1920 20-60 HP Illinois Steam Traction Engine

Family of engines includes 1920 Illinois steam traction engine

illinois steam engine

View of the steam tractor engine, on parade and operated by Willie Boettcher.

Content Tools

This 1920 20-60 HP Illinois steam traction engine was built in 1920, in Sycamore, Illinois. A canning company in Valders, Wisconsin, bought it new to use in their mills. From there, wherever it went, I don't know. My family wound up with it. We've had it for about thirty years. We also have a 45 HP Case engine built in 1910.

My dad, Wyman Boettcher from Chilton, Wisconsin, owns it. He has always said only 75 were made and there are only three left, but I believe there are at least four. That's my dad in the photograph, in the straw hat and bibs. This picture was taken the second weekend after Labor Day at Calumetville, Wisconsin. My father's birthday is on March 17, so I hope seeing this steam traction engine on the back cover is a good gift for him.

When I was young I could run this engine by myself at the age of seven. I also carried wood for many years for other steam traction engines at other shows. My dad and I would go to shows around the state. The first thing I would do when we got to the shows was run over by the steamers and ask the engineers if I could climb on and blow the whistle.

I have run Frick, Illinois, Rumely, Reeves and Case engines. I hope to run more. I love to talk to people about steam traction engines, so if you have the time, write a letter and I will respond. It always feels good to hear from a steam engine man. If anyone has old pictures of steam traction engines, may I see them? I will return them.

Also, if anyone knows the right color for the engine, please let me know. I do hope to hear from some of the steam engine men.

The engine can be seen on display on the second weekend in August in Chilton, Wisconsin, at the fairgrounds. We hope to see you there!

In addition to the 1920 60 HP Illinois steam traction engine, we have a 45 HP Case engine built in 1910.

I want to thank my father for getting me involved with steam engines. I always hoped to own my own steam engine someday. When I got married on June 26, 1999 (to a wife who loves steam tractors), her father bought a 60 HP Case for our wedding gift. We love our engine and hope to buy more to add to this one. So, if there is anyone out there who has a steam engine in their backyard that they don't use, please send me a letter.

I'd like to share the following story about a steam engine that blew up. I read this story and the writer is unknown.

"Ashland, Ohio, July 1901. The boiler of Ora Emmens threshing engine blew up Monday forenoon with marvelous results and miraculous escapes. The engine and boiler were demolished and parts were hurled hundreds of feet.

"The boiler had been leaking and it was brought to Mohn's shop in town last Saturday. Mohn put a plug in the boiler and pronounced it safe. About eight o'clock Monday morning Jackson noticed that the boiler was leaking slightly. He at once notified Kissel, then stepped upon the foot board of the engine, signaled a stop with the whistle, reversed the lever and had just stooped down to scrape out the fire when the explosion occurred. The noise was deafening and the effect was awful. A huge cloud of dirt and steam enveloped everything. With tremendous force, the huge engine and boiler, excepting the one drive wheel, was lifted 20 feet from where it stood while parts were scattered everywhere. Jackson was hurled far and away to the southwest, lighting in the field where clover had been cut. The distance was afterward measured and found to be 142 feet. His escape from death was not much wonderful than of John Kissel who stood about 12 feet to the rear and left side of the engine. The steam and water escaped toward him knocking him a distance but only injured his face somewhat. The worst injury came to John Werman who was feeding the machine. The belt struck him upon the head, cutting a gash about six inches long. Pieces of iron just missed him and made dents in the machinery as he leaned over for a sheaf."

I want to say to all steam operators to make sure you always have enough water in the glass. If you notice a little leak let the steam die down so you won't blow up a boiler.