What's new
What's new

Skinner engine works (unaflow) presently


Oct 18, 2005

Thought you all would like a photo I took about 2 weeks ago,
the front (on 12th street) is covered over. This is up a side street
I went to go get some bottles filled.
The boiler area on the extreme left, now torn down, is a loading dock
area with a depress for trailers.

one of their products

Thanks for posting the pics!!! I have driven through Erie many times, but never drive into the city.

Here's one of the many engines they produced in the 1930's and was installed in the Veteran's home in Rocky Hill, CT. We moved it out in the mid 90's to the Connecticut Antique Machinery Ass'n in Kent, CT and it was still operational at that point. In fact, we made a video of it operating before relocation. She's a 187 kVA side-bearing unit.


Two of the last Skinner engines are still in use in the SS Badger carferry based in Ludington MI. I was lucky enough to inspect them during a tear down a few years back and those quadruple expansion monsters are really a sight once the covers are off. I encourage all you steam lovers to take a trip on the last coal fired ferry on the Great Lakes. www.ssbadger.com And while your in Ludington be sure and visit Historic White Pine Village and the new maritime museum. History is alive in West Michigan!
Digger Doug,

Thanks for the Skinner Engine Company photos. A few years back you could still find their website, I haven't tried lately. One hopes that behind the boarded up windows the drawings are filed away, the machine tools are oiled and ready, waiting for the return of the reciprocating engines as refined by Skinner over those many years.


That would have been interesting to see behind the covers on the badger's Skinner engines. Normally they are fully enclosed, but the photos you can see here show some impressive engineering: http://www.carferries.com/skinner/

BTW, unless they have changed the engines, Badger uses two 4,000 hp Skinner four crank, steeple or tandem compound unaflows, quite different from a quadruple expansion engine. The way these engines work is described in the brochure above, it is quite interesting!
not a steam guy

Peter, I'm sure you are correct about the engines as they were never changed from new. As you can tell I'm not a steam guy, interested but not knowledgeable. The Spartian still sits in Ludington and other than parts they have stolen for the Badger is complete. The 41 was cut down into a barge and still operates out of Ludington with its tug, I don't know what happened to its engines. Thanks for the info on the carferry engines if I ever have another chance to check them out I will pay more attention and ask more questions.
Skinner Uniflows generally...

...were not provided in anything beyond "simple."

Badger uses two 4,000 hp Skinner four crank, steeple or tandem compound unaflows, quite different from a quadruple expansion engine. [Unquote]

The thermodynamic underpinnings of the uniflow advantage was that a temperature gradient establishes itself along the length of the simple uniflow cylinder. This temperature gradient more or less matches the temperature of the steam (minus exterior losses of course) and hence condensation losses are minimised.

Generally, uniflow engines were not jacketed either as this would disrupt the formation of this temperature gradient.

Meanwhile, the thermodynamic advantage of any engine in compounding (or tripling, or quadrupling) is that the temperature differential between the incoming steam and the cylinder walls is reduced as the total temperature change (expansion) is split between multiple cylinders.

The two concepts can work in tandem but you run into difficulties with uniflow "recompression."

And even a single cylinder uniflow has problems with "partial load" primarily due to this recompression issue. Hence the need on most uniflow engines for a "compression release valve" which is used at reduced loads or for backpressure operation.

Now it may be possible for the Badger engines to be compounded. But probably that is the practical limit for this methodology. I imagine the Badger engines would have been operated at some optimal point possibly determined by some previously determined receiver pressure/temperature or maybe as simply as the point where the compression relief valve just starts to open.

In a way the uniflow engine was a throwback to a previous engine concept. A simple engine optimised based on steam expansion diagrams. But the uniflow principle was forward looking in that is was ultimately brought to it's final expression in the invention of the steam turbine where each turbine stage is optimised for it's temperature/pressure differential.

Joe in NH
Last edited:
"The Only People Seriously In The Steam Engine Business"

A Skinner Engine Company advertisement from 1934.

"For Over Eighty Years, Doing One Thing Well - Building Steam Engines"

Advertisement from c.1953.

In 1950 Skinner built their 12,000th engine, fitted to the New York ferry Pvt Joseph Merrell

In a recent publication by ISSES, about George Watkins, there is some good stuff concerning Skinner Engine Company. George Watkins used to correspond with the company for many years, they have re-printed his letters, and Skinners replies. The first letter dates from 1926, the last was in 1962. The man at Skinner who replied to all the letters over this entire time period was the same man, H.E. Coburn.


There is no doubt the engines in question are (Woolf) compound unaflows, if you click on the link I posted above, then click on "page 6" you will see a cross section of the engine, and other pages describe the engine. They are very interesting engines (e.g. single-acting H.P. and L.P, but in opposite directions, hence still a double acting engine. Also the way in which the top of the H.P piston effectively becomes part of the L.P cylinder during the down stroke). I have read some criticism of them, yet there they are still working commercially 55 years later.

This was probably the last development of the Uniflow (late 1930's, 1940's), when steam pressure and temperature were too high for the standard design. As Richard Hills writes of these engines in his excellent "Power From Steam" - "Not only did this engine expand the steam in two stages contary to Stumpf's original concept, but the high-pressure cylinder was actually deliberately cooled by the low-pressure steam. The temperature of the high-pressure steam was so great that the lubricating oil might be carbonised. The low-pressure steam surrounding the high-pressure cylinder reduced the temperature of the walls to a point where lubrication was readily accomplished. The heat extracted from the cylinder walls was not wasted because it was taken by the steam into the low-pressure cylinder".

I am not sure who else built marine compound uniflows, (maybe Jaffa), but there were quite a few manufacturers who compounded using uniflow L.P. cylinders and counterflow H.P. For example, Ajax in the US built Woolf steeple compounds with up to 5 cranks using single acting counterflow H.P. and double acting uniflow L.P.

Christiansen & Meyer in Germany used Woolf compound with H.P. counterflow and L.P. uniflow.

Stork in Holland used uniflow L.P on their compound engines.

Among stationary steam engine builders in Great Britain companies such as Galloways and Musgrave built compounds combining uniflow and counterflow, e.g. for heat extraction engines. One of these heat extraction, or pass-out engines, (Galloways) survives in running order at a museum in Manchester, it is reckoned that these engines achieved efficiencies of over 50% (whereas a condensing Uniflow was reckoned to be around 20% at best), they were used only in the last days of textile mill engine building.
Last edited:
I’ve found this post to be very interesting, and Joe’s and Peter’s comments have whetted my appetite for learning more about the latter-day reciprocating steam engines.

There’s a good interior photo of a machine shop at Skinner’s in the recently-published book ‘Stationary Steam Engine Makers, Volume 2’ (Landmark Publishing). The photo shows a rather cramped but very tidy shop, with lathes, slotters and radial arm drill vying for space with neat stacks of castings and forgings awaiting machining.

Doug’s recording of the exterior of the works may be very timely. It recently occurred to me that we need to photograph these historical factory sites before it’s too late. In the UK thousands of factory sites have been cleared in recent years to make way for houses and shops. I’ve found the business of tracking down old factory locations to be very interesting, and I’d encourage others to do the same, and take some snaps. One example is the former Browett & Lindley steam engine works in Patricroft, Manchester. The firm went bust in the 1920s or thereabouts, and I was surprised to find the main building intact. That was a year ago, though, so there are probably houses there now ……

Regarding the preserved Galloways engine, there’s a short write-up about it here:-

http://www.msim.org.uk/media/158885/elm street mill engine.pdf
At the risk of thread drift, I second Asquith's comments regarding preserving the sites of our industrial history. As these places are turned over to other uses I'm reminded of the yankee comment "They call it progress - but somehow I'm not so sure."

My mentor Ed Battison was a pioneer among these lines and fortunate in that he peaked in an age when these mill buildings were newly derelict and could be acquired for a nominal sum and with minimal interference from outsiders. Such it is with the now American Precision Museum which is a (sort of) self supporting entity. But Ed also owned the entire "water privilege" for the APM mill site to include the water rights up to the mill pond above the mill and a couple of more mill buildings above as well.

For one of these Ed sought me out to engineer a new poured concrete foundation to replace the fieldstone foundation which in the 130 years since it was built in 1868 had seriously bowed by virtue of ground pressure. The building, two stories and 35 x 140 feet was lifted, supported on steel, and then a foundation wall done in inverted "T" shape to resist the unsupported overturning forces. All of this done with the building perched precariously overhead on cribbing and "needles." I got a minor education in Civil Engineering deciding how much credit to take for the overburden placed on the "toe" of the retaining wall, and what safety factor to consider against the wall overturning.

Ed put a BUNCH of money into that site for sure. But that's the risk of ownership. With the title comes the responsibility. And in the United States generally, there isn't much governmental help.

More likely dot.gov is the adversary rather than a supporter.

In North Grafton, MA there is an industrial/hydropower site which is the place where Ethan Allen (NOT the Vermont Hero) pioneered the development of the "pepperbox" revolver. This was his industrial site from perhaps 1830 to the 1850s when the company relocated into Worcester to take advantage of the better markets there.

Externally from the road you see a cute little two story building atop the dam. Beyond this the millpond exists and while the neighborhood has built up around the mill, in 180 years it's still basically the place where Ethan Allen did his thing. Two doors up the road is the Allen Homestead, now in private hands but a lavish two story 1840s colonial with a commanding view of the millpond.

I was fortunate to see this mill site during the "open to offers" period of it's sale. To characterise it as a "hazardous waste dump" would be a minor understatement as the lower floor of the mill was stone wall to stone wall covered in dangerous leaking barrels of who knows what. And all of this stored in a moist humid environment to include minor leakage from the dam: the barrels existed below the waterline of the millpond on the other side of that stone wall. It was all an accident waiting to happen.

The dam itself was the biggest problem. It was on a list of Massachusetts Dam Safety "suspect sites" and had not been inspected or maintained for many years.

The dam/mill/site was sold for a nominal sum - but as I understand it the new owner ran the complete line of hurdles to include Massachusetts Dam Safety Review, EPA Superfund evaluation, Grafton Historical Society review, Zoning Board review, and just about everyone else who had an axe to grind got involved too.

And the water rights to the millpond were NOT included in the sale. These (in forward vision) were retained with the homestead property two doors away. Apparently to preclude draining of the millpond and ruining the main house view of the pond. The new mill owners cannot utilize the water rights without agreements with the owners of the homestead. And the dam cannot be maintained without the water rights!

Tough situation and one I didn't have the money or situation to capitalize on. I was wise to back away.

I've been by the mill building recently. It's looking much improved. Whoever has this now has obviously put a wad of money to it. But it's obviously a labor of love.

And that's a good thing, I guess.

Joe in NH
Further digression

(Clickable thumbnail)

Apologies for hijacking this thread, but since I posted a photo of Browett & Lindley’s works, I’ll show a picture of one of their engines. All the ones I’ve seen were small, but this is a >1000 HP machine made in 1902 for Salford Tramways, a couple of miles down the road from the factory. Generator also made locally by Mather & Platt. I don’t have any more information on the engines (there appear to be two more behind it). I assume it is a three cylinder compound?

Note the scaffold boards in the roof space!
Last edited:
The firm of Browet Lindlay, was absorbed into the works of Kryn & Lahy, at Letchworth, better known as K&L Steelfounders and Engineers, I am led to believe that the building of Browet Lindlay steam engines and enclosed forced lubricated compressors, both steam and electricaly driven was still being carried on by K&L till at least into the 1950/s?
Kryn & Lahy were a Belgian firm who came to England at about the time Germany invaded Belgium at the beginning of the first world war And later, all were absorbed into the 600 group __ George Cohen 600 Edgeware Road London, Hence the name, Somewhere amongst my"sacred scrolls", i have a Browet catalogue, i believe from the period of being taken over, I will see if i can find it, Maybe someone can throw more light on this firm, and their engines.
I assume it is a three cylinder compound?


Only seeing you ask :) Assuming you are asking if it is a compound engine, I agree it probably is (a three crank steeple or tandem compound. OK, inverted, vertical, someone else will no doubt point out :)). Nevertheless, a three cylinder compound sounds to me more like an engine with 1xHP and 2xLP - but maybe this terminology was used?

I was thinking triple tandem compound.

I’ve just been looking at ‘Stationary Steam Engine Makers, Volume 1’, from Landmark Publishing (wish I was on commission), and there’s an old advert for Browett & Lindley with an engraving of one of the Salford engines, rated at 800 kW). The advert says that they made engines up to 3000 HP, including two crank and three crank compounds and three crank triple expansion engines. There’s also a photo of an impressive 1500 HP ‘high speed’ vertical engine, which is probably on the factory test bed (it’s sitting on a T-slotted bedplate).

Apologies again for this having nothing to do with Skinner, other than the closed factory connection!
Some note on that Photo

Peter S,
I am sorry to say, they had an auction about 5 years ago.....
I know one of the scrappers......no one could out bid the scrappers
when the price for heavy scrap is running $300 a ton.

From 12th street, you used to peek in the window's and see a large
horizontal boring mill, the kind built into the floor.

My scrapper friend used a bulldozer to remove that mill.
And a bottle of liquid oxygen.....

Machinist types couldn't justify the rigging bills for a used machine
that may not perform after getting it home.

The ironic thing is that skinner claimed the heat bill was $60,000 alone
per month, before they folded. Ironic as they used to have their own
power house, and the heat would have been "free".

Doug’s recording of the exterior of the works may be very timely. It recently occurred to me that we need to photograph these historical factory sites before it’s too late.


It occurs to me that over the years I have seen advertised many books published about the industrial archaeology of various parts of the UK. Apart from one volume I have which covers the whole of the UK (by Neil Cossons), I am unsure what these histories are like, but they seem quite plentiful. For example, there is "A Guide to the Industrial Archaeology of Lancashire", one of a series, mentioned in the latest Camden newsletter, though with only 56 pages it sounds little slim. It is possible they don't look at factories as such unless they have some special architectural or other outstanding merit (I am only guessing).

I am trying to save two Browet and Lindley engines and generators still in there original engine house together with a 150 tonne hydraulic accumulator. I have offered the developers the chance to incorporate the engines into a combined heat and power station with the waste heat running a district heating system. Using woodchip as the renewable energy source.
Good luck with your efforts to save the engines. I think I’ve only seen one Browett & Lindley engine, at the excellent Bolton Mill Engine Society.

The slim industrial archaeology books are excellent if you’re in an area looking for industrial remains. They give a brief history and description, photos in some cases, and map references, but they are guide books, ideal for planning, rather than detailed records.

There were detailed regional industrial archaeology books produced a good while ago, generally relating to specific counties. I recall opening the Lancashire one years ago, and being amazed to see a photo of the row of drab Victorian houses which was right across the street from where I lived. Turns out it was one of many ‘Fustian Cutting Shops’ in the district. Fustian cutting was a cottage industry which defied mechanisation for a long time. Fustian was a kind of velvet. Cloth was woven with the pile in loops, and each loop had to be manually cut, using a long thin knife, while the cloth was stretched out on a long frame. Every loop cut, quickly, without slicing through the cloth. This frame occupied the upper floor of a row of cottages, and typically a cutter would walk up and down the frame for 10 hours a day covering about 13 - 14 miles in the process. That was in the good times, when trade was brisk and customers wanted velvet. History doesn’t record what happened when trade was bad. Times were hard until the coming of the Manchester Ship Canal, which brought factories to the area.

Do you know the whereabouts of the Mather and Platt generators I am looking for a pair to go on two 1000 hp Bellis and Morcom engines. Is Salford tramways still there.
Sorry, John, can't help. I assume that the location was the now derelict bus depot on the A57 at Weaste (empty and possibly demolished by now).