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Century old engine finds a new home in Alberta

Century old engine finds a new home in Alberta

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Once powered the Sapawe – Upper Seine gold mine here

“I’m a big collector of antique engines and tractors – that’s my thing,” said Lynn Tessier, an engineer based in Eckville, Alberta.

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A few years ago, he got wind of a very large, oil-fired engine in the bush northeast of Atikokan, at the old Sawbill – Upper Seine gold mine site.

“Even before we saw it, we started researching,” said Tessier.

It’s an Imperial Keighley two-cylinder engine, likely rated in the 200 to 220 horsepower range. It was manufactured in England by the Keighley Oil and Gas Engine Co., which operated in southern England from 1908 to 1928. In 1914 it began production of horizontal engines of this type, and produced them in 1, 2, and 4 cylinder versions ranging in power from 100 hp to 480 hp. Imperial Keighley advertised these engines as being able to operate on refined, semi-refined, crude, or residual fuel oils.

“There are [very] few in existence, especially in Canada. I believe it is unique…”

His research indicates the engine was probably first installed at a cotton mill in the southern U.S. He’s also found evidence of a Keighley dealer in Toronto in the late 1930s – years after the original company in England had closed – suggesting there was a huge market for them in used condition. That’s likely where the proprietors of the old gold mine found it.

A gold mine operated at Sawbill during the original gold rush here just before the turn of the 20th century. It was revived for several years in 1938, and that’s when this Imperial Keighley was installed; likely to power the draw works to lift ore out of the mine and transfer it to the mill.

“Three years ago, a couple of friends canoed in and found it, and sent me pictures. Pretty soon we were talking about how to get it out,” said Tessier.

He got to the site in March of this year, and found that “a number of smaller components were missing, there was significant corrosion damage to many of the components, and the crankshaft was broken. Despite these issues, the engine was sufficiently complete and in good enough condition that it can be repaired and brought back to operating condition.”

The broken crankshaft, on which a crude repair was attempted, is probably why the engine was not removed with the rest of the major mining equipment.

Working with Lanny Cross and Bud Dickson, Tessier started making plans. (Osisko had identified the engine as an historic and cultural resource during archeological studies that were part of the environmental assessment for the modern mine.)

Canadian Malartic finally agreed to let Tessier take the engine, when he developed a plan to move the 30-ton unit to Alberta, where it would be restored and displayed at the Central Alberta Antique and Model Club grounds in Leslieville.

That move took place in August. Cross upgraded several kilometres of bush road so a crane could be brought in for the three heavy lifts (flywheel, crankshaft, cylinders) involved. Tessier and his ‘crew’ – his brother Adrian Tessier, his Thunder Bay friend Bill Mersereau, Ron Johnson (Exshaw, AB), and Lynn’s wife Rhonda – fashioned a range of cradles and other elements to ensure the engine parts would make the 2,000 km trip safely.

After some adventures in transportation, and about $20,000 in expenses, the old engine arrived successfully, and is now stored in a warehouse in Didsbury, Alberta.

“We took thousands of pictures as we disassembled it,” said Tessier. They’ll serve as a guide to its re-assembly.

Still searching

“The engine has generated a tremendous amount of interest, that’s for sure,” he said. But so far, not much in the way of detail on its provenance. Imperial Keighley engines are popular with collectors and clubs in the U.S., but “they’re all small engines, less than 10 hp. You don’t see much anywhere on these bigger ones,” said Tessier.

“We have no technical data, and the name and data plates [usually fashioned of brass] have been removed. Somebody must have those – they would be nice collectibles. We’d like to buy them back, or at least get pictures so we could replicate them.”

“Drawings would be nice, or even old photographs of the engine in operation… Someone must have them stored away.”

He’s posted pictures of the disassembly and move on SmokeStak.com, a bulletin board site for old engine fanciers. If you can help with old photos, or know where this engine’s name plate might be (there’s also a cast iron cover for the governor; someone may have snapped that up as a collectible), or would like to make a donation to the cause (he estimates the final bill for rescuing the engine will be in the range of $100,000), Tessier would love to hear about it. Contact him at his business, moose.engineering@gmail.com

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