A lphonse Vassallo

new 2/16/99

I met Alphonse through a mutual friend, Don Isaac. We were visiting our daughter in San Francisco, and took that opportunity to call Don and arrange a visit. He in turn contacted Alphonse and Jim Symanski, and arranged for a visit with them. Alphonse drove down from San Francisco, bringing three of his Stirling engines. all three were original designs, and beautiful examples of the machinists craft.

V-4 Stirling engine by Alphonse Vassallo The first to run was a V-4. Alphonse connected the propane, opened the valve, and then began hunting for the lighter! Don and I were convinced that he was about to incenerate his truck, but he got it lighted without causing any great conflagration. And how it ran! The V arrangement made for a well balanced engine, and it must have achieved a top speed of well over 1000 rpm!

Alphonse Vassallo's 2 cylinder Marine StirlingThe second engine was a two cylinder parallel marine engine with reversing gear. The output shaft is coupled to the two flywheels through helical gearing, and the reversing arcs (much like the valve gear segments on locomotives) were operated by eccentrics on the engine shafts. Although there is quite a lot of linkage involved, Alphonse's skill in fabrication yielded a low friction drive arrangement. Unfortunately, the burner coupling did not match the one for the V-4, so we could not run this engine. Don tells me that it, too, runs quite well, and very silently.

Alphonse is from Malta, and has a brother who still lives there. Both Vassallo brothers are not only expert machinists, but also creative designers. Both have built a number of Stirling, steam and gasoline powered engines. Although we are primarily interested in Stirling and other externally fired engines, we find Alphonse's other engines equally as well made as his Stirlings.

We saw these a few days later when we visited Alphonse at his home in the southern part of San Francisco. His home is a Typical San Francisco house, with garage on the street level and the living quarters above. Alphonse greeted me at the garage door, and immediately showed me to his shop in the rear part of the garage. His shop equipment is simple, a Bridgeport mill and a 13" lathe. But the work he turns out is far from simple, as you will see below. In addition to his modeling, Alphonse has two patents to his credit, and while employed as the machine shop foreman for Schlage Lock in San Francisco, developed a number of tools and machines for fabricating lock parts.

After a short visit in the shop, we went out on to the rear patio where Alphonse had arranged a selection of his engines. One of the first he showed was a small flame licker, which he said he built over 40 years ago. Despite its advanced age ;-), it ran beautifully. Click on either of the pictures below for a larger view.

Flame licker engine by Alphonse Vassallo Flame Licker engine by Alphonse Vassallo (view 2)

His 4 cylinder V-type engine was in evidence, as was the 2 cylinder marine engine. This time, we had propane and it ran - just as silently as don Isaac had said. Here are two more views of it, the first with Alphonse in attendance, and the second which I hope will show more of the fine detailing of this engine.

Alphonse Vassallo with marine Stirling engine 2 cylinder Marine Stirling engine by Aphonse Vassallo

The most unusual Stirling engine that Alphonse has designed, is a "backward" engine. The hot end is in the middle! And to get proper air flow, Alphonse designed in a reed valve between the hot cylinder and the power cylinder, and a rotary valve between the power cylinder and the cold end. Referring to the photo on the left below, the reed valve is in the square box just to the left of the ring burner, while the rotary valve is between the left end crank disk and the flywheel. I have dubbed this engine "The Silent One" because it indeed runs silently! As always, a click on the photo will bring up an enlarged version for those of you who wish to see greater detail.

"Backward Striling by Alphonse Vassallo
V-4 Stirling engine - close up of burners

A common thread on the Stirling engines you have seen on this page is the propane burners, also a Vassallo design. Referring back to the V-4, they are just below the flared shrouds, as illustrated here. You can also see one in the left hand photo above. I hope that in the future we can get more details and possibly plans for similar burners from Alphonse


The final Stirling that Alphonse showed me was the solar Stirling. using an altazimuth mount and an 18 inch reflector, it runs on a minimal amount of sumlight. The day I visited Alphonse was a typical San Francisco day, with fog early in the morning, giving way to high clouds later on. Alphonse was not sure there was enough sun to run the engine, but with a little clearing, the engine came up to a respectable speed in just a few minutes. So here you see yet another example of fine craftsmanship and design.

Alphonse Vassallo aiming solar Stirling engine Solar Stirling engine by Alphonse Vassallo