One of my many jobs as a maintenance worker is monitoring and making repairs to our buildings’ heating systems. Our courthouse steam boilers are currently our oldest units in operation. Yours truly makes sure that they run smoothly and get the necessary attention they need when issues pop up. Because of the time I spend down in the boiler room, I started digging into the history of the equipment. Old machines like these are classic pieces of Americana. What I turned up was some really cool history about this room deep within the Winnebago County Courthouse.
The courthouse was equipped with two, coal-fired boilers built by the Kewanee Boiler Company. Coal was stored in a large bunker under the sallyport ramp that had to be refilled each season. Augers moved the coal from the bunker into a hopper which was suspended from the ceiling above the boilers. The hopper dropped the coal into the automatic stokers that fed fuel into the fireboxes.
In 1963 the county replaced the old coal-fired boilers with updated natural gas boilers. The original boilers and coal handling equipment were removed during the upgrade, but remnants of the original equipment are still there. The Chicago Pump Company condensate pump is still part of our current steam heating system. One of the old gauges that provided the boiler operators operating information is still mounted on a back wall. Now and then I will poke my head into the old coal bunker under the ramp.
Boiler #3 was added in the late 1970s when the Public Safety Building, which housed the sheriff’s department and jail, was built on the east side of Jackson Street. The steam heating system from the courthouse was tied into then-new Public Safety Building via steam lines that ran underground. Today, the Public Safety Building is no longer a county building, and it has long had its own heating system independent of the courthouse boilers.
Working on these old machines can be a challenge, but I am proud to be learning about this type of equipment, how it operates, and how to maintain it. Plus, I am learning some really intriguing history in the process. Do you have any old machines that prompted you to do a little historical research? What did you find out?