Old No. 3 — The phenomenal Hermany Leavitt engine

Pump #3By Jay Ferguson, Louisville Water Museum Specialist

About 60 years ago, the “Old No. 3” steam pumping engine, better known to us as the Hermany Leavitt, made its last run.

When it first began pumping water (in 1893), it was the pinnacle of steam engineering. A paper presented to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers reported that the engine “established itself as the most economical compound engine that has been tested …. The result is phenomenal ….”

Its 36-foot-diameter flywheel was the largest ever built. This massive engine was built heavier than others of its class. And its trial test of over six days was the longest on record. No one had seen the likes of it before.

The brainchild of Charles Hermany, Louisville Water Chief Engineer, and Erastus Leavit, then the preeminent steam engine designer in the United States, Old No. 3 used two cylinders (with the steam passing from one to the other) that moved a beam up and down. This action operated two plungers and the enormous flywheel, using its kinetic energy to help keep everything in motion.

Maintaining steam pressure was the key to its economy. All the piping and cylinders were well insulated, and there were two reheating receivers between the two cylinders. The planning and extra work made this marvel an unprecedented success.

On its last day in May 1961, the public was invited to see the 68-year-old engine in operation one last time. Old No. 3 pumped just under 3.2 gallons, a far cry from its heyday when it was on the cutting edge of technology. Too bad no film of its last run has ever been found.

Photo: Jacob Ossman (shown at right wearing his signature hat) and two other station engineers get Old No. 3 ready for a test run in 1960, the year before the engine was dismantled.