James Booth's Rectilinear Engine, circa 1843 (castings by Bruce Engineering)
United Kingdom - Manufacture date: 2000
Bore =2", Stroke 2", Flywheel diameter = 9"
Style: Double Acting, Vertical Rectilinear Engine

12" length x 9" width x 11" height

The James Booth Rectilinear Engine

Sometimes a Steam Engine is just simply so different in design that you have to stop and wonder that it works at all. Such is the case with this fascinating James Booth engine from Bruce Engineering. I've bought several quality engines from an elderly fellow, named Bob, who lives in Washington state. The Double Tangye and the Williamson Pedestal on this site are 2 very fine testaments to his skills. At 82, Bob isn't afraid to tackle even the most challenging designs, as long as he can get downstairs to his beloved machine tools.

Bob recently made the difficult decision to begin breaking up his unique collection of handmade engines, and he contacted me asking if I'd be interested in acquiring a couple of his more unusual pieces.

As you've probably have guessed by now, I'm a sucker for unusual steam engines, and they just don't get much more so than when Bob has had a hand in their construction. Some friendly negotiations were undertaken and I purchased this engine and the Curved Cylinder machine shown elsewhere on this site.

Bob warned me that this project had been a tough one, not only due to the complexity of the design, but because of  the aluminum alloy used in the frame castings. The castings had been overly soft, causing a significant number of tool marks to be left on them as he worked on the engine. He wasn't fooling. While the engine ran smoothly, it looked a bit rough, with some fairly significant cuts in castings.

Restoration began with removing tool marks

Polished  Surfaces after Restoration 

A bottom view of the Crosshead Guides

I decided to take the little engine down and see what could be done to make things better. I took a good number of photos before disassembling the engine, so I'd have a guide to putting things back together if things got confusing. ( a hard learned lesson). The next step was to determine where it was safe to remove metal and where the critical tolerance points were. You can polish away a quite a bit of metal as long as you avoid those places where it would change the critical alignments within the machine.

Once I was sure what to leave alone, I took everything apart and work began to remove the offending cuts in the castings. The polishing process began with coarse emery cloth.  From there the base, all the of castings, columns, fly wheels and the cross head guides were put through an ever finer series of sanding and polishing steps, culminating with a final round of MAAS polish to make things really glow.

I'd become familiar with how the pieces fit together, but alignments proved to be extremely critical. Everything had to be positioned just right or friction became a problem. Several hours of adjustments passed with tweaking the columns, the support frames and the pillow blocks until the effort finally yielded a smooth running machine The results of the heavy sanding and polishing were well worth all of the time and energy it required. It converted the engine into a sparkling jewel.

A view of the New Brick Floor Display

I'd already decided this engine was completed when my wife asked me to accompany her to a local "artsy crafty" type of store here in town. Since the place is not known for stocking a lot "manly" things, I was less than thrilled, although resigned to getting through the ordeal. We had been in the store the larger part of an eternity when we turned onto a particular aisle.

My mind suddenly went into overdrive. We're talking a throttle failure kind of runaway condition here. There on the shelves were all kinds of 1" scale items. Everything from the miniature real clay bricks shown here to little tiny lumber, trim and a vast array of "period" items all in perfect miniature. It seems The Doll House hobbyists have a treasure trove of items which lend themselves to creating some astoundingly nice displays for steam engines as well as dolls. The diorama display possibilities are mind boggling.

A hundred dollar bill later, I had in hand, the bricks, grout, a hardwood base, 2 styles of basswood trim, a tiny wooden toolbox with miniature hand tools, plus a shovel, pick and a rake for the Minnie traction engine. I thought steam engines were an expensive habit. Those poor doll house addicts really pay through the nose. Next time you get the opportunity, wander through the Doll House hobby section of your local craft store and you'll really be surprised at what you find.

Some History on the James Booth Rectilinear Engine
The idea behind the use of the Rectilinear design appears to have been "miniaturization. The normal configuration of a standard horizontal steam engine in 1843 required a good deal of space, due to the use of a connecting rod.

James Booth  wanted to create a large engine that would still allow for applications in compact spaces. The use of "Rectilinear Motion" (click here to see an animated demonstration) allowed him to convert the linear motion of the cylinder into rotation to power the flywheels in a relatively small amount of space. The result of his work was a design that was both more complex than the normal double acting engine, and one that  would have required much more maintanence to keep it running.  While there are no known records to indicate that a full scale engine of this design was ever built, anecdotal information from a couple of UK steam lovers indicates this type engine was used on some of the early old steam operated fire wagons in the UK.


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