Edgerton Shop Steamer

By Anna Babbi Klein, Communications Officer, DUE

On June 8, Adam Madlinger proudly received his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering at MIT’s commencement. The 22 year-old from Martinsville, New Jersey, had plenty to be proud of; he had been awarded the Henry Ford Scholar Award, given to a senior who maintained a cumulative average of 5.0 at the end of his seventh term and who demonstrates exceptional potential for leadership in engineering and society; and he had been accepted into MIT’s Master of Science in Chemical Engineering Practice, one of the most highly regarded chemical engineering programs in the world.  To celebrate his success, Adam and his family did what most families do…they immediately left for Saratoga Springs, NY to participate in the Adirondack Live Steamers Meet!

What is a live steamer? It is a coal-powered 1/8 scale steam train (1.5 inches = 1 foot) that is large enough to ride. Adam’s passion is not simply watching the trains or riding them but meticulously building the locomotive and cars and then running them at live steamer clubs throughout the country. The first time Adam saw a live steamer in 1998, he fell in love. He was in 8th grade. He started taking machining classes at a local vocational school and joined the nearby New Jersey Live Steamers club. By the time Adam arrived at MIT in 2003, he had setup a machine shop in his garage and had already build several steamer cars. Building and running steamers naturally led Adam to chemical engineering which, like steamers, combines an understanding of chemistry and a love of mechanical engineering.

Adam continued to make slow progress on his steamer cars during his freshman year, working on the cars during breaks. However, when Adam began taking advantage of the Edgerton Center Student Shop during his sophomore year, he was able to make significant progress as well as take on the more challenging task of building his own locomotive. The computer controlled equipment in the Shop gave him the ability to machine intricate parts and build his own custom-designed parts. He was able to take existing designs and add his own parts based on photos he found in the MIT library. Adam lights up when he talks about the challenge of figuring out how to create a unique part from a photo and actually make it function as part of the design. He credits Mark Belanger, the manager of the Shop, for helping him master the computer controlled machine.

By the time Adam graduated, he was working in the Edgerton Shop 4—5 times/week and had become a shop instructor. He has built 5 cars – a hopper car, a gondola, 2 flat cars, a caboose – and a locomotive. He explained that 50% of the work done on these live steamers has been done in the Shop. Because of his familiarity with the machines, Adam also took advantage of the Shop to build parts for his UROP in a chemical engineering lab focused on sustainable energy. He built very specialized parts that needed to withstand very high temperatures and pressure.  He was able to save-the-day and replace a very expensive
broken part with one he created in the Shop in 1 hour.

It is clear that the Edgerton Shop made Adam’s educational experience at MIT more fulfilling. His experience exemplifies the value of experiential learning. While working on something he loved, Adam was applying and enhancing his engineering design skills. When Adam returns to MIT in the fall, he will again be part of the “scene” at the Edgerton Center Shop. He will undoubtedly make more progress on his beautiful locomotive adding intricate details to make it as real as possible. Toot. Toot.