||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is withdrawn before continuing.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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
Stevens "Marksman" .22
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
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
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
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
Built from plans by Rudy
Kouhoupt, Birk also included a hand-made wheelbarrow in the same scale.
Model of James Watt's
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
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.
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"
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
"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
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
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.
Wimshurst influence machine is an electrostatic
generator, a machine for generating high voltages developed
between 1880 and 1883 by British inventor James Whimshurst
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.)
Birk expressed his artistic
side with these small sculptures of birds made from silver spoons.
Frisbee Toy Engine
Modeled after the J&E
Stevens Frisbee toy engine, Birk did all his own castings.
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
Principle of operation—Elbow 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.
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
"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.
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
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.
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.