Gastown Steam Clock in Vancouver, BC
Did you know that one of the most photographed attractions in Vancouver is on a street corner in a Victorian-era warehouse district. Here stands the world’s first steam clock. This wonderfull piece of Vancouver’s history plays the Westminster Chimes every hour and whistles every 15 minutes with a gush of steam. The Gastown Steam Clock is in full swing at the top of each hour; you can watch the steam rise out of the top of the clock and watch the mechanisms inside work their magic. Despite its Gothic style, it’s not as old as it looks. People gather around the steam clock in Gastown in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia to watch its display and take some pictures. The famous Gastown Steam Clock was built by horologist Raymond Saunders, owner of The Gastown Steam Clock Company just opposite the clock. He built it in 1977 based on an 1875 design. The world’s only steam clock that is powered by steam from underground systems of pipes that supply steam to heat many downtown buildings.
The steam engine is a Stuart #4 single expansion double acting 1″ piston engine. Low pressure steam is supplied to it. The engine rotates at only a few hundred revolutions per minute, which drives a reduction gear train. The gear train drives a chain lift to lift ball weights to a top track from which they load onto a drive chain providing the driving force to the clock while the ball weights descend. The engine-driven gear train drives the lower sprocket of a vertical link-chain with a lift of about four feet. Pairs of chain-mounted lifting fingers form forks which lift smooth steel balls (about two inches in diameter). The balls are lifted at a rate of one every 4.5 minutes. Top transfer. A hammer-like mechanism operates to drive the topmost ball from the lifting fork at the top of the lift. The ball is then sent by a transfer chute, where it is routed to a gate at the top of the drive chain. The ball is held until a descending clock drive chain fork is properly positioned to receive it. A similar continuous chain receives the lifted balls from the transfer chute at the top of the mechanism. At any time, five or six balls are being carried by this chain. It is the unbalanced weight upon this chain that drives a conventional pendulum clock mechanism through the upper sprocket. At the bottom of the clock drive chain the balls come to rest upon an inclined blade leading to a chute where they roll to the initial lifting point. Two or three of the balls are in this position, with the foremost awaiting the passage of the lifting fingers.