Where Vintage Engines Come to Live Again
If you follow Vintage Smoke you will know we’ve covered engines from the Coolspring Power Museum several times and there are many more lined up for future articles. It’s truly a magical place for discovering and learning about the early days of internal combustion engines. It’s grown from a handful of engines in 1967, to an internationally recognized museum that was designated a Heritage Landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
There are nearly 300 engines at Coolspring, many of them in running condition. Operated and maintained by a dedicated group of volunteers, they run the gamut of engines from the late 1800s into the mid-20th Century. Most are stationary powerplants but you will see marine and automotive engines as well and the collection continues to expand in scope as space is available. There are currently 20 buildings, most plumbed with air for starting, water for cooling and natural gas for those engines that need it. A collection of vehicles is also on display and if you visit during one of several shows held during the season, you can see more vehicles brought in for display. During our visit, there was even a locally built diesel locomotive being shown, hauled in on the back of a truck.
A Young Man’s Interest
What eventually became the Coolspring Power Museum started in the mid 1960s as a private collection. You might say it got a little out of hand, but that’s to the benefit of thousands of visitors over the years. The museum started in the mind of young Paul Harvey and encouraged by his father Earle. Earle was a Northwestern Pennsylvania farmer with an interest in early engines, an interest that was inherited by Paul. To Earle, the old engines were a step back into his own past but to Paul they were a step back into a time he had not personally experienced. In 1958, Paul started the collection with a 1-1/2 horse Hercules engine bought for $5.
The collection began growing enough to require a new building, which Earle allowed to be sited on the family farm. As that was coming together, the first outside engine was acquired in 1967 and that’s about the time Paul met John Wilcox, a like minded collector who soon became a mentor and lifelong friend. It wasn’t many years before another building went up, what is now called the Machine Works. It’s one of the first building you will see upon entering the facility. The collection grew and grew, even as Paul went off to college, becoming a medical doctor in general practice around the area where he grew up.
Things got serious in 1985, when the museum was organized and chartered as a non-profit. Volunteers were organized and the number of donations increased. Individuals and organizations placed engines there on loan, entrusting volunteers to maintain and operate them. Volunteers were also allowed to bring their own engines on a space-available basis, assuming the engine met basic curatorial criteria. In 2001, the 140,000 member American Society of Mechanical engineers (ASME) designated Coolspring a Mechanical Engineering Heritage Collection.
You Gotta Go!
If you enjoy internal combustion engines and their history, Coolspring, Pennsylvania, should be on your hot list of places to visit. They usually hold two big exhibition/flea markets events per year, spring and fall, plus at least one history day and car show, plus a number of open days when you can see volunteers hard at work on the facility and the engines. This part of Pennsylvania is also scenic, historic and well worth a visit on it’s own merits. We can only whet your appetite here on the technical marvels you can see at the Coolspring Power Museum but when you leave, you will know a lot more about internal combustion and diesel history and will have experienced the sights, sounds and smells of those thrilling days of yesteryear.