The Internet Craftsmanship Museum Presents:

Birk Petersen

5/1/1933—11/25/2015

A prolific craftsman with a wide variety of interests

Added to the museum: 6/21/2016

Beginning July 2nd, 2016 a large collection of Birk Petersen's amazing variety of work can be seen on display at the Craftsmanship Museum in Carlsbad, CA.

Birk PetersenIn addition to fine craftsmanship, much of his work came with a smile and a wink.

Birk Petersen is seen at a tractor show with the 1/4 scale Case 65 HP tractor model he made in the 1980's. It took three years to build. (Click photo for larger image.)

Introduction

When Birk Petersen of Provo, Utah passed away in 2015, his family was unsure of what to do with the many wonderful items he created in his long and productive lifetime as a model engineer. They wanted to honor his craftsmanship in a way that could be enjoyed by the public. We are pleased that they selected the Miniature Engineering Craftsmanship Museum in Carlsbad, CA as the appropriate place to do that. Displaying this type of work and honoring the craftsman who produced it is exactly what Joe martin had in mind when he started the Joe Martin Foundation over 20 years ago and built the first museum over 10 years ago. The Birk Petersen collection, consisting of over 150 items was introduced to the public at the museum's 10th anniversary celebration on July 2, 2016. We thank the Petersen family for sharing this extensive collection that shows the broad interests and many talents of Birk Petersen.

The Wonderful World of Birk Petersen

Birk Petersen was born on May 1, 1933 in Axtell, Utah to James Raymond and Vennetta Petersen. His father worked 12-hour shifts at a sugar mill in Gunnison and on farms, and later Birk followed his dad into the sugar mill. But he always liked mechanical contraptions. He was likely born to be an engineer. The family still proudly retains the first model he ever made--a wooden tractor--and the first tool box he received when he was five.

Birk's first crude model was of a tractor that he made at about age 8 or 9 years old. (Click on photo to view a larger image.)

He enlisted in the Army and served as a welder in the military. Later, he took advantage of the GI bill to attend the Central Utah Vocational School in Provo.  He started work as a draftsman at Pittsburg Des Moines Steel in Provo and eventually worked his way up to Plant Engineer. Birk married his sweetheart Darlene on September 15, 1953 in Manti, Utah.

Plant Engineer at Pittsburg Des Moines Steel in Provo

Birk was responsible for many designs and managed capital expansion projects at the Provo plant. He was responsible for training many newly hired college graduates who assisted him during the Provo plant's growth. He retired from Pittsburg Des Moines Steel on May 28, 1998 after working 41 years. Before that he had served 2 years for Hammond Iron Works and Keys Tank. His work at Pittsburg Des Moines also include a two-year assignment at World Southern in South Carolina where he served as Plant Engineering Manager.

His engineering education was received over a 27-year period at Central Utah Vocational College. He was one of three honored for spending the most hours on continuing their education. He taught adult education classes over this period as well. Though he never achieved an actual degree in engineering, that never seemed to be his goal. He took classes that offered a chance to expand his vast knowledge of all things mechanical and anything else that interested him. Reflecting that love of learning, his personal library was extensive and included books that reflected research on his many projects.

His love of machinery was both his vocation and his hobby

His first love of machining and metalworking eventually became his hobby, and as a member of the Utah Antique Machinery Association he collected and repaired antique gas engines and fabricated machines. Among the early machines he made from the ground up was a 1/4 scale model Case 65 tractor and a scale model sawmill that cuts 1/4 size logs. His late wife Darlene noted, "I hardly saw him for three years when he was building that tractor." Later he went on to build literally hundreds of projects from engines to toys to guns to a carousel and a musical wooden whistle calliope. His skills included everything needed to build the wide variety of projects from pattern making, casting metal, welding, machining, painting and carving wooden figures. If he needed a special tool to roll a form in sheet metal for a steam shovel roof  or to punch louvers into an engine cover on a model of a well-drilling machine, he just made them.

An extensive blog documents many of his projects from 2007 to 2015

Birk loved building steam engines, small scale models and whimsical creations of his own imagination, and he loved showing his amazing collection to visitors. Some of Birk's favorite visitors were kids, and he enjoyed watching their enthusiasm as they turned cranks, got their hair to stand on end, and dumped out a scoop of candy from a scale model Bucyrus-Erie steam shovel. He loved handing out slips of paper with his blog to everyone he met, directing people to his blog at http://birkpetersens.blogspot.com. There is also a heart-warming video of him interacting with children to demonstrate some of his projects at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hICeTcwODeA.

Birk liked to control every aspect of the design and building process. Here he is pouring molten aluminum into a sand casting pattern to create a cast part for one of his engines or toys. (Click on photo to view a larger image.)

Birk's carport, garage and several outbuildings in his yard were packed on every wall from floor to ceiling (and on the ceiling) with tools and treasures he had collected. Here you see just a small portion of the well-displayed collections from tools to typeriters and keys to bells. (Click on either photo to view a larger image.)

Not just a builder, but also a collector of all things mechanical

Birk was also a collector of all things mechanical. His garage, carport and shop buildings were covered with items he collected--from egg beaters to meat grinders to can openers to gears, sprockets and even faucet handles. If one was good, 20 were better. Despite the sophistication of his talents, the tools in his shop were not the reason for his excellent results. He had an extensive collection of hand tools as well as the basic machine shop tools like a milling machine, lathe, grinders and saws, but they weren't fancy brand names. The results came from his craftsman's skills and not just from the tools. Machining was done without the aid of computer controls as well.

Birk presents a gun to one of his granddaughters. The stock is hand carved with a scene of a squirrel and leaves. Birk was not only able to create pistols and rifles in full size as well as in miniature, he was also an avid hunter himself. (Click on photo to view a larger image.)

Toys to delight children and jokes to amuse them were a specialty

Birk's sense of humor was evident in many of his creations. He loved puns, and some of his small "joke" projects include a tiny coffin with a bolt in it entitled "Dead Bolt," a small hammer attached to a cloths pin that hammers on a 25-cent coin entitled "Quarter Pounder," and a small film canister labeled "Stool Sample" that contains, you guessed it, a small wooden stool. His crank-activated mechanical animations include a farmer milking a cow, a shoemaker pounding nails into a shoe, chickens laying eggs and a demonstration of just about every conceivable kind of geared motion.

Birk's hobbies include restoring and remanufacturing antique machinery. He has built projects from saw mills, steam and gas engines, rifles and pistols as well as a clever collection of hand cranked animated toys that delight children and adults alike with their color and action. He has also published articles on some of his projects in magazines like ModelTech, The Home Shop Machinist, Machinist's Workshop and Live Steam.

Involvement with Scouting was a lifelong passion

Birk was heavily involved in the Boy Scouts for over 30 years and served as a scoutmaster and a merit badge councilor for over 20 different merit badges. He received the Silver Beaver award for his participation. Under his tutelage, over 150 boys moved through the scouting ranks to achieve the top rank of Eagle Scout.

A life that exercised his mind and his body

When he built projects for his hobby, the design period often included reading about and learning new processes and techniques. His library of technical information was impressive. (It is now also available to visitors at the Craftsmanship Museum as part of our library.) As to keeping fit physically, before retirement, Birk's dedication to health and exercise included riding his bicycle to work every day. The ten-mile round trip wore out two bicycles while he logged over 40,000 miles on a third. Though he could easily have motorized it, he invented a bicycle powered lawn mower to cut his grass so it still involved some exercise.

Birk was a youthful 82 when he passed away from complications of surgery after falling from a ladder while working at his home. He had been attaching a thermometer outside his bedroom window so he could tell how warmly to dress for the day's walk when he fell from a ladder, breaking his hip. Looking at the vast number of projects he created over his lifetime, one can only wonder how many more projects he might have produced. He had certainly mastered many facets of design, engineering and production. Thankfully for the public, his family has kindly donated most of his life's work for display at the Miniature Engineering Craftsmanship Museum in Carlsbad, CA. Visitors can crank the handles for themselves and watch the chickens laying eggs and the shoemaker pounding nails. The beautiful carousel for which he carved all the animals and which features photos of all his kids and grandkids still spins and plays tunes to captivate all who see it, just as Birk intended.

Birk Petersen at a show explaining how his hand-cranked box organ works. On a table behind him are some of this other engines. Seeing others enjoy his work was his reward. (Click on photo to view a larger image.)

Here is a partial sample of the wide variety of Birk Petersen's work:

(Click photos for larger images.)

Operational Bucyrus steam shovel model. The original was built in 1912. Birk's model was used to dispense candy from the bucket into the hands of visiting neighborhood children.
Bucyrus-Erie 22W well drilling rig. This working model was built from dimensions taken from a real working version owned by a neighbor of Birk's. He made a second model for the neighbor. The rig drills not by turning a drill bit, but by repeadedly raising and dropping a heavy rod with a hardened head to pulverize the rock and dirt in the shaft. Water is then pumped in and the slurry of pulverized rock is withdrawn before continuing. This method of well drilling goes back to Roman times and is still in use.

1/4 scale Case 65 HP steam tractor

Birk completed this quarter scale model in 1982, and the boiler was tested to 475 psi. It took over three years to build. He started with a set of castings and plans and did all the machining, assembly and painting himself. It has been operated at many tractor shows over the years.

The Case Corporation was founded by J.I. Case and operated for over 160 years. In the late 1800's Case was the America's largest builders of steam engines and self-propelled portable engines, traction engines an steam tractors.

1/2 scale 1919 Samson "Iron Horse" Tractor

This model was based on a prototype owned by Bill Oester of Scappoose, OR. Samsons were built by General Motors Corporation and powered by a 490 cubic inch Chevrolet engine. (Birk's is powered by a lawn mower engine.) The prototype Birk measured for this model is one of only four known to exist. The third photo at the left shows Birk riding behind his Samson at a show on a small trailer he built to resemble a plow. (Sorry, small photo.)

The Samson "Iron Horse" was an early attempt to ease the fear of farmers who were used to walking behind a team of horses to do farm work. It was operated by a set of reins that were pulled to steer the tractor. At the time, the cost of the Samson was less than the annual cost of maintaining a team of three horses, but reliability problems with the belt system led to poor sales. Eventually GM chalked it up to a $30 million failure.

Buffalo Springfield Steam Roller

This massive model duplicates in miniature one of the early pieces of road working equipment, the steam roller, used for flattening the surface of roads. Birk's accurate working model even includes an umbrella to shade the operator. Birk did all the castings himself including the ornate driver's seat. The museum display also includes his original hand-carved wooden pattern for the seat.

Dual horizontal steam engine driven riverboat paddle wheel
The "South-facing chariot" was designed in ancient china. A set of gears attached to each wheel measures the differential in wheel travel when the chariot turns. The figure on top is set to point South at the beginning of the journey. On roads with a decent surface, the gears will always keep the figure pointing to the south. This was before the magnetic compass was invented and long before GPS. Birk injected his sense of humor by replacing the figure of the pointing emperor with Daffy Duck.

This animated figure is called "The Shoemaker." When the crank on the right is turned, he grabs a nail, moves it to the shoe and pounds it in. His head turns too. All movements are controlled by the rotating grooved barrel under the "floor." This is just one of many animated figures that Birk hand carved.

Called the "8 stomp or' Mill" it features four figures jumping rope. Two bells are rung with each turn of the handwheel. On the top a bird flies on one side while a small carousel turns on the other side. Birk did all the castings and carved figures himself.

"The Cockadoodle Egg Company"

This animated farm scene is activated by turning a handle on the right side. When you do, a stream of "eggs" (steel balls) starts rolling down the rows of chickens, who bob their heads up and down. The eggs are collected in a basket and re-circulated as long as you keep cranking the handle.

"Scatter/Gather"

An interesting set of cams goes to work when you turn the hand crank. The 12 faces start out all aligned in a straight line. As the handle is turned they all go out of alignment to form a crazy pattern, but if you keep turning they eventually all come back into perfect alignment.

"The Gym"

Seven hand-carved wooden figures go about varying exercise routines when you turn the crank. One wiggles on a motorized "fat shaker" while others do situps, pushups, lift weights or work a hula hoop. Underneath a clever series of rods on cams drives the movements above.

"Where Milk Comes From"

This animated, hand-cranked toy features a farmer milking a cow. When you turn the crank the farmer milks the cow while the cow wags its tail. Birk hand-lettered the sign on the fence.

"Runners on the Road"

Cranking the handle on this animated toy raises steel balls up a chute to the top where they run down tracks beneath the hand carved wooden "runners'" feet, making them appear to run in place. A shuttle at the top of the run causes balls to run in alternating chutes moving the left and right runners' legs.

"Egg Drop Soup"

Birk designed this toy and cast the birds himself. A crank raises a tube full of steel balls from bottom to top and then lets one at a time fall into the first bird's mouth. The weight causes the bird to bend over, passing the ball to the mouth of the bird below. Eight birds later the ball is returned to the "soup" cup to be recycled as they are cranked back to the top. It's lots of fun to watch the balls being passed from colorful, hand painted bird to bird.

Railroad Section Car

Often called a "hand car" this model actually drives the wheels when the two carved railroad workers pump the handles up and down. It was a way for railroad workers to inspect or repair track without having to walk long distances. It could be run onto a siding or carried off the track by two strong workers if a train was coming.

"The Machine"

This hand-cranked mechanical contrivance demonstrates just about every kind of geared motion you can imagine...and some you can't. Inside are offset gears canted at an angle to each other, yet they still mesh perfectly as they turn. The main shafts driven by the main gears power all sorts of continuous and intermittent motions on each side of the case as well as a flyball regulator on the top. With all those inter-related geared connections, if any one of them were not well engineered the crank could be come very difficult or impossible to turn, but it turns easily and smoothly at all positions.

Replica antique brass wall clock. The clock is driven by weights hanging below the face and regulated by a swinging pendulum.

Egg Timer

This gravity powered brass geared clock was designed to be like a stopwatch for timing the cooking of hard boiled eggs. It can be set from 1 minute to 6 minutes. Once the pendulum is started it counts down the time and then rings a bell at the end of the time period.

Panther Pup gas engine

This all brass 4-cylinder, 4-cylce inline model engine was built from plans drawn by Bill Reichart. Two castings were available along with the plans, but Birk chose to cast his own parts and then did all the machining and assembly himself.

Miniature pedal-powered grinding wheel. The wheel is only about 2" in diameter. This is the way knives and tools were sharpened before electric motors.

Wooden Padlock

This project duplicates the function of a key-locked padlock. It is about 4" wide.

1/2 scale Winchester Model 1892 44-40 lever action rifle. The half size rifle is chambered for .22 cal rounds.
Underhammer "Gator" pistol features an aligator figure carved on the wooden handle. Unlike most caplock pistol designs, this version has the hammer and percussion cap underneath the barrel rather than on top.
Miniature revolver. This tiny five-shot revolver fires .22 cal. rounds.

1.5 Scale Remington .66 cal. Navy Revolver

Many people build miniature guns, but who builds giant size guns? Birk Petersen supersized this old revolver to one and a half times regular size, and it weighs over 12 pounds. He called it the "Good Guys" gun, because bad guys taking one look at it would suddenly turn into good guys. (It is fully functional but has no firing pin.)

Elgin Navy Cutlass Pistol

Early black powder caplock pistols took a long time to load. Basically you got one shot in a pitched battle. After that you were on your own. The navy saw fit to design a pistol that also had a knife blade mounted underneath the barrel so that it could still be used as a weapon once it was fired. This full-size .54 cal. replica accurately duplicates the original.

Jim Bowie had become a frontier legend based on his famous knife. George Elgin patented the Bowie Knife on July 5, 1837. With this patent, Allen combined the blade and a caplock pistol to produce this type of dual-purpose weapon. It was the first percussion handgun officially used by the U.S. military and the only knife pistol used by a U.S. military service. There were only 150 produced on Navy Contract.

Naval Deck Gun model

Birk modeled this Naval deck gun in .22 Caliber. All the controls to rotate and elevate the barrel are functional.

1/3 scale Gatling Gun

This functional 1/3 scale Gatling gun was designed to fire .22 caliber bullets. It is mounted on a tripod and features a gravity feed magazine on top. Because it is gravity fed and hand cranked, the ATF does not consider it a "machine gun" and it is legal to build and own. Plans for 1/3 and 1/2 scale Gatling guns have been on the market for over 30 years.

Large Artillary Canon

A model of a field artillary cannon, Birk built this to a high level of accuracy. Even the wooden spoked wheels have the correct amount of spoke-to-rim offset so they would not come apart during cornering when being towed. It is accompanied by the appropriated barrel cleaning and loading tools as well.

Stevens "Marksman" .22 Boy's Rifle

Birk made this fine replica of a Stevens "Marksman" .22 from scratch. It features a stock that hinges at the breech to allow loading of a single .22 round at a time.

Stevens "Crack Shot" .22 Boy's Rifle

Birk also made this similar Stevens "Crack Shot" replica. It features a rolling block type mechanism that allows a .22 round to be loaded without hinging the center of the gun.

Kaleidoscope

This kaleidoscope uses a prism lens to segment the viewing area into repeating patterns. Colored objects like buttons and marbles are placed on the target surface and the user looks through the lens at them. The prisim creates intricate patterns as the lens is turned. Varying the objects also changes the patterns. Birk's  ornate version is made from turned wood and brass.

Miniature punch press

A small model of an industrial press that presses metal into shapes over a die or cuts them out. This electrically powered small press actually works to form metal.

Cord Wood Saw

A small model of a belt-drive saw that would have been used to saw up firewood.

Eight-pound "Baby" steam engine

Cement Mixer

Built from plans by Rudy Kouhoupt, Birk also included a hand-made wheelbarrow in the same scale.

Model of James Watt's beam engine

The Watt steam engine (alternatively known as the Boulton and Watt steam engine) was the first type of steam engine to make use of a separate condenser. It was a vacuum or "atmospheric" engine using steam at a pressure just above atmospheric to create a partial vacuum beneath the piston. The difference between atmospheric pressure above the piston and the partial vacuum below drove the piston down the cylinder. James Watt avoided the use of high pressure steam because of safety concerns.

The Watt steam engine, developed sporadically from 1763 to 1775, was an improvement on the design of the Newcomen engine and was a key point in the Industrial Revolution.

Watt's two most important improvements were the separate condenser and rotary motion.

Joseph Bernay's steam engine of 1878

Birk noted that most instructions for building steam engines state that they should be placed on a heavy "footing" or base. Birk took them literally and mounted this engine to a carved figure of a foot! The invention consisted of a two-cylinder engine, in which the crank rocks the triangular connecting rod back and forth creating no dead point in the engine's rotation.

Stirling's First Engine

The Stirling heat cycle engine was invented by Robert Stirling, a Scottish minister. Originally conceived in 1816 as an industrial prime mover to rival the steam engine, its practical use was largely confined to low-power domestic applications for over a century.

Stirling engines have a high efficiency compared to steam engines, being able to reach 50% efficiency. They are also capable of quiet operation and can use almost any heat source. The heat energy source is generated external to the Stirling engine rather than by internal combustion as with the Otto cycle or Diesel cycle engines. Though Stirling engines have been build in many configurations over the past two centuries, this was model shows Stirling's first design.

Twin cylinder geared oscillating steam engine

Hand operated water pump

This is like they used to have on the farm to hand pump water from a well. Birk also built an electric powered pump that is on display along with this one.

"Mini Weed" engine

This is a 2/3 scale version of a vintage toy model steam engine produced by Weeden.

"Little Eric Nordevall" Steam Engine

The paddlewheel steam boat Eric Nordevall was launched in August 1836 in Sweden and towed to Motala Verkstad in Motala where the steam engines and paddle wheels were installed. The steam engines were of a side lever design and developed 17 horsepower each. This is a model of the steam engine used in that ship.

"First Engine of 2012"

The first engine Birk built in 2012 was this small marine type steam engine from plans in a 1961 Popular Science magazine. He put a nice engine-turned finish on the block to give it a special craftsman's touch.

Comber rotary engine (second version)

Birk notes in his blog, "After working on it since the first part of September, on the 16th I completed a model of a Comber rotary engine using plans taken from the book "Elmer's Engines." Although it would spin free and easy when turned by hand, it refused to even try to run when air pressure was applied--even up to 120psi. Needless to say I was quite disappointed." His frined Mike Nay did some research and fond others who had experienced the same problem. He ended up rebuilding part of the engine to increase the cylinder bore by 1/16" and reducing the rotary valve by 3/16" diameter. That change made all the difference. It ran on almost no air pressure at all.

Van de Graaff Generator

Static electricity generated by  this machine will literally cause your hair to stand on end. It is an electrostatic generator that uses a moving belt to accumulate electric charge on a hollow metal globe on the top of an insulated column, creating very high electric potentials. It produces very high voltage direct current (DC) electricity at low current levels. It was invented by American physicist Robert J. van de Graaff in 1929. The potential difference achieved in modern Van de Graaff generators can reach 5 megavolts. A tabletop version like this can produce on the order of 100,000 volts and can store enough energy to produce a visible spark.

Whimshurst Generator

The Wimshurst influence machine is an electrostatic generator, a machine for generating high voltages developed between 1880 and 1883 by British inventor James Whimshurst (1832–1903).

It has a distinctive appearance with two large contra-rotating discs mounted in a vertical plane, two crossed bars with metallic brushes, and a spark gap formed by two metal spheres. Versions of this machine often appeared in early science fiction movies as equipment in a mad scientists lab, generating impressively large sparks.

"Fire Code"

Birk developed this tongue-in-cheek emergency device to be used in case of fire. Just break the glass and toast the two marshmallows over the fire. This is a perfect illustration of how Birk would often weave his sense of humor into his projects.

Mini Steam Engine

This engine was photographed sitting atop a US Quarter to illustrate its small size. The brass engine is the second-smallest of Birk's steam projects.

Thimble Steam Engine in a jar

This is Birk's smallest engine. The oscillating micro steam engine itself sits atop a boiler made from a sewing thimble. Under that is a tiny alcohol burner to boil water to create the steam. The entire steam plant is mounted to the lid of a plastic pill container.

Carousel

This large 24" diameter carousel plays music, lights up and rotates while the carved figures go up and down just like on the real thing. The carousel was actually invented so that mounted French cavalry soldiers could practice riding while battling straw-filled manequins on the ground with their swords, but they soon became a favorite ride at circuses and fairs. Birk's model is personalized with photos of his whole family all around the outside of the upper facade. Volume and choice of music are operated from a wireless remote—a modern touch on an antique attraction.

Box Organ

Birk carved each of the whistles and made the pump diaphragm to build this hand-cranked organ. Air is pumped through holes in a rotating roll of paper like a player piano role that is hand cranked. The holes allow air to flow to the various length tuned whistles to play a tune. It has the circus sound of a steam powered calliope.

Bourbouze Beam Engine (Magnetic coil engine)

In the late 1700's and early 1800's many experiments with recently discovered electricity were taking place. In 1845, one industrious entrepreneur by the name of Bourbouze, wanted to capitalize on the electric coil "solenoid effect" in a grand manner. He envisioned solenoid driven crankshaft engines powered by rooms full of batteries as an alternative to the then current steam power. So Bourbouze removed the cylinder, piston and valve system from a steam engine and replaced them with a large electric coil, a plunger, a switch arrangement for timing. The engine worked, but there wasn't enough sulfuric acid and zinc available in quantity for the batteries to meet the need and to compete with the low cost, readily available coal for steam engines. So, like many other early ideas and inventions, the electro-magnetic engine was short lived. The efficiency of the early steam engine and the electro-magnetic engine were about the same at 20-25%, as compared to the later well-developed DC motor at 95%, and the AC Motor at 89%.

Hydraulic Ram Pump

Birk designed and cast this small example of a clever way to raise water to a higher elevation by using the weight of the water itself. A portion of the water is spilled in the process, but if you have a plentiful source of water this is not a problem.

In 1772, John Whitehurst of Cheshire, UK invented a manually controlled precursor of the hydraulic ram called the "pulsation engine" and installed the first one at Oulton, Cheshire to raise water to a height of 4.9 metres (16 ft). The first self-acting ram pump was invented by the Frenchman Joseph Michel Montgolfier (best known as a co-inventor of the hot air balloon) in 1796 for raising water in his paper mill at Voiron. His friend  Matthew Boulton took out a British patent on his behalf in 1797. The sons of Montgolfier obtained a British patent for an improved version in 1816.

Workbench and tools

This tiny wooden workbench features a hand operated metal "shaper" attached to the benchtop. This was an early form of milling machine. A vise is attached to the right side of the bench. The vertical back of the bench contains a host of small handmade tools including an auger drill, hammer, wrenches, chisels, screwdrivers, pliers and more.

Olds Hit-N-Miss Engine

Hit-n-miss engines get their name from the sound they make when they run. There is no throttle control on the carburetor, but when the engine revs to a certain speed, a centrifugal regulator operates a lever that opens the exhaust valve, causing lack of compression and the engine slows back down. when a load is placed on the engine and it cannot rev as fast, it fires more often, trying to keep a constant speed. They were popular on the farm before electricity was commonly available as workhorse engines that drove everything from pumps to wash machines. The castings for this engine were done by Paul Breisch, and Birk did all the machining and assembly.

"Grasshopper" half-beam engine

This type of steam engine gets it's name from the beam that goes up and down to drive the flywheel. The motion looks much like a grasshopper moving its legs.

Ann Arbor Hay Press

This model represents a piece of farm equipment that was used to scoop up cut hay and compress t into bales for easier handling. Birk's model duplicates all the functions of the real horse-drawn machine. Four workers were required to fork in the hay and tie off the wire to bundle the bales. Lather machines did all that automatically.

"New Idea" manure spreader model

Russell grader model

Tractor and plow model

Steam Hammer

This heavy duty miniature is a model of a factory machine used to shape metal by pounding it. Birk started with raw castings made by Paul Breisch.

Stirling Powered Fan

Before electricity was commonly available in rural areas there was no air conditioning or even electric fans to keep cool in the summer. The invention of the Stirling heat cycle engine changed that. Using the differential in heat from one part of the engine to another, just the heat from a candle flame was sufficient to turn a fan to move air in a stuffy room.

Maytag Wash Machine Engine

While early wash machines on farms were often powered by a leather belt driven by the flywheel of a gas powered hit-n-miss engine, Maytag devolped a compact kick-start engine for its wash machines. Crude by today's standards, it was a welcome advance at the time. Birk did all the castings and machining on this model engine and even accurately duplicated the Maytag logo in the castings. We also have on file his complete set of mechanical drawings for the engine.

Fun jokes and plays on words

Birk loved a good pun and illustrated a few here. From upper left going clockwise they are:

1. "Dead Bolt," 2. "Stool Sample," 3. "Tax Shelter," 4. "Quarter Pounder," 5. Two-headed bolt puzzle, 6. Another two-headed bolt puzzle, 7, "Dime and Ring". (As in the other photos, a US Quarter is used to provide a size refernce.)

Spoon Birds

Birk expressed his artistic side with these small sculptures of birds made from silver spoons.

Frisbee Toy Engine Replica

Modeled after the J&E Stevens Frisbee toy engine, Birk did all his own castings.

Elbow Engine

An elbow engine is a piston-based engine typically fed by steam or compressed air to drive a flywheel and/or mechanical load. It is based on a mechanism known as a Hobson's joint. Although not commonly used today for practical purposes, it is still built by hobbyists for its uniqueness and unusual motion.

Principle of operationElbow engines have two rotating, circular, cylinder blocks. Each block contains a ring of parallel cylinders and can itself rotate on a central axis, similar to a revolver cylinder. The two blocks are placed at 90° to each other. Each piston is L-shaped, and circular in cross section with one end fitted into each cylinder block. The two cylinder blocks rotate together, coupled only by the pistons. Engine output is taken from the rotation of one cylinder block.

Pressure is supplied to each cylinder at the point where the pistons are at a stage of upward travel, and an opening to exhaust is provided where the pistons are at their descent. The rotation of the cylinders provides the valving effect necessary for operation; the pressure feeds and exhaust remain stationary. This compounded with the fact that each shaft features two pistons results in a low number of moving parts.

"Which Way" Engine

On this unusual engine, two pairs of flywheels at either end are driven by two pistons operating  opposed to each other in a single cylinder. Because of the way they are connected, one flywheel will turn constantly in one direction, while the other flywheel can rotate in either direction.

"Mousie Surprise"

When you follow the instruction written on the lid of the case and pull back the lid using the little handle on top, a furry "mouse" pops out of the box to nibble on your finger. Yikes!

Casting samples

Shown here is a demonstration of how casting is done, including the pattern board, patterns, a raw casting set made from the patterns and a partially assembled small steam engine made from the castings. Birk was a master of every stage of the casting process.

Yard Art

Not all of Birk's projects involved machining. He also like to build sculptures for decoration in his yard. There were odd animals, wind-activated sculptures, garden decor and the "troll houses" shown at the left.

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New Submissions Welcomed

If you have additional information on a project or builder shown on this site that your would like to contribute, please e-mail craig@CraftsmanshipMuseum.com. We also welcome new contributions. Please see our page at www.CraftsmanshipMuseum.com/newsubmit.htm for a submission form and guidelines for submitting descriptive copy and photos for a new project.

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This section is sponsored by (sponsorship available).

(Your company logo and a link to your web site could go here)

To learn how your company or organization can sponsor a section in the Craftsmanship Museum, please contact craig@CraftsmanshipMuseum.com.

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