Meet the Author: Norman Shade

25 April 2024

I am excited to give you a little bit of background about myself and my extensive new book, Cornerstones of Compression, The Companies and Machines That Have Driven 150 Years of Industrial Compressor Progress, that will be released by KHL Group late this summer. You can pre-order the book here.

The Early Days

In 1970, I joined the Cooper-Bessemer Division of Cooper Industries in Mount Vernon, Ohio as a research engineer. Housed in the research lab, internally called the “Test House”, at that time was a 12,000 hp gas turbine, various compressors, and several big, turbocharged reciprocating engines that produced deafening levels of noise and so much vibration energy that the office desks and the building windows would rattle continuously. The power of that “big iron” was truly impressive, and I was hooked.

At that early point of my career, fresh out of Ohio State with bachelor and masters degrees in mechanical engineering with honors, I liked new technology and wasn’t particularly interested in old engine and compressor history. Yet, I was intrigued by stories of thousands of huge horizontal gas engine-compressors that Cooper-Bessemer had built before I was born. And my interest in machinery history was soon ignited and fueled by Bill Fetters, one the test technicians assigned to me.

Bill had a great passion for engine history. He collected old books, photos, drawings, engine parts and other memorabilia that filled the finished basement in his home just up the street from my rented house. The walls of his basement stairway were neatly papered with lacquered blueprints of huge Cooper horizontal engines, and he even had a small, restored Bessemer gas engine on dollies in his basement. On winter weekends, Bill introduced me to antique shops and bookstores that he found, and we would spend hours looking for old books on industrial machinery, inventors and companies. Bill was notorious for scavenging anything that the company was disposing of, and much of his collection ended up in the local Knox County (Ohio) Historical Society Museum.

That wonderful museum has four Cooper farm steam engines, a Cooper-Bessemer GMV gas engine-compressor and RFB-24 centrifugal compressor, and countless models, photos and historical records of Cooper-Bessemer and its predecessors, the C. & G. Cooper Company and the Bessemer Gas Engine Company. Bill gave me many duplicates of photos and books from his collection. My interest and collection of vintage machinery books and literature continued to grow over the years, as did my historical knowledge.

Working With COMPRESSORTech2

In 2002, when it was announced that I was leaving Cooper after more than 32 years of engineering, technical management and executive management, COMPRESSORTech² enlisted me to write monthly articles. Ten years later, the magazine’s editor asked if I could also write some articles on compression equipment of historical significance. Having a good collection of Cooper-Bessemer history and some contacts that I thought would be helpful in generating articles on a couple of other equipment brands, I agreed to launch a series that we called Cornerstones of Compression. At the time, I committed to one year’s worth of monthly articles. As the first stories were published, several old timers reached out with information on other companies and my network grew rapidly. Most significant among them was independent collector, Okey Moffatt, who shared access to his extensive library. And so, the Cornerstones series gained momentum and many fans.

In addition to working as a consultant, in 2004, I took over management of ACI Services in Cambridge, Ohio, continuing my focus on compressors. That focus continues, today, as a recognized compressor subject matter expert with more than 50 years of experience in the industry.

Reserve your copy today by clicking the link provided below the article.

Inspiration for the book

In 2014, I visited the Coolspring Power Museum in Coolspring, Pennsylvania for the first time. I had been aware of it since the 1990s, when one of the young engineers in the Ajax-Superior division that I managed at Cooper, mentioned that he went to that museum several weekends each summer to work on restoring old engines that were being preserved and displayed there. After spending a day with the Coolspring Power Museum’s co-founder, I was amazed by its extensive collection and realized that these old dinosaurs were disappearing rapidly.

When Okey Moffatt passed away tragically in 2016, his collection was donated to the Coolspring Power Museum Library. Taking on the volunteer task of helping to move that collection to Coolspring and then cataloging and filing all of Okey’s documents in the museum library provided access to much more information and knowledge about legacy engines, compressors and companies, many of which I had barely heard. My work at the library continues as other collections have since appeared, and I have the pleasant task of wading through each treasure trove and organizing it for others to enjoy in the future.

With access to these collections, along with countless hours of email and phone communications, web searches and visits to companies and other museum libraries, almost 12 years after writing the first Cornerstones of Compression story, I have now written 132 such articles, which will sustain that series through 2025. In my “spare time”, I have also researched and written short books on the Cooper-Bessemer Corporation, the Bessemer Gas Engine Company, the Miller Improved Gas Engine Company, the Stover Engine Company and the Coolspring Power Museum’s 35-year history, which have been published by the Coolspring Power Museum. From this work and a whole lot more research, this new historical book on gas compression equipment and companies gradually took shape.

Objective of the book

Regrettably, the legacy internal combustion engines, turbines and compressors that led the world through the industrial revolution are rapidly filling the scrap heaps, with only a few being preserved by museums such as Coolspring. Most of the important industrial companies that created this great legacy have disappeared and many are all but forgotten, as are their products. The primary objective of my new book is to preserve the record of historically important compressors, engines and related technology, as well as the companies that developed and manufactured them.

The book’s 79 chapters present more information and many more interesting pictures than could fit in my two-page COMPRESSORTech² stories. In addition to histories of companies and their products, separate extensive chapters document the evolution and development timelines of compressors for iron and steel making, mining, construction, industrial air, refrigeration and oil and gas.

Many people have looked forward to the completion of this book, and I am confident that anyone with an interest in industrial engines and compressors, will be delighted with the results of my effort: pre-order today!

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