The Real Paul Jones

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1925ish Empire Metalware B31 Steam Engines in Action

I’ve been carrying around one of my father’s — or perhaps his father’s — old toys for several decades. It’s a wonderful, if well worn, red and chrome vertical toy steam engine of a type made between 1921 and 1931 by Empire Metalware in Two Rivers, WI, an Empire Metalware B31. So far our biggest obstacle to getting the thing in a working state was finding a cord that would deliver electricity to the heater. Yesterday, we finally found one that, while it was not of the wonderful old school rayon covered cable, still managed to do the job. No used appliance store, hardly any hardware, no electric specialty shop could help us get the cord. Finally we found one at a small Ace Hardware — not old school, but it makes the connection.

Well, it sorta worked initially and it sorta didn’t. Of course having fittings and washers that hadn’t been replaced in over 40 years is one reason. But with power delivered we were hopeful we could get to the next level. The thing did heat water even if it didn’t much turn the fly wheel or pump the piston.

Vinegar fixed that problem by de-liming all the joints and pipes. Soon we were turning the wheel and letting off steam. But the de-liming also exposed even more leaky seals. As you see below, we do have more work to do.

A completely repaired and restored Empire would look and work like this:

To get our machine fixed even close to that level, we’ll be following IndianaRog’s great repair advice and improvising a bit on our own. It won’t be a one day deal — then it took a week — with a break for me to be sick in the middle — just to get the cord. And thanks to Rog, I’m on the trail of a replacement whistletop too through Don Stilson of New York.


  1. This is really cool…hope you guys are able to restore it… I forwarded this post to my dad… my family has a strong connection with steam engines :)… My great-grandfather and grandfather were railway engineers…i grew up listening a lot of steam engine stories 🙂

  2. Dave Grandy

    3/16/2012 at 9:21 am

    I just picked up a B31. I don’t know how to put water into the boiler. Could you explain how to do this?

  3. Paul

    3/27/2012 at 7:45 am

    The “Smokestack” isn’t really a smokestack. It’s the lid to the water intake. Unscrew the smokestack and you’ll see the water intake. It the B31 has been out of use for a while — in our case years — be prepared to replace the rubber seal with a new washer.

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