Hand-Built Pence Steam Engines Are Machinist's Legacy

The late Harold Fleisch lives on in his engines.

Main drive gear

Main drive gear and steering gear box with chain steering.

James Boblenz

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Back in the days when farming made the transition from horsepower to tractor power, steam was king.

Youngsters stood by the front gate and watched in awe as the big, slow moving monsters came down the road, blowing clouds of black smoke, clinking and clanking. Sometimes an engineer would make the whistle scream as the engine towed its load of a huge separator, its own water wagon and maybe a fuel tender en route to the next farm to harvest grain.

For those who were youngsters then, the name of the passing engine was of little importance. Today, of course, it’s a real treat to see your favorite engine at a show, especially if it was a local engine, owned and operated nearby. But the sad reality is that steam engines are increasingly rare at many small, local shows.

If you find yourself in the right place at the right time, you might just come across a Pence steam traction engine. But it won’t be a nostalgic moment, because Pence steam traction engines were not manufactured as production models. Just three exist, each hand-built by the late Harold Fleisch, the master machinist of Pence Machine Shop in West Alexandria, Ohio.

Pence engines a good fit

Tim Calvin of Calvin Ottawa Bota Farms near Radnor, Ohio, owns two of those engines. He bought one from Doug Greenwood, who had shown the engine extensively at local shows, fairs and festivals near his home in LaRue, Ohio.

The Pence steam engines are a good fit for Tim’s collection, which focuses on the period when farming transitioned from horsepower to tractor power. He has an extensive collection of gas tractors and machinery, both horse-drawn and tractor-drawn. Ottawa Bota Farms exhibits and demonstrates vintage equipment (mostly horse-powered) at several shows every year.

The farms also host two annual shows: one in the spring, when horse-drawn equipment works alongside gas-powered tractors and equipment to demonstrate tillage and planting, and one in the fall, when a combination of horses, gas tractors and all kinds of antique equipment is used to harvest crops.
Tim’s family shares his enthusiasm for old iron events. His wife, Reneé, drives the team on the power unit; his father, Walter, lends a hand with the baler and thresher; and his son, Carl, works on the fanning mill and other pieces of equipment.

Tim often takes his Pence Bull Dog to local shows and festivals. At smaller shows, it generally blends in with other steam engines. At larger shows, it’s typically classified as a model, even though it’s as big as a Huber 16 hp tractor. No matter where it’s parked or what it’s called, it draws a crowd of people interested in a unique steam engine.

Starting with the Bull Dog

Harold Fleisch, builder of the Pence engines, was raised on a farm near Eaton, Ohio. He began working at the Pence Machine Shop in West Alexandria (just west of Dayton) in 1929 and eventually bought the business. An accomplished machinist, he built model steam traction engines in his spare time. He completed three: two large engines he named Bull Dogs, and a third smaller engine was dubbed Bull Pup.

The first of the three, a model of an under-mounted Avery 2-cylinder steam engine, was completed in 1955. Harold used a 1925 15 hp Frick-style stationary boiler mounted on an Avery chassis with an under-mounted Kelly industrial 2-cylinder engine that Tim believes to have come from a piece of excavating equipment. The model has a box mechanical oiler and two water injectors to feed water into the boiler.

The Bull Dog’s steering is fully manual and, according to Tim, it is a man-sized job to operate. A standard steering gear arrangement feeds into a gearbox connected to the winch drum. A chain is wrapped around the drum in such a manner that steering can be accomplished by tightening the chain to one side of the front axle to pull a wheel rearward, while loosening the chain to the opposite side of the front axle to allow that side to move forward. That action allows for either right or left steering.

A foot brake operates through the drive pulley on the right (curb) side of the tractor. The Bull Dog has two belt pulleys. The one on the left side is clutched and the one on the right side runs directly off the drive engine. The friction clutch has long, heavy shoes that cover about half of the flywheel; they held fast when the clutch was thrown in.

A Pyle-National steam-powered generator similar to those used on railroad steam locomotives is used to light the headlight. Tim uses the light at night-time spark shows to illuminate the Baker fan in front of the engine.

Adding the Bull Pup

Knowing that Pence engines came in two different sizes, Tim began a search for the smaller model, the Bull Pup. He found that engine last fall in Indiana, bought it and brought it home to Ohio.

The Bull Pup features a 6 hp J.I. Case stationary boiler mounted on a Hart-Parr chassis and an under-mounted Blood 2-cylinder engine for power. Since Harold used the running gear from a gas-powered Hart-Parr tractor for the chassis, the engine has enclosed gears, altogether different rear wheels, spokes and gas tractor fenders. The Bull Pup has two water tanks mounted at the rear of the fenders and one in front, under the boiler.

Steering on the Bull Pup is significantly different from that on the larger engine. Rather than a chain-and-winch mechanism, it uses a modified drum and cable arrangement. Because it’s hard to steer, Tim plans to change the configuration, which may or may not be original.

The Bull Pup has no brakes, so when Tim gets it running he’ll have to be careful where he drives it. Fortunately, the ground at his farm is level. When restoration is complete, he plans to use the Bull Pup on the shingle mill at his farm.

Machinist extraordinaire

In the July/August 1971 issue of Iron-Men Album, Joe Fahnestock, Union City, Ind., profiled Harold Fleisch in the magazine’s regular feature “Iron Man of the Month.” In that article he noted Harold’s unique mastery of and extensive experience with machine work. If you need a piece fabricated for your old steam engine or gas tractor, he said, “there is only one place to go: That’s to Harold Fleisch at the Pence Machine Shop.” Harold died five years later, in 1976. FC