IndustryQuincy Smelting Works

The Engine Room

In addition to the smelting and refining operations undertaken at the Quincy facility there were additional requirements its infrastructure had to provide such as mechanical power, heat, light, and water. These duties were delegated to the smelter’s engine room – a sandstone building attached to the backside of the Cupola building. The building – more of a room actually – is one of the complex’s original structures built along with the Cupola in 1898. Since that time it has served essentially the same purpose, with only the machines and equipment contained within it changing over time. Today it remains in much the same state as it was left more then 40 years ago – providing what is probably the most intact and preserved collection of steam equipment in the Copper Country still standing in its original position.

Packed into this small room is a remarkable wide array of equipment which includes two Corliss steam engines. Originally the room housed only a single engine, which was used to feed the entire complex rotational energy by means of an overhead belt and pulley system. In 1919 a second engine was added, this one attached to a generator to provide electric power to the facility.

The first thing you notice when entering the engine room is a large electric relay panel, which dominates the rooms east end. This panel was used to distribute the electric power generated in the room to the various buildings and equipment scattered throughout the smelter complex.

Here’s a closer look at one of the heavy duty switches found on the panel.

One of the gauges, most likely used to measure the amperage used. (up to 200 amps it looks like)

Next to the power panel is a small wooden shack, in which sits this grease slicked machine. This is one of three water pumps installed here at the smelter. The other two are housed next door in the attached pump house, which would be through a door just to the right of this photo. Unlike the other two, however, this particular model is vertically oriented, with its cylinder working up and down instead of left to right.

Next in line is the electric generator itself, which is paired to a rather robust steam engine. The generator – which sits in the foreground – is capable of providing up to 200 KW of direct current electric power.

The steam engine powering that generator is a Corliss model, which is differentiated from other steam engines by its use of rotary valves and variable valve timing. These engines are distinguished by their unique set of linkages attached to the face of the steam cylinder – what I like to call the Corliss movement – which you can easily make out here in this photo.

In addition to the massive 200 KW model, the engine room also sports a 75 KW generator set. This generator seems to be driven by an attached electric motor – which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. (Why use electricity to generate electricity? Seems like they would cancel each other out)

Here’s the controller for that smaller generator. Interestingly it was installed upside down, at least according to the writing on its front surface. The unit is marked as a Westinghouse Electric & MFG Co. The dial is graduated from 1 to 13, with “run” marked next to every third number.

The engine’s other steam engine – sits at the opposite corner of the first. This one was the building’s first, added to the complex in 1898.

Here’s a closer look at the engine’s business end, which included the crank disk and flywheel.

Frozen in time, the engine’s cross head was once in constant motion as it transferred the movement of the piston rod to the connecting rod.

..and the engine’s governor which controlled the amount of steam entering the cylinder.

Sitting in the middle of the floor was this small opening – one I almost fell into in fact. I would guess that this leads to those famous “maintenance trenches” that I like to talk about when describing Hoist engine ruins. Though the building itself didn’t have a basement I’m sure there was a small crawl space around the foundations to both of these steam engines housed in the room. I think that’s where this stairway leads.

Behind this engine was a large alcove in the wall – a opening that at one point make its way to the adjacent Cupola building. Behind this wall stood the blower used to draw air into the blast furnace. Why this wall was put up to separate it from the rest of the engine room is beyond me.

The last piece of equipment inside the engine room is this interesting device. At first glance it looks to be a water heater, but the HAER documentation simply lists it as a “Heater”. Perhaps its a robust radiator of some type, but my money’s still on a water heater. Behind it is another doorway – this one leading to our next stop on our tour: the Boiler Complex.

But first a slight detour….

The Quincy Smelter is private property and is open to the public only during special Quincy Smelter Association’s tours and events.

To learn more about the engine room and its history be sure to visit the Quincy Smelter Blog for their own virtual tour of the site.

To view more photos from the Quincy Smelter – including some awesome wide angle imagery – be sure to check out the Quincy Smelter Gallery at David Clark Photography!

And of course, if you have any photos of your own to contribute to the discussion, make sure to post them over at the Copper Country forum’s Quincy Smelter Thread.

Show More


  1. I don’t want to toot my own horn too much (and Mike already links to my photo gallery!), but I wanted to point out this photo of one of the steam engine wheels in the engine room. Specifically, check out the painted (?) details on the spokes — something you really don’t see any more!

  2. I think that the generator set was used to make AC power. Back in the day they didn’t have a good way to convert DC to AC electronically like they do today. To to this, they drove an AC generator with a DC motor. Not the most efficient method, but it worked.

  3. Looking at the size of those pipes, if it was a heater, it was steam heat.
    Steam in at the top and water out the bottom
    I can’t think of a need for a water tank to use such big pipes

  4. Could you imagine what the noise level was inside this building? Wonder if they had hearing protection devices? Probably just stuffed cotton in their ears.

  5. I don’t know about this building, but one of the things I recall hearing (repeatedly) on the Quincy tour is that the giant steam engine and hoist for the #2 shaft was so well maintained, that you could easily hold a conversation at normal speaking volume, right in the room with it. Apparently if you did it right, the engines weren’t too bad!

  6. The most noisy part of the videos I saw of seam engines at work, especially the Corliss type like the one housed here, is the constant clickity clack of the rods and valves. But besides that the engines weren’t really that noisy.

    But I do wonder if the generators put off any electrical hum that might get annoying over time…

  7. I did see reading through Annual Reports, this building suffered a fire to the roof in 1910, so it was fireproofed when fixed, cement roof I believe, might be why it looks so nice inside

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *