A HappeningWalking in J.I. Case's Footsteps

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Co-Chairman, Communications, P. O .Box 5128, Bella Vista, Arkanas 72714-0128

In the first place, a couple of years ago, Branch 10 of the Early Day Gas Engine and Tractor Association agreed to host the 1990 national meeting of EDGE&TA at the Oak Creek, Wisconsin, American Legion show grounds on June 23-24. Oak Creek is just a half-hour's drive north of Racine, which is Case 'Mecca.' That's where J.I. started his company almost 150 years ago and also where admirers of the man and the line of equipment he founded like to visit.

Harry Kline, on ground, second from left, and Lloyd 'Smitty' Smith admire the birds they've just delivered to Oak Creek.

In the winter of 1988-89, the Case Heritage Foundation, which always has enjoyed excellent cooperative relationships with a number of members and branches of the EDGE&TA, contacted Branch 10 to see if a joint effort involving the Foundation could be worked out that would expand the two-day gas engine and tractor show into a special three-day program, taking advantage of the show's proximity to Case sights-to-be-seen in Racine and Rochester (where J.I. developed his early improvements for the groundhog thresher). The plan was also to attract a special exhibition of Case equipment to the show grounds from the region.

Dale Noel's 1/3-scale model with matching Case threshing machine is loaded for the trio home to West Salem, WI after a busy weekend at Oak Creek.

Branch 10 president, Don Esch, and the Branch 10 leaders liked the idea, 'a happening' was about to occur. It could not have turned out as happily as it did if there had been anything less than the 100 percent cooperation, helpfulness and friendliness which characterized the Host Committee, including Don, Rory and Randy Esch; Barbara and Roger Fink, Roy Holler, Jeff Jablonski, Mike and Gerry Popp, Dave Chvilicek, and Diane Juarez. Gerry Popp did such an exceptional job with the grounds layout (putting a big and varied show in limited space) and the preparation of exhibitor stakes, while Roger and Barbara Fink were totally helpful in preparations for the historical tour and pitched in wherever needed throughout the weekend. Rory Esch handled exhibitor registration and the parade line-up like a real pro. Since Branch 10's annual show has not normally included steam engines and related exhibits, Foundation Charter member, Fred Reckelberg of Lutemberg, Wisconsin, who might properly be called 'Mr. Steam' in Wisconsin and maybe 'Mr. Sawmill,' too, was called to the rescue. He agreed to bring his mill and all of the trimmings, including a large and experienced crew that includes his sons and many of Fred's friends, while also helping to round up plenty of Case steam engines, big and little (80 HP all the way down to 1' scale), as well as a wonderful 1914 20-40 Case tractor, as the essential ingredients for a first class steam and ag-heritage demonstration running in conjunction with Branch 10's normally outstanding gas engine and tractor show.

In addition, two important major attractions Stan and Katy Sill's 1924 Model X Roadster from Rockford, Ohio, and the Case No. 25 engine from Sauder Farm and Craft Village at Archbold, Ohio-came to the show. And, even Lester Pierce of Stanberry, Missouri decided to bring his wooden replica of an 1880s Case engine smokebox door. Lester's exhibit has been to every Case Heritage Expo since the event was started in 1987, so his presence could be considered not just a fine display but a good luck charm for the Oak Creek event.

Mahlon Defter, restoration engineer for Sauder Farm and Craft Village of Archbold, OH, explains operation of Case portable engine No. 25 (1870), oldest Case engine still active.

The event planning was not without a few glitches, all overcome. For instance, the Foundation worked out a full-day historical/facility bus tour of Racine and Rochester that was to include several stops at some of J.I. Case Company's points of interest. Just a few days before the tour was scheduled, with about 250 people signed up in advance some visitation schedules had to be modified to suit late-developing Company operating requirements. It was only by the grace of God and the magnificent help of Harold Solberg, a long-time manager at Case (and a Foundation member, too) who helped reorganize the schedule, that pieces were put back together in time for the scheduled start on Friday morning, June 22. Fortunately, the Racine County Museum, Mound Cemetery, volunteer tour guides and others involved in the itinerary were willing to adjust to the changes, and they did so without complaint. The museum, through its Director, Mary Ellen Conway, was able to arrange to have space across the street from the Museum made available by the Racine County Government for the display of the Sill's Case roadster and Sauder Farm's No. 25 engine for a special 'coming home' exhibition in downtown Racine during the Friday before the weekend show at Oak Creek. The museum also arranged a special Case exhibit in its lobby that featured the J.I. Case racing stable and its most famous horse, Jay Eye See.

Foundation Charter Member, Gerry Karwowski, a Case Company staffer who also is a student (we probably should call him 'the professor'') of Racine County history devoted several days of his vacation time to assisting with the historical tour, briefing tour guides and participating in the weekend exhibition. Dorothy Osborne, a long-time resident of Racine County who deserves the title 'Dean of Racine History,' also provided well-organized information about sites related to J.I. Case family and company history that was invaluable to setting up the tour sequence.

Bright and early on Friday morning, in the pouring down rain, all 250 'tourists' assembled under and around the Case Heritage tent at the Oak Creek showgrounds before boarding six buses for the all-day tour. In spite of the heavy downpours of rain for much of the day, the 'tourists' made their appointed rounds, including a stop at the J.I. Case headquarters offices, ride-bys of historic homesites and other Case-related structures, and visits to Mound Cemetery (where J.I. Case and other well-known early leaders of the Case Company are buried), the Case Company's Parts Distribution Center and finishing up in late afternoon at Rochester to see where J.I. Case first settled in Wisconsin and ride-by the house where he worked on the improvement of the Groundhog Thresher.

The tour was just a preliminary for the EDGE&TA National Show and Case Heritage Exhibition that went into full swing on Saturday morning and lasted through Sunday. Not only did EDGE&TA members and families from as far away as California, Kansas and Oregon attend, but many Foundation members and other admirers of J.I. Case and the Case line of equipment gravitated to the event. Many of them came from the local communities surrounding Oak Creek.

The weather cleared out to blue skies on Friday afternoon and stayed that way through the weekend. On Friday evening, people working to get ready for the following day saw a miracle coming down the road in front of the Oak Creek showgrounds. There was a big flatbed trailer, steered by a veteran Case Power and Equipment Driver, Lloyd 'Smitty' Smith of Kenosha, moving along the highway with a load of ninecount 'em, nine!freshly and beautifully painted Case Dealer Eagles. The gatherer of those Eagles, which were unloaded at the show site and spent the weekend, was Harry E. Kline, everybody's favorite Caseman, the 'mechanic's mechanic.' Those nine Eagles now stand as the current record for a single show; Harry had single-handedly topped Expo #3's record of eight Eagles by one. Harry was not finished either; because, before all of the hauling was over, he and Smitty had further decorated the site with several tractors, including a 1923 15-27, a 1916 10-18 and a 1935 CC, plus a big dealer sign and some other pieces of vintage Case. In addition, David R. Reiter, J.I. Case Company's representative in eastern Wisconsin, arranged for the delivery and placement of several pieces of the current Case-IH linetractors and a combineat the show gate. They formed an imposingly modern gateway for the wonderful world of vintage Case waiting inside for visitors to the event.

A lot of people followed in Harry's footsteps to the Oak Creek Show, bringing tractors, engines, models, a couple of additional Eagles (producing a show total to 11the new record!), including Ron Sevart's all the way from Kansas.

People who have lived close to the center of Casedom around Racine for so many years saw this event as an opportunity for celebration and participation. They brought their tractors, their engines, their threshing machines, their balers, their signs, their old toys, their models and their old photos.

For example, Roger Lueder of Cedarburg, Wisconsin, was there with his Case 'Agitator' threshing machine, which still sports its original paint; Elmer Jacob of Oak Creek brought enough Case tractors to stock a show of his ownL, CI, DC, DI, DCC, D, SI, D on steel, RC and V-Standard; Doug Hebior of Union Grove put all three of his restored Case tractors in the parade, recruiting his dad, mom and nephew as participants; Terry Cochart from Brussels, Wisconsin, with his recently acquired 1917 60 HP Case engine was one of several steam drivin' men who took turns powering the Reckelberg's sawmill, while Jeff Bloemers was one of several owners of scale model Case engines (his is a half-scale of a 65 HP engine) taking turns on Bob Duescher's shingle mill out of Green Bay. The Fischer brothers from Thorpe, Wisconsin, and the Milwaukee area, were there with some outstanding scale model engines, tractors and accessories, plus lots of good family stories about years gone by.

Most important of all, they brought themselves to talk about their heritage, to demonstrate old equipment and techniques, and to educate whole families who came to learn about their heritage.

The Oak Creek event's exhibitors and attendees, alike, were walking ground where, almost a century and a half ago, Jerome Increase Case would have traveled by horse and by foot, selling and servicing the equipment he manufactured in Racine. It was a marvelous gathering of vintage Case and admirers of the J.I. Case traditions and the Case line of equipment. It was like a family reunion like coming home! It was an experiencea happening!