Cretors Model D Popcorn Engine
Chicago, IL, USA - Manufacture date: 1910
Bore = 1 1/2", Stroke 3", Flywheel diameter = 8"
Style: Double Acting, Horizontal

Dimensions: 23" length x 11 1/2" width x 12 1/2" height
(includes base)

The Cretors Model D Popcorn Engine


A
s sure as God made little green apples, anyone who has been interested in small steam engines for very long, eventually discovers the Cretors popcorn engine. Most of us immediately began lusting for one of our very own. These marvelous little machines are not scale models, but real world working steam engines. They were originally employed to provide the power and heat to operate popcorn machines and peanut roasters in concession wagons at fairs and carnivals, before electricity was common. These quaint wagons, and the more elaborate trucks which came later, were very colorful and ornately appointed vehicles. These engines were such crowd pleasers that they were still popular long after electricity became available to run the equipment.

The previous owner of this engine was a well known character around the western gun show circuits, by the name of S.P. Stevens. Mr Stevens, also known as "The Old Collector", ran the engine at gun shows for many years, making many friends among those who stopped by to see it. His final log entries for the engine indicate he was 84 when he showed the machine for the final season. He lived to enjoy the engine to the ripe old age of 87 before passing away. I'm told that this little Cretors was one of the most prized items, among a wide ranging collection of historical eclectia, he maintained as the "S.P. Stevens Museum of Early Texas History". Each time he ran the engine, he kept a log of the time it was fired, the amount of water added, the time the engine began to turn, run speeds and duration, time of shut down and the amount of water used. All of this information from the last show he attended came along with the engine.

"The Old Collector"
in Full Regalia

View of the Cretors before Restoration

Once I received the engine, my initial inspection confirmed I had purchased something a bit different from the normal Cretors I'd seen on Ebay. Most of these engines were bare bones, usually consisting only of a cylinder and flywheel assembly. It was the rare machine that even had the governor intact.

Not only were the throttle valve body, plumbing, exhaust stack and governor still with this engine, it had the original Cretors gauge and a whistle of proper scale. It also had a fairly complex oiler system. I made several inquiries among Cretors owners but none of them had seen this particular setup either. I was finally directed to Pearson & Company in Kansas which still offers original parts and does restorations for these old engines. They quickly confirmed the oiler was indeed original design but the whistle was a late addition to the engine. They also informed me the Model "C" I thought I had bought was actually a much more rare and desirable Model "D"

It is always a pleasure to work with a complete engine which is in basically good condition. Having no major missing parts or damage, such was the case with this engine. The restoration began with a full disassembly and extensive cleaning, as well as chemically stripping the old paint from the base and assorted parts of the engine. The Model D was heavily nickel plated when it was new, but age had taken its toll on the finish and mostly raw cast iron, brass and copper were exposed as the paint was removed. I considered having the engine re-plated but finally chose to leave the copper and brass look and simply refinish and paint the base. Lots of sanding with very fine paper soon had the cast iron base slick enough to begin priming. 5 layers of wet sanded primer coats were applied and wet sanded before the final 3 coats of gloss black were laid down.

The brass and copper were badly tarnished but with a large dose of elbow grease and a fresh tube of MAAS metal polish the bright metal surfaces were brought back to a high lustre. If you've never tried MAAS metal polish I can highly recommend it for cleaning and polishing everything from brass and copper to cast iron. The flywheel and other "silver" metal parts of this machine (except the oiler) are bare un-plated castings which have been hand polished to the level shown in these photos. A nice light coat of protective oil and the finish holds its sheen.

Plumbing, Oiler and Governor

Flywheel and Worm Gear Drive

The Model D is unusual in that the drive assembly is a worm gear design, milled from the single piece casting of the flywheel assembly. I'm told most Cretors Flywheel assemblies are made from single castings which include the shaft and crank, but apparently only the model D used this pinion style drive gear. The oiler system is not often seen and was never included on many of the Cretors machines.

All in all the little engine has survived nicely over more than 90 years to be reborn as you see it here. I'd like to think "The Old Collector" would approve of my restoration of his engine and that he'd enjoy seeing it proudly sparkle and shine as it once again goes on display for others to see.

I want to send a special thanks to Bob Eder, out in Texas, for making a special  effort to find this engine, in his words...."a proper new home."  I am still considering sending the base off for a fresh coat of copper and nickel, but for now the paint job will do. I'm now in search of an original Cretors Boiler if anyone happens upon one.

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