PA Great Outdoors: Hit and Miss History at the Coolspring Power Museum
If you’ve ever visited the Coolspring Power Museum in southern Jefferson County, you probably remember the distinctive sound of the museum’s antique hit-and-miss engines. Nearly 300 of these machines dating back more than 140 years sprawl across the museum’s 35 acres, and many of them come to life one weekend a month from April to October as the museum opens to the public. Next weekend, the annual summer Exposition and Flea Market falls on June 14, 15, and 16, and it attracts 20,000 or more visitors each year. Many guests come from Britain, Germany, and other countries with strong industrial heritage.
The collection of antique internal combustion stationary gas engines found here has become the largest and most historically significant in the U.S., but it began as a personal collection in the 1950s by Paul Harvey, a Brookville doctor who lives in Coolspring and developed an interest in engines at a young age thanks to his father. As he connected with fellow engine enthusiasts over the years, his family farm slowly became a destination where other collectors could house their pieces.
Today, more than 35 buildings onsite contain everything from fractional horsepower engines to the 75-foot-long, 140-ton, 600-horsepower Snow Gas Engine, and interpretive display panels help educate visitors on the history of these machines and the role of the internal combustion engine in the Industrial Revolution. In 2001, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers honored it as a Mechanical Engineering Heritage Collection.
The Windy City Air Lease Building houses the 65-horsepower Blaisdell compressor engine, which once functioned as part of an oil pumping operation near Bradford.
Visitors can see engines of all shapes, sizes, and functions in action — often a thrilling experience! This year’s expo event in June will focus on oil field engines and will also feature a flea market with numerous vendors. No visit is complete without a stop at the ice cream stand, which sells homemade ice cream cranked by a gas engine, and the gift shop, which offers a wide selection of shirts, hats, books, souvenirs, and more.
The people who maintain and operate these enormous machines have spent years honing their skills, but they still have a childlike sense of wonder and awe about the power the engines possess, and their passion is highly contagious. When asked what makes the museum’s 175-horsepower Otto gas engine his favorite, Doc Harvey lit up like a kid on Christmas morning, saying, “It’s biiiiiig!”
Find other interesting places to visit in the Pennsylvania Great Outdoors region by going to VisitPAGO.com or calling (814) 849-5197.
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