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The American marine beam engine, popularly known as a "walking beam engine," has long been regarded by Europeans as something of a nautical curiosity. Its nickname was derived from the fact major working parts including the beam were usually visible above the upper deck of the vessel's superstructure moving with a rhythm similar to that of a person walking. Once very popular in the United States and Canada it was probably not favored elsewhere because of the vertical distribution of weight involved, which was seen as more appropriate to sheltered waters of which those countries had an abundance. The walking beam engine had the advantage of simplicity, which was also its major shortcoming. Most were single cylinder engines with one of each major component. If anything broke the vessel was helpless. There was also the danger of some of the larger parts of the engine falling through the bottom of the craft and sinking it. To minimize the danger of total breakdown most oceangoing vessels were fitted with two engines side by side capable of operating independently.

The leading builders of these engines were Fletcher, Harrison & Company, also known as the North River Iron Works, and later re-organized as W. & A. Fletcher & Company. The firm was founded in New York City in 1853 with workshops on the Hudson River Shore of lower Manhattan. Engines were installed in boats at nearby piers. In 1890 the company moved across the river to Hoboken, New Jersey. There it had its own shipyard with piers and the full range of newly built workshops. In Hoboken Fletcher continued to build engines and boilers and install them in boats. They also acquired floating dry docks and began taking on outside work of vessel repair and alteration.

W. & A. Fletcher & Co. never built vessels from the keel up though they were frequently credited as the builders on the original plans. They built the engines, boilers and other machinery and sub-contracted out the hull and joinery. Wooden hulls were built in shipyards in the New York Harbour area at Jersey City; on the east side of Manhattan; and in the Brooklyn communities of Greenpoint and Williamsburgh. Later iron and steel hulls were built by the Marvel Shipyard in Newburgh, New York on the Hudson River, and at the Delaware River Iron Shipbuilding Company yard in Chester, Pennsylvania. Many engines were shipped in a disassembled state to be installed in boats at distant locations. In addition to New York Harbor, the Hudson River and Long Island Sound, Fletcher beam engines propelled steamboats on Massachusetts Bay, the Coast of Maine, Lakes George and Champlain, the Great Lakes, San Francisco Bay, Brazil's Guanabara Bay and the Coast of China.

For most of its 75 year existence the company was headed by two Andrew Fletchers, father and son. Andrew Fletcher Sr. had come to America as a young boy with his parents and his brother William. His father is described as a Scottish machinist. Andrew was employed in New York iron works designing and building machinery for sugar mills in the West Indies before joining with his brother William and Joseph Harrison to found Fletcher, Harrison & Co. Harrison later left the firm and William died well before Andrew. Andrew Fletcher Jr. joined the company and advanced rapidly as a designer of engines and a manager. In 1891 he made a tour of European shipyards and engine builders. He became the head of the company with his father's death in 1905.

The company produced its last walking beam engine in 1913 for the Brazilian ferryboat GUANABARA. By this time it had also built a wide range of marine steam engines. A few years earlier Andrew Fletcher Jr. had obtained the first American license to build Parsons marine steam turbines. The first three were installed in the coastal steamers GOVERNOR COBB, HARVARD and YALE in 1906-1907. the surviving archives of the company now preserved at the South Street Seaport Museum in New York include hundreds of plans dating from those years stamped "Parsons, Wallsend on Tyne." During World War I the firm built turbines and boilers for standard cargo ships and tankers.

The last Fletcher steam engine, number 303, went into the double-ended Hudson River ferryboat ALBANY built in 1925. It was a four cylinder compound. The only intact Fletcher walking beam engine surviving today is still in the original boat, the Lake Champlain steamboat TICONDEROGA of 1906 preserved on shore in Shelburne, Vermont. After the death of the second Andrew Fletcher the shipyard was operated briefly by the third generation of the family as a repair facility. It was sold to the United Drydocks Company in 1928. Ten years later it was acquired by the Bethlehem Steel Company which operated it as a repairs and alterations yard until 1980. Almost all the buildings of the yard have since been demolished to make way for development of the site. The only building spared was the original Fletcher machine shop dating from 1890.

Marine Beam Engines Built by Fletcher - Single Cylinder:

(cylinder diameter in inches x stroke in feet)GEORGE MARK 28 X 5HIGHLANDER 28 X 5J. T. WATERMAN 28 X 6J. C. DOUGHTY 28 X 6WILLIAM TITTAMER 30 X 5I. N. SEYMOUR 30 X 6COL. LEDYARD 30 X 6FAIRHAVEN 30 X 6AQUEHONGA 30 X 6SYLVAN SHORE 30 X 8GEORGE E. STARR 30 X 8ENTERPRISE 32 X 6COLUMBINE 32 X 6P. C. SCHULTZ 32 X 6BRONX 32 X 6SILVER STAR 32 X 6WM. M. WHITNEY 32 X 6MATTANO 32 X 7BELLE HORTON 32 X 7VIRGINIA SEYMOUR 34 X 6WILLIAM FLETCHER 34 X 6PRIMEIRA 34 X 7WILLIAM HARRISON 34 X 7ANNEX NO.3 34 X 7BOUWERY BAY 34 X 8J. G. CARLISLE 35 X 7ANNEX NO.1 35 X 8OLEANDER 36 X 7J. H. BRINKERHOFF 36 X 7BRINKERHOFF 36 X 7GOV. WINTHROP 36 X 7TERCEIRA 36 X 7GUANABARA 36 X 7ANDREW FLETCHER 36 X 8SYLVAN GROVE 36 X 8SETH LOW 36 X 8J. PUTNAM BRADLEE 36 X 8F. P. JAMES 36 X 8DARTMOUTH 36 X 8LURAY 38 X 8ALBERTINA 38 X 10CLERMONT (yacht) 40 X 6MONTPELIER 40 X 8SYLVAN STREAM 40 X 8SYLVAN GLEN 40 X 8PLEASANT VALLEY 40 X 9JAMES F. FREEBORN 40 X 9J. N. COOKE 40 X 9REINDEER 40 X 9TICONDEROGA (I) 40 X 9ANNEX NO.4 40 X 9ANNEX NO.5 40 X 9THOMAS P. WAY 40 X 10WEST POINT 40 X 10NAHANT 42 X 8WIEHAWKEN 42 X 9SHADY SIDE 42 X 9ANNEX NO.6 42 X 9MOBJACK 42 X 9PERTH AMBOY 42 X 9ISAAC SMITH 44 X 5HARLEM 44 X 8HAPPY DAY 44 X 8GREYHOUND 44 X 9M. MARTIN 44 X 9OAKES AMES 44 X 10CHAMPLAIN 44 X 10ARROWSMITH 44 X 10POMONA 44 X 10CITY OF HUDSON 44 X 10JACOB TREMPER 44 X 10CHATEAUGAY 44 X 10SAGAMORE 44 X 10MATTEAWAN 44 X 12GOV. ANDREW 46 X 8NANTASKET (I) 46 X 8PEARL 46 X 9L. J. N. STARK 46 X 10SEACAUCUS 46 X 10BLOCK ISLAND 46 X 10ORANGE 46 X 10MONTCLAIR 46 X 10MOUNT HOPE 46 X 10JESSE HOYT 46 X 12CITY OF RICHMOND 46 X 12GARDEN CITY 46 X 12U.S.R.C. WM. P. FESSENDEN 48 X 9U.S.R.C. JNO. SHERMAN 48 X 9MAYFLOWER 48 X 9IDLEWILD 48 X 10CASTLETON 48 X 10D. R. MARTIN 48 X 10PIERREPONT 50 X 10JOHN ENGLIS 50 X 10HARRY B. HOLLINS 50 X 10SAN RAFAEL 50 X 11SAUSALITO 50 X 11BAY CITY 50 X 12SYLVAN DELL 51 X 8HAMPTON 51 X 8THOMAS PATTEN 51 X 8J. T. MORSE 51 X 9TICONDEROGA (II) 52 X 9HORICON 52 X 10PLAINFIELD 53 X 12FANWOOD 53 X 12CITY OF MILWAUKEE 53 X 12CYGNUS 53 X 12GENERAL SLO*** 53 X 12BERKSHIRE (I) 54 X 11ONTEORA 55 X 10VERMONT 55 X 10CLERMONT 55 X 11CHAUNCEY VIBBARD 55 X 12CITY OF CATSKILL 56 X 12JAMES W. BALDWIN 60 X 11R. N. RICE 62 X 11MARY POWELL 62 X 12CHAUNCEY VIBBARD rebuilt 62 X 12NAUTILUS 62 X 12STONINGTON 62 X 12CITY OF BANGOR 63 X 11CITY OF ROCKLAND 63 X 11RANSOM B. FULLER 63 X 11KAATERSKILL 63 X 12CITY OF CLEVELAND 66 X 12TROJAN 70 X 12RENSSELAER 70 X 12MARY POWELL rebuilt 72 X 12ALBANY 73 X 12ALASKAN 73 X 12CHIPPEWA 75 X 11NEW YORK 75 X 12ROBERT FULTON 75 X 12ADIRONDACK 81 X 12C. W. MORSE 81 X 12BERKSHIRE (II) 84 X 12

Beam Engines - Two Cylinders:CITY OF MACKINAC (I) 36 & 44 X 7 & 10CITY OF CHICAGO 36 & 54 X 7 & 10CITY OF MACKINAC (II) 42 & 66 X 7.33 & 11CITY OF ALPENA 42 & 66 X 7.33 & 11CITY OF FALL RIVER 44 & 68 X 8 & 12CITY OF BROCKTON 44 & 68 X 8 & 12CITY OF DETROIT 44 & 68 X 8 & 12CITY OF TAUNTON 47 & 71 X 8 & 12CITY OF BUFFALO 52 & 80 X 8 & 12CITY OF ERIE 52 & 80 X 8 & 12PURITAN 75 & 110 X 9 & 14

Beam engines geared to propellers:NUHPA 37 X 5D. S. MILLER 44 X 6JNO. L. HASBROUCK 45 X 6SHAN SE 50 X 6

Stationary beam engines:Schoolcraft Mining Company stamping mill engine 37 x 5 Fletcher shop engine 8 & 16 x 1 Engine for Thomas Main 4 & 8 x .5

Non beam engines; single cylinder inclined:TROY STEEL & IRON CO. NO. 1 37 X 5HINGHAM 40 X 6OLD COLONY 50 X 8NANTASKET (II) 52 X 9

Compound inclined:MYLES STANDISH 31 & 56 X 8ROSE STANDISH 31 & 56 X 8.5

Three cylinder compound inclined:HENDRICK HUDSON 45 & 70 & 70 X 7WASHINGTON IRVING 45 & 70 & 70 X 7

Four cylinder compound inclined:pRISCILLA 51 & 51 & 95 & 95 X 11

Four cylinder triple expansion inclined:pLYMOUTH 47 & 75 & 81.5 & 81.5 x 8.25

Screw engines; single cylinder reciprocating:W. V. B. HERNANCE 10 X 2WIDGEON 14 X 1ANNIE E. BURDSALL 14 X 1SARAH J. WEED 18 X 2.5JAMES H. ELMORE 20 X 3E. M. MILLARD 21 X 2PAMLICO 22 X 2.5PONTIAC 24 X 2NONOWANTUC 24 X 2HENRY ANDREWS 30 X 3AMERICA(yacht) 33 X 3W. C. REDFIELD 36 X 3THOMAS MCMANUS 40 X 4

Compound reciprocating:INTREPID III (yacht) 9 & 21 X 1.33MOHICAN 10 & 21.5 X 1.33 (two)CANADIAN DRIFTER 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 61, 62, 63, 66, 67 (World War I contract) 12 & 24 x 1.33LONG ISLAND 16 & 28 X 2GENERAL 17 & 32 X 2WANDERER 17 & 32 X 2CHAS E. EVARTS 17 & 32 X 2MOUNT MORRIS 17 & 34 X 2ARIOSA 20 & 34 X 2WHITE ASH 20 & 36 X 2RED ASH 20 & 36 X 2NEW YORK CENTRAL NO. 3 20 & 40 X 2NEW YORK CENTRAL NO. 9 20 & 40 X 2TRANSFER NO. 8 20 & 40 X 2.33TRANSFER NO. 9 20 & 40 X 2.33NEW YORK CENTRAL NO. 18 20 & 42 X 2.33

Three cylinder compound reciprocating:NEWARK 12 & 32 & 32 X 2

Four cylinder compound reciprocating:FORT LEE 17 & 17 & 34 & 34 X 2NETHERLANDS 18 & 18 & 38 & 38 X 2.33WEST POINT (II) 18 & 18 & 38 & 38 X 2.33SYRACUSE 18 & 18 & 38 & 38 X 2.33ROCHESTER 19 & 19 & 38 & 38 X 2.33UTICA 19 & 19 & 38 & 38 X 2.33NIAGARA 19 & 19 & 38 & 38 X 2.33CATSKILL 19 & 19 & 38 &38 X 2.33WEEHAWKEN 19 & 19 & 38 & 38 X 2.33STONY POINT 19 & 19 & 38 & 38 X 2.33ALBANY 19 & 19 & 38 & 38 X 2.33BREMEN 20 & 20 & 36 & 36 X 2.33HAMBURG 20 & 20 & 36 & 36 X 2.33

Triple expansion:ISIS (yacht) 12 & 18.5 & 29 X 1.66 (two)SOVEREIGN (yacht) 15 & 24 & 39 X 1.75 (two)

Four cylinder triple expansion:CORSAIR (yacht) 21 & 33 & 38 & 38 x 2.5 (two)

Turbines; coastal steamers:GOVERNOR COBB 5000 shp HARVARD, YALE 10,000 shp

Turbines; U. S. Shipping Board, World War I:ALBERT WATTS, JOSEPH CUDAHY, WILLIAM ISOM 1300 shp; ASHBEE, WEKIKA, KETTUCK, BOXET, JACKSONVILLE 2000 shp; ALASKA 2500 shp; CLEMENT SMITH, MACY WILLIS, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, TUXPANOIL, TULSAGAS, LIO 2650 shp; YAMHILL, CHIPCHUNG, MULPUA, COTATI, NAUGUS, ASAQUMSICK, QUILLWARK, MOSELLA CHEPADOA, BETHELRIDGE, POTTER, WICHITA, CHICOMICO, NARBO, NARCISSUS, BETTERTON, MILLER COUNTY, CECIL COUNTY, HONNEDAGA, PROVINCETOWN, NEW ORLEANS 2800 shp; PASADENA, FRESNO 2900 shp; HERMAN FRASCH, HENRY D. WHITON 3000 shp; STEEL TRADER, STEEL MARINER, STEEL WORKER, STEEL ENGINEER, MONTGOMERY CITY, TUSCALOOSA CITY, BESSEMER CITY, FAIRFIELD CITY 3100 shp

The last Fletcher number used was 303. There was no engine numbered 9. Numbers 265-286 were assigned to Shipping Board turbines that were later cancelled. Three yachts had twin engines. This would work out to a total of 285 steam engines built by the company.

Some references:

"The American Walking-Beam Engine" Scientific American, Sept. 25, 1909

"Giant American Walking Beam Engines" by Conrad Milster, Marine Propulsion, March 1981 (Conrad Milster was an oiler on the Hudson River day boat ROBERT FULTON; Fletcher engine 204)
 
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