1896 Roper Steam Engine


 

1. Introduction 9.  The Chimney
2. Frame Jig 10. The Firebox
3. Rear Axel & Wheel 11. Forks
4. The Saddle 12. Mahogany Box
5. Throttle Valve 13. Steamer Assembly
6. Hand Water Pump 14. Fine Tuning
7. Metal Pieces 15. Finished Bike
8. The Boiler

Introduction

This project got its start when P. Gagan showed up at my shop with his (freshly purchased) steam bike. It was built by Bob Jorgensen, of Memphis, who has since passed away. Bob had a very small shop, I’m told, but loved to tinker. His passion was steam, and this was the first of two steam bikes he built. It was the summer of ’05, and I had barely started the Excelsior project, but figured it was okay to have another project on the side. I didn’t really know what I was getting into.  I had never had anything steam.  Yes, there would be a lot of fabrication, but nothing too technical.  I told myself Bob did a good job on the steam part, but you can clearly see the frame is a modified woman’s 10-speed, and a cheap one at that.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Introduction

This is a photo of the real bike, built by Sylvester Roper. He built many things powered by steam. The story says he rode his steam bike to his steam boat, transferred the coals, cruised the waters for a few hours, came back, transferred more coals, and then rode home! This was the world’s first motorcycle in reality, but has yet to be recognized as such. Sylvester died on this bike attempting a speed record when he had a heart attack at 77 years of age. This bike is missing its mahogany cladding and foot-pegs, but is otherwise complete. I planned on building three bikes, and Pete wanted a better frame for his steamer.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Introduction

This is where Dick Winger enters the picture.  Gagan had a steam bike, and he didn’t . . . so, Dick ordered RS001 (Roper steamer number one).  Due to my inexperience with steam, my initial estimate on both time AND labour was grossly inadequate. Sorry, Dick. The whole project was a learning experience for both of us. I know Dick learned a lot of patience! He talked about cost overruns, and every so often would say, “ka-ching… ka-ching!” He also talked to Bob Jorgensen, and got him to send plans for the steam engine. The scale is 1:1, but no mention of critical dimensions, or what metals to use. I didn’t want to build the engine; I already had the Excelsior motor to contend with, so it got sub-contracted out.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Introduction

I made a full scale drawing of the bike, and it’s in the background behind these frame parts. I wanted to be able to unbolt the boiler from the frame; the boiler would be a stressed member.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Introduction

These are the top head tube lugs, made from three pieces of steel, and brazed together to look like a casting. They hold a very nice set of angled roller bearings designed for a mountain bike.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Introduction

 

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Frame Jig

The bottom head tube lugs. Fillet brazing will cover the Tig welding, and they too will look like castings.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Frame Jig

Machining the rear dropouts. I’m drilling, then boring the two halves.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Frame Jig

Four sets finished. They hold the bearings that support the live axle.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Frame Jig

Tack welded into place, on the frame jig. Too bad my digital camera refused to auto focus on the nearest dropout.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Frame Jig

Frame and frame jig. The frame is held to the boiler with ten bolts.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Frame Jig

 

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Rear Axle & Wheel

 

Frame only.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Rear Axle & Wheel

Designing the rear hub on my trust-worthy (but ancient) Autocad 12. Thanks to those individuals who took the time to urge me to look into SolidWorks, or other equally modern software. I will do that one day.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Rear Axle & Wheel

Another chunk of 303 stainless gets chucked and turned. It’s quite nice to work with.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Rear Axle & Wheel

Dick supplied the rims to get laced to this hub; from a Columbia bicycle over 100 years old.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Rear Axle & Wheel

Here are the six bearings used to support the rear wheel. Each end of the axle has a five degree taper for the eccentrics to bolt on to.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Rear Axle & Wheel

 

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The Saddle

The steam engine has arrived, and this is an early mockup of the drive train. There’s nothing really you can buy; everything has to be made.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Saddle

The leather seat top came from the Saddle Shop. It looks a lot like the original, so it was a good start.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Saddle

Designing and making these bits was a little time consuming . . .

1896 Roper Steam Engine Saddle

And this is the finished product. There’s no support in the middle, so you sit at the back. The leaf spring was sent out for heat-treating before paint.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Saddle

This water pump is driven by the eccentric on the left side of the rear wheel. Under the big brass nut, is some “packing”. It’s kind of like a small, dark, waxy rope that you coil and press into a small space before the nut squeezes down to force a seal. Quite effective when done properly.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Saddle

 

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Throttle Valve

Here’s some of my working notes to build the throttle valve. It lets the steam out of the boiler and into the valving of the engine. Maximum working pressure is 200 psi.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Throttle Valve

Thought / paper / metallic reality. Top right is the “displacement oiler” purchased from Coles. You put steam oil in there, and it mixes with the steam and provides lubrication to the engine. The engine body and piston are both made out of cast iron, and they will seize without oil.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Throttle Valve

Throttle valve partially assembled.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Throttle Valve

 

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Hand Water Pump

Here are the parts that make up the hand water pump. This pump moves the water from the tank into the boiler before the fire is lit. There are quite a few different materials used here – steel, stainless steel, copper, brass, aluminum, nickel-silver, rubber, and mahogany.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Hand Water Pump

Finished, but not yet painted.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Hand Water Pump

It bolts into the 3003 aluminum water tank. On the far side is the filler cap.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Hand Water Pump

This is really jumping forward in time, but I wanted to show you what it looks like when finished.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Hand Water Pump

 

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Metal Pieces

This is the brake lever mount that gets brazed to the handlebars. Sometimes the biggest problem making a part is figuring out how to hold it. By cutting this part off as the very last operation, there’s always a big chunk to hold onto for the boring, milling, drilling, tapping and slotting.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Metal Pieces

Pacific Bending and Machine bent all the frame tubes and did the bars too. It’s a nice compound bend, copied from an original Columbia bicycle from the late 1800′s. The handlebar stem is four pieces of steel brazed together, and it too will look like a lug after a nice coat of nickel.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Metal Pieces

These are most, but not all, of the fittings needed to build one steamer.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Metal Pieces

Each boiler gets (55) 12″ long type K (refrigeration) copper tubes with a 5/8″ OD.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Metal Pieces

 

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The Boiler

These two plates go on either end of the boiler. They are referred to as “tube sheets”, or “flue sheets”. Here they are being drilled, then reamed to .626″ so that the 5/8″ copper tubes will just slide in, before being “rolled in”. One of the hardest parts of this project was finding out how to roll in these tubes on this very small boiler.  I made at least half a dozen calls to various steam experts, they would give me their best advice and then at the very end tell me to phone another “expert”, just to make sure.  It got confusing after a while.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Boiler

The problem is that we are now three generations away from using steam.  The last steam cars were built in the 1920′s, and after that it was mostly industrial usage until the machines got updated with new technology, or wore out.  Steam knowledge is out there, and it’s slowly disappearing.  Below is a genuine flue roller, made years and years ago.  I bought it from 81-year-old Bob Davis, who had it in his tool box for a very long time. To roll a copper tube, it’s inserted into the reamed flue sheet hole, then this roller is put into that tube.  You turn the square end clockwise, and the slightly angled steel rollers turn and also pull the tapered mandrel into the roller housing, causing the rollers to expand out and into the copper. It’s so simple and works so beautifully.  You need to compress the copper 10%, so a wall thickness of .065″ has to be rolled down, or expanded to .058 -.059″.  This means a lot of measuring with a snap gauge and micrometer.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Boiler

Boiler under pressure. There’s actually only 54 tubes, because the middle hole has the “fusable link”. This is a brass plug with a 1/4″ hole thru the middle, filled with solder. If the boiler ever runs out of water, the added heat will melt the solder, releasing pressure (downwards, very fast), and prevent an explosion. Operating boiler pressure is 150 – 200 psi, so we figured that 310 psi showed a good safety margin. To get that pressure, I filled the boiler with water, put in a brass NPT fitting with a grease nipple, and hand-pumped in grease.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Boiler

This is the sight glass that goes on the side of the boiler. The glass tube is high quality and fairly thick. It shows how much water is in there.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Boiler

 

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The Chimney

3″ hole saw cutting it’s way into the top “smoke stack”, getting ready for the installation of the chimney.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Chimney

Bob Jorgensens’s bike had a horizontal chimney, but the Roper’s chimney had a swivel so you could rotate it. The up-draft made it easier to light the fire, and the down-draft position (shown here), made the fire burn a little slower. At this stage I’m checking the angle, so the chimney is held on with masking tape and welding wire.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Chimney

 

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The Firebox

This is looking up at the firebox. The footpegs are at the top, and you can see the centre-stand.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Firebox

Left side. The firebox “mouth” has been added, and also the centre-stand springs. On the right is part of the water pump driven from the rear wheel.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Firebox

The firebox door was cast in brass, and machined to fit.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Firebox

Here you see the three main components that comprise steam: (left to right) smoke box with chimney stub / boiler with frame mounts /the fire box.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Firebox

Other side. The tubing for the boiler is seamless DOM (drawn over mandrel) 8″ OD with a .250″ wall thickness.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Firebox

 

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The Forks

Everything seems to be fitting well. There’s quite a few mock-up stages along the way to make sure we’re on track. The forks got made along the way, so I’ll show you a few pictures of how they came to be.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Forks

Start with 1/2″ steel plate, and cut out some fork crowns. Angle the tops downwards.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Forks

Machine and braze in the steerer tubes, then cut the tapers for the roller bearing races.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Forks

The fork blades were cut from a 1/4″ sheet of 4130. The jig is a little Mickey Mouse, but to make a dedicated fixture for 4 forks wasn’t going to happen.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Forks

Fast forward . . . Forks are finished and painted gloss black.  On the front of the machine is the steam whistle, complete with antique valve and cast lever. No matter what I tried, I could NOT get that valve to seal and finally disconnected it.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Forks

 

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Mahogany Box

The mahogany strips were cut by Pacific Pattern. I’m not much of a wood-worker, and don’t have the tools. Their quality is very good. These wooden lengths are held in place with brass strips and 10-32 brass countersunk screws. Everything has to fit very well, so it gets time consuming.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Mahogany Box

Fitting strips around the engine and making slow progress.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Mahogany Box

At first I had envisioned that the two side panels would come off easily as separate pieces, allowing easy access to the internals. I soon realized that this was just not possible.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Mahogany Box

Here, the mahogany has been stained and verathaned, and the color darkened somewhat. The chimney is not yet screwed onto the brass ring, and the copper tube (in the middle) has a 90-degree elbow to shoot the exhaust out the chimney, thereby aiding the draft.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Mahogany Box

Here’s the cladding right before the big stain. The aluminum strips help sandwhich the wood in the mid-section.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Mahogany Box

 

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Steamer Assembly

The boiler is painted heat-resistant flat black. Fasteners are stainless steel with all markings machined off the heads.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Steamer Assembly

For such a simple machine there seems to be a lot going on.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Steamer Assembly

I found some ceramic insulation that gets used in foundries and is good to 2700 degrees F. Kind of like wrapping a baby in a very warm blanket.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Steamer Assembly

Steamer is done. I understand now that I was somewhat naive in this conclusion.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Steamer Assembly

Nice, cool autumn day.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Steamer Assembly

The riding position is completely old fashioned. Feet well forward, and bars very swept back. High seat position. Fork angle VERY relaxed at 65 degrees (from horizontal.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Steamer Assembly

This steam project really was a whole education for myself and Dick. He was doing his own research, and realized the steamer needed a damper for the chimney. I had figured that rotating the chimney down was enough to dampen the fire, but he said no. I know now the upswept chimney is mainly for lighting the fire, because the angle really helps. Anyway, the steamer came apart, and this was not to be the only time. It looks a little like open heart surgery.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Steamer Assembly

The damper works on the “butterfly” principal, complete with wooden knob.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Steamer Assembly

And it definitely filled in that space nicely. Now the bike really was done, and ready for fire-up.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Steamer Assembly

 

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Fine Tuning

Only problem was that steam leaked out from everywhere it seemed!   Gagan and I had tested the engine on 50 psi of air, and it worked very well indeed. On 65 psi of steam, which is all the boiler could get due to leaks, the engine wouldn’t even turn the back wheel once. This seemed odd at first, but steam is air with added heat AND moisture, so it really is a LOT different. The engine was taken out and sent off to Bob Davis for modifications.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Fine Tuning

Dicks’ steam knowledge was expanding, and now he wanted a pre-heater for the water to be pumped into the boiler. The two circular coils on the left are to be positioned inside the smoke stack. In theory this is a great idea, because you really don’t want cold water cooling the boiler down; it’s not good for performance. Bending copper tubing requires MANY stages of heating, annealing, and bending.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Fine Tuning

In reality, the coils hindered the up-draft, and the fire wouldn’t burn as hot. It all came apart one more time, and one coil was removed.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Fine Tuning

Here’s Gagan riding Dicks’ 1894 Roper steam bike; remember Dick has only seen pictures of his bike at this point. This is part of the video, “Pete’s Garage”. . . thank you, Lester, for this great shot. Notice how the steam hugs Gagan’s back as he cruises by.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Fine Tuning

Gagan and Lester had that steamer up and down my street, and the firebox got refilled several times. I was working in the shop, and no one noticed just how much heat got generated. It really was a little excessive, Dick wasn’t impressed when he saw the pictures and all he could say was “ka-ching. . . ka-ching!”

1896 Roper Steam Engine Fine Tuning

The right side of the bike is so busy, that the (new) brass plate really helps to balance the proportions. Notice also, the “header wrap” used to insulate the mouth of the firebox.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Fine Tuning

 

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Finished Bike

What’s it like to ride? It rides and handles well, remembering the slow steering. The seat is uncomfortable, and the bars hit my (long) legs when I corner, so that’s why my knees are so far apart. Acceleration is modest.  The brake is virtually useless, especially when you ride through puddles.  However, the fun factor is HUGE!  It sounds like a little locomotive.  Gagan has owned all sorts of exotic bikes and says that his steamer gets the most attention, by far, of any bike he has ever owned.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Finished Bike

Dick will finally have his bike, now that everyone else has ridden it!  Thank you Dick, for having so much patience.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Finished Bike

And thank you, Gagan, for sharing your knowledge of steam.

1896 Roper Steam Engine Finished Bike

Thank YOU for stopping by!

Paul

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