to see that the P-V diagram for my own lungs had the classic "foot" shape of an indicator card. I watched a few of my co workers take this same test and their graphs were much the same in general shape.

I remember bursting out with an exclamation to the effect of "Holy s--t ! You took an indicator card of my lungs !" No one had a clue what I was talking about, but knew I had a tendency to go off about stuff that triggered some obscure reference in the dusty back shelves of my mind. I was often referred to as "the walking encyclopedia", and some other nice compliments, so no one figured I was just plain nuts.

I wanted a printout of that "indicator card" of my lungs, but they could not provide it. Respirator clearance and the associated physical exams and fit testing got progressively more sophisticated over the time I worked in the powerplant. Around a hydroelectric plant, the odds of anyone knowing what an indicator card was were slim to none. I was the oldest man on the project when I retired, and successive generations of engineers had no practical experience in thermodynamics, and tended to forget any of it once working at a hydro plant. The only guys who DID know what an indicator was were some of the really old shift operators. These guys had started in the US Navy on old fleet oilers and transport ships, then worked for Con Ed. As part of the requirements for Con Ed shift supervisor jobs, they had to get a NYC steam stationary engineer's license. This meant a course, which included knowledge of steam engines, valve setting, and the indicator- not that any of these guys ever took any cards. They knew I had worked around steam power of one sort or another, so surprised me when they asked if I had ever "taken any cards". They had seen it done at the old Fordham University Hospital powerplant (Ames Unaflow engines, I think) for their stationary engineer licensing course.

At least one of those old senior operators had also worked for the IRT Subway system in the 59th Street powerplant- when they still ran the huge Corliss engines and generators. Those old operators were great. They never did anything by rote or simply because a procedure said to. They made sure they understood the whole system and anything it connected with before they did any switching or repositioned any valves or similar. When I'd hold a clearance on one of the units during outage or repair work, those old operators always gave me the third degree. Anytime I needed changes to my clearance requiring changes to electrical switchgear, temporary grounding, valves, mechanical equipment or much else, I could expect to be thoroughly questioned as to the effect and relationship to other systems and anything else that might possibly be affected. I got to enjoying that "third degree", and was glad I broke into holding clearances in our powerplant under those guys. Unfortunately, successive generations of shift operators and even senior operators are strictly procedure and "menu driven". They are not likely to pick up a mistake in a switching order or change to a clearance like those oldtimers. The old generation of shift operators understood the processes that made the plant equipment and systems function. Their time aboard old ships with nothing automatic, and then having to learn and get their stationary steam engineers' licenses made a very different and solid breed of person. It is one thing to take a thermodynamics course in engineering school. Seeing integrals and equations dancing on the blackboard and hearing words like "enthalpy", "adiabatic" and "isentropic" and studying about it is all well and good. Drawing the P-V diagram based on calculations on a theoretical basis is one thing, but seeing a deceptively simple instrument draw that diagram and realizing what can be learned from it- vs the theoretical calculations to get a P-V diagram- is quite another matter. The theoretical P-V diagrams are just that. An indicator card is able to show if the valves are set right, whether there is something out of whack in the valve settings or valve motion, or how the valves seat, or whether the rings are allowing some blow-by. The indicator is an amazing diagnostic instrument as well as a performance indicator. I make a point of teaching about it and the processes which occur in a steam engine cylinder when I give the "Steam Power 101" course at Hanford Mills.
Hello Jim,

I am collecting steam engine indicators and planimeters. I have huge collection of such devices. I just want to ask you if you are selling your equipments what you have listed here.
Thanks in advance
Gurcan Tas
Reading these accounts of early interest in instruments reminds me of a study that found that almost every person who was outstanding in a field was involved in it by the age of twelve. I agree. When I was a month short of my eighth birthday, I went to visit some cousins who had a farm near Springfield, IL. Naturally, I did all the things you would expect a suburban kid to do on a farm, but they had a couple of high school aged daughters and one had a physics book that I started to read and found fascinating. The folks must have been bewildered to see me sitting in their living room reading on a nice summer day, but they let me read and loaned me the book to take home.

When I got home, I found that a neighbor had dropped off some electrical items, low voltage transformers, etc. and he then helped me through a crystal set and an amplifier using a 1S4 tube, battery powered.

Other neighbors coached me through more electronics, high vacuum techniques, and an amateur radio license. Overall, they had a profound influence on my life.

I don't think such interest can be taught, the child either has the passion or doesn't. All you can do is expose them and see which ones pick up on it.

I have been to see the Great White Arabia a couple of times. Very much worth the trip. I got to meet Bob Hawley on one trip. Impressive guy. My favorite quote from him is from when they were faced with borrowing $50,000 for pumps to lower the water table, he said "If you are going down, take your banker with you."