A Visit to the Pratt University Steam Plant
Steam Engines in NYC!!!
Who would think that the oldest continuously-operating, privately owned steam-powered electrical generating plant in the United States sits in a quiet Victorian section of Brooklyn, New York? Pratt University has its original steam-powered engine room intact. It was used for many years to generate electricity for this college. These generators are no longer used for power but they are still hooked up to the steam plant, so every once in a while they are powered up to keep them alive.
Every year at Pratt on New Year's Eve Conrad sets up all of the large steam whistles live outside. It gets pretty noisy there (passersby get to pull the ropes) and of course there is the nice smell of oily steam in the air!
[Click through for a lot more pics and a video of last New Years Eve whistle blow!]
The place is run by Conrad Milster, who has been the Chief Engineer there for many years. I first met Conrad when I was in high school right down the block. Recently, and way too many years later, I returned for a visit and good old Conrad was still there. He gave us a tour and as these pictures show, this place is a fantastic example of this bygone era when men were men and machines were iron and brass.
Amazingly, this historic treasure has NO standing as a historic landmark, so it all could come down at any time. And, apparently, the current school powers that be are concerned about the asbestos that covers thesteam pipes and is woven into all of the power cables in there, even though it is all intact. If they decide to remediate the asbestos, this historical treasure might never look like this again, if it survives at all.
This place is heaven for a guy like me. Antique electrical and mechanical. Brass, copper, iron, oak and stone. It smells of warm oil. And all the machinery is exposed!!! (I want to SEE the machine! That's why my hot rod has no hood.)
Conrad was nice enough to start up one of the old engines. Took but a moment: open one valve to start a gravity oil feed to the bearings, and then the steam valve. To see that huge polished flywheel spinning true as can be, inches from where you're standing, smelling the steam and the oil, and hearing the sounds of the machine was simply amazing.
In the mean time, enjoy these pictures and if you find yourself in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn, stop by Pratt as they accomodate visitors. Afterwards, go to Junior's on DeKalb Avenue for a cheeseburger, black-and-white ice cream soda and kick-ass cheesecake.
New Year's Eve 2009 at the Pratt Institute. They've got steam pipes.
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