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Superior Gas Engine - History and why no serial number data?


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Old 03-29-2014, 07:36:19 PM
Mike Murphy
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Default Superior Gas Engine - History and why no serial number data?

A Brief History of the Superior Gas Engine Company

And, “Why no serial number data for the early engines?”

Patrick J. Shouvlin was born in Ireland and emigrated to the US with his family, settling in Bethlehem, PA. When his father was killed in an accident at a steel mill, his mother moved the family west to Springfield, Ohio where she had relatives. Patrick, “PJ”, grew up there and apprenticed with a railroad maintenance shop before working his way west to Seattle via Illinois as a Master Mechanic on the CB&Q in the late 1880's...

After finding a bride, PJ headed back to Springfield where he set up shop making down-hole tools for the new oil boom in northwestern Ohio near Findlay. The boom having begun after the farmers who settled in the area took down most of the trees, fuel was expensive and an opening appeared where the new-fangled gas engine may provide useful service. Oil men using gas engines were buying what we consider today the finest of classic engines, but they did not serve well under the rough conditions in the field so PJ was one of the manufacturers who started to build more rugged engines for this tough service. Around 1892 the company name became the “Superior Gas Engine Company”, and development began on what would become the trade mark Superior oil field engine.

By the mid 1890's, the company had grown its sales and expanded into the East Street Shops in Springfield from a small factory on Washington Street, having made a big sale to the Ohio Oil Company in Findlay that would go on to become Marathon Oil Company. As Mid-westerners painfully know, that outfit is still going strong!

During this period, the engine that is familiar to collectors was taking form, with a side shaft operating valves in two chambers forming a “tee” head combining throttle governing with strong, simple construction. There is at least one early Superior engine that survives today with hit and miss governing, but that engine is a very rare bird indeed. Superior continued to supply the oil field and industry with a simple, stout engine for rough duty service and a mill version suited for powering small factories and grain mills.

In 1894, several suppliers of oil field equipment got together to form the National Supply Company, headquartered in Pittsburgh. PJ Shouvlin was involved with the creation and operation of this company because it would improve distribution of his engines throughout the ever-expanding oil fields. As new fields were discovered and developed, National Supply was not far behind offering the equipment needed to bring the fields into production. National Supply would figure prominently in the future of Superior as the years advanced.

In 1900, the company had outgrown its factory setting and moved further out of town and in 1904 the company moved again to 1401 Sheridan Avenue, its final location. By the 25th anniversary of the company in 1914, Superior offered a line of standard engines from 20 to 100 horsepower, and it offered hopper and tank cooled engines from 2.5 to 15 horsepower as stationary power and cart-mounted portables as well.

Throughout the 'teens, Shouvlin became interested in the growing market for oil engines, noting their improved efficiency over their gas-fueled cousins. Introducing the “PS” line of oil engines in 1920, Shouvlin used it as a stepping stone into the arena of the high pressure engine pioneered by Rudolf Diesel 20 years earlier. Since most of the work on high pressure oil engines was going on in Europe, PJ looked into a licensing arrangement with manufacturers on that continent. In 1917, when the US entered World War I, the Otto Gas Engine Works (ex-Schleicher-Schumm) was confiscated by the government as an enemy-alien owned business, and in 1923 the assets of the company were auctioned off. Shouvlin and Superior were the top bidders, and this acquisition allowed Superior to enter into the Diesel market, because the Otto works were building diesel engines in coordination with the parent company in Germany. After the purchase of the company, Superior worked out a licensing arrangement with Deutz in Germany to develop engines and fuel systems, but eventually Superior let the license expire and went its own way with diesel engine development. By 1926, Superior had developed a line of diesel engines, offering them to a variety of markets, including Cuban sugar mills. Around this time the word “Gas” was dropped from the name of the company, and it became the Superior Engine Company.

If you look closely at the nameplates on the two large Otto engines at Coolspring (the 175 HP and 50 HP diesel) you will see that they indicate that Otto was a division of the Superior Gas Engine Company. If you look at the tag on the 35 HP Otto diesel at Rough and Tumble, those words do not appear as it was built in 1923, the same year as the acquisition of Otto by Superior.

In 1928, the family management structure of Superior changed when PJ sold the company to National Supply in a stock swap deal that left him as the largest shareholder of National Supply. PJ and his four sons ran the engine business, and after the National Supply deal, PJ remained as president of the Superior Engine division of National Supply. His son Ray stayed at the helm of the Otto division in Philadelphia.

During the Depression, Superior continued to develop diesel engines, and continued to offer a wide range of engines and integral engine/compressor units to the oil fields and industrial markets. Diesel engines were now finding more uses in the oil field, and Superior introduced the “PTD” line of engines specifically for drilling operations. During this period, Superior diesels were also applied to marine propulsion and auxiliary power. In 1940, PJ retired at the age of 77, and his son Joe was the last to leave the company later that same year, ending the reign of the family dynasty at the engine company.

War time production saw increases in sales and employment at the two plants, and in an effort to consolidate operations, the Otto works in Philadelphia was closed and all machinery and operations were moved to Springfield in 1942. Superior engines served as auxiliaries on Liberty ships, and were also used on LST's. Many engines were shipped overseas on the Lend-Lease program to allied nations, and the company earned the “M” award from the Maritime Commission and a Victory Fleet award from the Navy for engine production during hostilities.

After the war, management decided to pare down the product line and concentrate on medium weight and heavy duty, slow-speed diesels. The line of small, high speed diesels was sold to Sterling Engine Company in Buffalo, New York, and the old line of slow speed, horizontal gas engines and compressors was sold to Ajax Iron Works in Corry, Pennsylvania. All tooling, equipment and records were shipped from Springfield at the conclusion of these sales in 1945 to the respective purchasing companies, and this would have dire consequences for the early history of Superior as you will see.

At this point in history, Superior was basically out of the gas engine business having dedicated itself to the efficiency of the diesel engine. Superior engines could be found powering ships, tugs, locomotives, municipal light plants, refrigeration systems, factories, quarries and irrigation systems. The move to offshore drilling in the Gulf added another market for Superior engines as well.

In 1948, National Supply purchased Atlas-Imperial out in California, merging it with Superior in Springfield and this created the necessity of a name change to the Engine Division of the National Supply Company. As an early proponent of turbo-supercharging diesel engines, Superior was a strong competitor in the late '40's and into the '50's. This competitive streak led to the purchase of the Engine Division by White Motor Company of Cleveland in 1954. White was a leading manufacturer of motor trucks in those days, and they were expanding into related businesses in the '50's. Growing from the White Sewing Machine Company, the firm entered the automobile age with a line of sophisticated and successful steam cars around 1900, abandoning steam in 1910 and finally, after being driven out of the automobile markets, the company found its niche in motor truck construction. In the '50's, when diesel power finally started to show strong growth on American roads, White was looking to develop its own diesel engine production to avoid buying engines from another firm like Cummins. GM, Mack, Dodge and International were building their own engines, and White needed to be competitive in that market so they purchased the Engine Division of National Supply. White did develop a two-cycle uniflow diesel (like a Detroit) at Superior, but it was not competitive and the project was cancelled. A test engine, a vee-4, was installed in a crane that operated at the foundry in Springfield, and this engine was saved when the crane was being scrapped after the foundry closed. This engine was given to the Duesenberg Auburn Cord museum in Auburn, Indiana, but I do not know if they still have it or if it is on display.

White bought Superior at a lucrative time, as Superior diesels were being snapped up for use in many Cold War systems, including in the SAGE and DEW Line radar stations in the north. They also found homes driving generators in many missile installations around the world, providing electricity for BOMARC, Atlas, Nike-Zeus, Nike-Hercules, Titan II and the Mace programs. In the end, Superior engines provided power for 175 missile sites and eighteen major defense programs as well as being chosen by Bell Labs to drive generators that powered ground systems supporting the TELSTAR communications satellite program.

As the '50s waned, the White Diesel Engine Division started to convert some diesel engines to run on gas using spark ignition, as well as developing a line of dual fuel engines that burned gas but used a pilot injection charge of fuel oil for ignition. In the early '60's, White decided to develop a line of high speed gas compressors that could be driven by engine or electric motor power, opening up a modern attack on the gas compression market that the company had abandoned in '46. Jim Buchwald was lured away from Cooper in Mt. Vernon to develop the compressors, and he eventually left to form Aerial Compressor in Mt. Vernon in 1966. Ariel today is the leading compressor manufacturer, whereas Cooper and Superior have faded into oblivion.

With the competition from the small, high speed diesel engines nipping at the heals of Superior in the '60's, the move into the gas compression field helped the company survive the transition in power generation induced by Detroit, Cat, Cummins and Waukesha. The advancing power grid also reduced the market for engines that were used in municipal light plants, drying that market up quickly in the '60's. In 1965, White changed the name of the company again to the White Superior Division from the White Diesel Engine Division, reflecting the new-found prosperity in the separable engine/compressor market. The engine line was also expanded to include vee-style gas engines for compressor drive, providing enough horsepower to threaten the integral gas compressor market with truck-transportable compression equipment. Large integral compressors need massive infrastructure to support their operation due to the large mass of the machinery. High speed separables can be brought in by truck, set up on a pad and run with or without a roof or shed.

By the mid '70's, the Superior engine line comprised of gas and diesel engines ranging from about 400 to 2500 horsepower, with sales of gas engines and compressors coming on strong and diesel sales starting to fade. By this point in time, Superior had given up on marine diesels, and the Atlas-Imperial line was reduced to parts sales only.

In 1976, Cooper Industries purchased the Superior Engine Division from White Motors as White faded and Cooper boomed on the diversification it had started since moving to Houston from Mt. Vernon in '67. At the same time, Cooper also purchased Ajax Iron Works, bringing the Superior products, old and new, back together again. Ajax was an old steam business that got into gas engines in the early part of the 20th century, and in 1946 they switched over to producing a design based on some of the Superior products they inherited with the purchase of the slow speed line from National Supply. In 1958, Ajax introduced an integral engine-compressor that became the dominant part of their product line when Cooper bought the company in the Bicentennial year.

Cooper Industries inherited the task of cleaning up all of the industrial engine lines they now owned after the EPA fired the warning shot in 1972, signalling to the industrial engine companies of what was coming. Superior started working on emission-compliant engines immediately under White Motors, and as the new environmental regulations went into effect on industrial engines, was ready to field cleaner running engines in the early '80's. Superior also helped clean up the two-cycle Ajax line after Cooper bought that company, and in 1986 Cooper consolidated engine production for Superior and Ajax engines in Springfield. The Ajax works in Corry was closed, and everything was moved to Springfield. Since Cooper was only interested in the modern integral engine/compressor, all of the older material was thrown out as it was unloaded in Springfield. Two employees at the Springfield plant fished around in the roll-off boxes for “goodies”, but it is not known for sure if any early production records for Superior engines predating 1946 were saved.

I worked for Superior under Cooper in the mid to late '90's, and knew the one fellow who had been dumpster diving in the '80's. The other guy had apparently rescued more information, but he was really mad at Cooper because they had forced him out of Superior at some point. He was retired in the late '90's, but when I called him to try to see what he had saved, he got cross when he found out I worked at Superior and he would not tell me anything!

When Cooper closed the research laboratory at the Springfield plant in '95, the other guy left the company and went to work for Cummins. We worked together at Superior for almost a year, and I was able to ask him about what he retrieved from the dumpsters in '86, but his haul did not include any juicy early production records. He did save a Guldner (German engineering text on double-acting tandem engines)from 1910, so there was some early stuff in the information thrown away by Cooper in '86.

Ex-Superior employees with whom I am in contact today do not know of any real early production records that were saved, and even the National Supply field offices probably did not have early records. As you guys know, the early engines were not overly stressed and the parts last a long time. By the time these engines needed heavy overhaul work, production in the fields they were used in had probably slowed down, so the engines did not run all of the time and when they did, they probably ran at lower loads. This would reduce the need for parts, and as the National Supply offices closed or moved, the early stuff went to the dump.

Cooper/Ajax/Superior retirees that have been contacted recently have not even heard of a Superior horizontal engine, but their experience only goes back 50 or so years, long after the horizontal engine lines had been sold to Ajax. There is information on some engines dating back to the '30's, but these are mostly compressor engines that were in use for many decades, but some of these records were “recovered” when they were sent back to Springfield as National Supply offices closed or moved. National Supply was eventually bought out by ARMCO Steel in the late '50's, and I don't have much history of that outfit after that time. It's probably out there somewhere, but I have not studied it personally.

Well, there you have it... It is hard to say now if there were early Superior production records at Corry between '46 and '86. It's possible that Superior had duplicate records, but that those were thrown out some time after '46. I looked around the plant and in record storage areas when I worked in Springfield, but all I found was the whole modern history of Atlas-Imperial in dozens of filing cabinets stored in the pattern shop in the defunct foundry (Cooper closed it in the early '80's). I tried to save that information when the plant closed for good in '02, but was unsuccessful so there was another great victory had by the dump in Clark county!

After talking with ex-Cooper and Superior men, I can't find any real early Superior records so I think they are gone. It is possible that duplicate records from a National Supply office may pop up some time, but the chances of that happening are fading with the advancement of time and the modern lack of interest in, or respect for our engineering and industrial history.

To complete the Superior story, Cooper continued to fund the development of the “CleanBurn” gas engines, using pre-combustion chambers to ignite very lean mixtures that would reduce NOx emissions. Eventually, the production of diesels was all but abandoned, and tightening emission regulations forced Cooper and Superior to adopt electronic controls for more precise mixture ratio adjustment. Cooper developed a proprietary line of computerized controls for their gas turbine compression and power generation equipment, and Superior used that on the old line of Superior gas engines to meet the modern EPA rules.

Continued in the next post...
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Old 03-29-2014, 07:40:31 PM
Mike Murphy
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Default Re: Superior Gas Engine - History and why no serial number data?

Continued...

As the gas compression market advanced towards higher speeds, engineering at Superior decided that it was better to license an engine design instead of trying to “rev up” the older Superior engines. After searching the market, Cooper entered into a licensing agreement with Mitsubishi in Japan to build two sizes of medium speed diesels in the US. Both in-line and vee designs were licensed, and both diesel and gas engine production was allowed under the license. Superior “gasified” the engines, designing new heads, induction, exhaust and fuel systems to allow the Mitsubishi design to burn gas. Component production was initiated in the US, and assembly was performed in the Springfield plant, concurrent with the production of the older Superior line (the “825”) and the Ajax integrals. The fuel control for the new gas engines was provided by the custom Cooper control systems (the “Entronics FT-50”) and the combustion system used pre-combustion chambers with spark ignition to light a very lean main charge. Control actuation was pneumatic, under computer command. The larger engine line (the “2400G” family) used poppet valves to control fuel flow into the pre-chambers, and the smaller line (the “1700G” family) used check valves, in keeping with the traditional Superior method of feeding fuel to pre-chambers in lean-running engines. Pre-chambers with check valves were also used on the Ajax line of integral compressors. The use of poppet valves on the pre-chambers of the larger Mitsubishi-based engines was a contributing factor in the demise of the venerable Superior name, but the smaller engine line had check valve problems and was basically driven from the field by excessive cost.

Reliability problems and the premature curtailment of production of the 825 engine line led to sales dropping off, and with the collapse of oil and gas prices during the Asian market crash of '97, the hand writing was on the wall. Sales across the board dropped,and being led by “modern” management at the corporate level, it was tough for the troops in the trenches to continue the fight, and in true modern corporate style, the towel was thrown in and the fires dropped after 112 years. The plant was sold off to the local vulture who bought up the old industrial properties in Springfield, and now it is owned by a junk yard out of Cleveland. Having been denied an operating permit to run a junkyard on site, the plant has been stripped of copper wire and other scrap metal, and it now joins the growing list of derelict and decaying industrial properties in the Midwest...

With the boom in oil and gas production occurring now, Cooper Cameron has started building 825 engines again at Seiner Engine in Houston, trying to get on the band wagon. The Ajax line of engine/compressors always sells well, and Cooper moved production of those engines to Oklahoma City when the Springfield plant was closed.

Now I hear that all of these venerable old names have been taken over by GE...
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Old 03-30-2014, 08:47:02 AM
Troy S Troy S is offline
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Default Re: Superior Gas Engine - History and why no serial number data?

Mike,
Thanks again for another great history lesson!
Troy
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Old 03-30-2014, 12:27:52 PM
jeeperforlife jeeperforlife is offline
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Default Re: Superior Gas Engine - History and why no serial number data?

Ariel>Superior
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Old 03-30-2014, 08:50:05 PM
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Mike Monnier Mike Monnier is offline
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Default Re: Superior Gas Engine - History and why no serial number data?

Thanks for the history lesson Mike. It helped me figure out an approximate age for a White-Superior paperweight I recently picked up at the flea market.
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Old 03-31-2014, 11:51:48 PM
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Default Re: Superior Gas Engine - History and why no serial number data?

As usual Mike, I'm "all ears" when you speak. Thank you.
Chris
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Old 04-01-2014, 09:23:12 PM
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Default Re: Superior Gas Engine - History and why no serial number data?

In appreciation, Mike, I offer this....
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wlPQTVEGDtQ
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Old 04-05-2014, 08:55:23 PM
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Default Re: Superior Gas Engine - History and why no serial number data?

That was great!!! Thanks...

---------- Post added at 08:55 PM ---------- Previous post was at 08:53 PM ----------

Ariel better than Superior? That goes without saying!
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Old 09-14-2017, 04:26:02 AM
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Default Re: Superior Gas Engine - History and why no serial number data?

Hi Mike

A great report on the Superior history.

Can you advise where I might locate information and specifications for Superior engines for locomotives. Particularly the engine for the Ingalls 4-S loco.

Is there any chance there is a recording of the engine running. In or out of loco.

Thanks

Charles Harris
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Old 03-16-2018, 07:21:35 AM
Jeff Marx Jeff Marx is offline
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Default Re: Superior Gas Engine - History and why no serial number data?

Thanks Mike for a very interesting read. Look forward to seeing you this year. Here's a project I've been working on up north this winter. Jeff Marx
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