From Panning Gold to Melting Steel:

Traction engine

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In order to get the learner started, it is reasonable to suppose that the engine he is to run is in good running order. It would not be fair to put the green boy on to an old dilapidated, worn out engine, for he might have to learn too fast in order to get the engine to running in good shape. He might have to learn so fast that he would get the big head, or have no head at all, by the time he got through with it. And I don't know but that a boy without a head is about as good as an engineer with a big head. We will, therefore, suppose that his engine is in good running order. (Maggard 17).

Readers of Maggard's book feel he is speaking directly to them, telling them what's what:

Photograph of cylinder side of O. S. Kelly 18 HP traction engine, Serial No. 2058, at factory in Springfield, Ohio. Note British design details. All four factory photographs of Kelly engines are from the collection of Dr. Robert T. Rhode.

Photograph of rear view of O. S. Kelly traction engine, Serial No. 2058. Note lever and gears to switch traction speeds.

I am well aware that among young engineers the impression prevails that a valve is a wonderful piece of mechanism, liable to kick out of place and play smash generally. Now, let me tell you right here that a valve (I mean the ordinary slide-valve such as is used on traction and portable engines) is one of the simplest parts of an engine, and you are not to lose any sleep about it, so please be patient until I am ready to introduce you to this part of your work. You have a perfect right to know what is wrong with the engine. (Maggard 36).

With an odd combination of solid information, acerbic wit, and verbal grandstanding, Maggard's chapters decoy readers into learning how to run steam engines safely and efficiently.

As a branch manager for Kelly, Maggard wrote promotional literature. Issues of The American Thresherman and The Threshermen's Review from the early 1900s feature Kelly ads with unmistakable Maggard wording. According to historian Irving B. Weber, who has published multiple volumes of Iowa City history, Maggard had a modern and spacious factory to oversee (Weber 1). Weber, ninety-five years of age, should know. As a lad, he picked cherries for Maggard's wife, Ella M. McKee Maggard, was well acquainted with her husband, and knew Iowa City as only a paperboy could. Located at 1301 Sheridan, the main Kelly building measured sixty feet by three-hundred feet and consisted of two stories, 148 windows, double doors, and an addition on the back for a service room (Weber 1 and Weber, Historical Stories about Iowa City, Vol. 2, 275). The Rock Island Railroad ran a siding to the company, and, by 1909, a streetcar gave workers easy transit between the downtown and the factory.

Weber related the anecdote that, when the Kelly factory was under construction, the foreman on the site ordered a boy standing nearby to bring the man a left-handed monkey wrench. The youth hopped to it, asking workers where he could find such a tool. Of course, the joke was on the youngster. Maggard came by his sense of humor honestly. Maybe citizens of Iowa City imbibed wit with their water.

Just missing Independence Day to be born July 5, 1854, Maggard was in his mid-forties when he began working for Kelly. In 1888, he built an elegant Gothic house on the south side of fashionable and exclusive Woodlawn near the end of Iowa Avenue (Weber, Historical Stories about Iowa City, Vol. 5, 142). Weber lived one block west. Maggard's daughter lone, born in 1885, married Ralph Puckett, who was in the auto parts business. Around 1918, Maggard built a bungalow in the orchard beside his house for lone and Ralph. When Gerald and Sandra Eskin purchased Maggard's mansion in 1972, they began renovation and found ten pounds of paper used as insulation behind the kitchen cupboard. The bundle included Maggard's letters and Kelly machinery catalogs. The Eskins donated these materials to the Iowa Historical Society (Eskin 1).

The road beside the Kelly company was renamed Maggard Street, and the thoroughfare's name has outlasted the factory (Weber, Historical Stories about Iowa City, Vol. 1,104). In 1910, the O. S. Kelly Western Manufacturing Company, as it was then called, ceased operations; unexpected low sales were blamed for the plant's demise (Kelly Springfield Today Part 1). A sweet corn cannery took over the building, which has since been razed. Soon, apartments will be built on the site of what once was a booming concern.

Maggard, who served as a director for the Iowa City Street Car Company, the first interurban line in the city, died on August 22, 1924, and was buried in Oakland Cemetery. His passing coincided with the gradual end of the age when leaders were civic-minded, when witty idiosyncrasy was desirable, and when moguls of industry stood alongside the workers on the factory floor. As surely as the gazebos, band concerts, ice-cream socials, and stiff boaters of braided straw and what they signified of prosperous, secure, polite, and happy society vanished, never to return, Maggard and his beloved steam engines passed beyond the wall of oblivion.

Photograph of same engine Serial No. 2058after painting, striping, and adding canopy. Note other engines in background and boxcar on siding.

In Maggard's heyday, the Kelly enterprise headquartered in Spring-field teemed with innovations to serve an expanding country. According to the 1880 census, Clark County, Ohio, had a population of 41,947, with 20,729 of these inhabitants living in Spring field a far cry from the population of five-hundred back in Oliver's boyhood. Springfield was fast becoming a city of factories within the state which, of all states, held the highest number of steam engine manufacturers. The Kelly works occupied ten acres and were located on the line of the C.C.C. and St. L. Railroad (Industries and Wealth of Ohio 117). The largest buildings stood three stories tall, and the factory employed between 250 and 300 skilled employees. In his unpublished 'History of the O. S. Kelly Company,' Austin Moon states that Gus Campeau, who had worked for the Cincinnati Railway, was the yard foreman at the Kelly plant. He had a crew of Macedonians, immigrants from Yugoslavia. Erected in 1899, the main foundry paralleled the old boiler shop, built around 1880. The foundry foreman until 1906 was Mark Livingston. To haul the trams loaded with iron and coke up the steep incline to the cupola building, lines of men shouldered cables as thick as their arms. The boiler shop rang with the blows of hammers striking rivets. Molten iron flowed into molds. Sparks showered from grinders, and mechanics shaped red-hot metal into the traction engines which drove the agricultural industry.

Most Kelly engines had two traction speeds, came in the popular sizes of twelve, fifteen, and eighteen horsepower, and carried a working pressure of up to 125 pounds per square inch. Two countershafts completed the rear gearing. Kelly offered open-faced driver wheels similar to those made by the Bird sall Company of Auburn, New York. Kelly engines weighed between 10,750 and 15,500 pounds (Kelly advertising sheet). One writer called Kelly's manufactures 'a class of machinery of incomparable excellence. It may be said that, as an evidence of the favor in which the company's products are held, they are in demand in all parts of the civilized world, and the demand is annually increasing in volume' (Industries of Springfield 28).

From 1898 until approximately 1905, Kelly experimented with a triple-cylinder, cross-compound, cable plowing engine, a rare photograph of which appears at the top of page 58 in Floyd Clymer's Album of Historical Steam Traction Engines and on the bottom of page 160 in Jack Norbeck's Encyclopedia of American Steam Traction Engines. All three cylinders could receive steam from the boiler, producing a so-called 'simple' engine for bursts of power, or the two outside cylinders could take exhaust steam from the middle cylinder to form, in effect, a single low-pressure cylinder (Kelly 49). A lever changed the engine from a simple to a presumably more efficient compound by routing the exhaust to the outside cylinders' steam chests. The connecting rods attached to the crankshaft at 120-degree intervals. The engine had no flywheel, the weight of the reciprocating parts sufficient for smooth revolutions. This engine used a radial valve gear. Made from 7/16 inch steel plate, the boiler barrel measured forty-three inches in diameter. The seam was double riveted. The boiler had 360 square feet of heating area and carried a pressure of 180 pounds per square inch. The engine could develop 120 horsepower. Its massive plate wheels (diameter eight feet, face two and a half feet, each weighing almost three tons) used three driving pins, not a differential gear. The cable drum held up to 1,350 feet of one-inch hawser.

The Scientific-American for July 29, 1899, features a photograph of a later road-locomotive model of this remarkable engine. The accompanying article, entitled, 'A Huge Overland Traction Engine,' states that such engines were shipped to Cuba. They could haul up to 112 tons each (not counting the weight of the engine and wagons) and were sold to remote plantations and mines far from railroads.

Although multiple cylinders were common in North American marine practice, the Kelly triple-cylinder engine must have been one of the few if not indeed the only traction engine to be so equipped. The fact that Kelly attempted to design such a behemoth attests to Oliver's willingness to explore unknown territory. At the turn of the century, Oliver sensed that his company's future would benefit from diversification: 'Beginning in 1898, piano plates (an integral part of a piano's sound system) were manufactured at the Springfield works. The O. S. Kelly Company began to phase out its agricultural equipment production and to manufacture piano plates in earnest' (Kelly Springfield Today Part 1). For years, the harp frames used in Steinway pianos have come from the Kelly factory in Springfield.

Founded in 1902, the Kelly-Springfield Road Roller Company, an outgrowth of the O. S. Kelly Company, later merged with the Buffalo Steam Roller Company, a division of the Buffalo-Pitts Company, to form the Buffalo-Springfield Roller Company. The present-day BOMAG corporation is descended from the Buffalo-Springfield firm and makes compaction equipment and soil stabilizers.

In 1888, Oliver's son Edwin, born in 1857, served as president of the Springfield Coal & Ice Company. In 1894, he joined his brother, Oliver W., born in 1851, and inventor Arthur W. Grant in founding the Rubber Tire Wheel Company, forerunner of the Kelly-Springfield Tire Company. In 1910, Edwin organized the Kelly-Springfield Truck Company. He stayed with that firm only two years but remained with the 0. S. Kelly Company until 1921 (Kelly-Springfield Today Parts 2 and 3). Edwin served as president or otherwise led half a dozen firms, including the Home Lighting, Heating and Power Company and the Kelly-Springfield Printing Company. For a long time, he was a newspaper publisher.

In 1899, Edwin purchased the 1,100-acre estate called Whitehall, situated just north of Yellow Springs, Ohio. There, he raised blue-ribbon shorthorn cattle, national-championship duroc jersey hogs, and new hybrids of flowers, including dahlias and peonies (Springfield Daily Republic 1,12). Twice having circled the globe and a frequent visitor to Europe, Edwin collected valuable furniture, curios, and art. Whitehall attracted visitors from around the world. Like his father, Edwin possessed a 'carefully planned, deliberate manner' which gave him the Midas touch (Kelly-Springfield Today Part 2). From 1912 until his death in 1935 at age seventy-eight, Edwin was virtually retired. The magnitude of his estate eclipsed his father's gold-rush fortune.

Tycoon Oliver S. Kelly had died in 1904; during the eighty years of his lifetime, he contributed to the growth of Springfield, Iowa City and the nation. In 1891, Oliver's Springfield firm drew the following praise:

The officers of this company are native Ohioans, and belong to that class of energetic, enterprising, public-spirited young business men in whose hands the continued development of this community rests. They are widely honored and esteemed for their inventive genius, their many accomplishments as manufacturers, and their thorough reliability in business affairs. Paying close attention to the improvement of their machinery and wares, rather than to the amount of sales or monetary returns, and endowed with a laudable ambition to excel, they have reached a pre-eminence in their industry of which they have every reason to be proud. (Industries and Wealth of Ohio 117)

If the historical records which were collected for this article from California, Great Britain, Iowa, Kentucky, and Ohio tell the truth about Oliver, the above-quoted tribute to an industrial pioneer and his company is richly deserved. Oliver's example presents an opportunity for sobering reflection on the differences between his era and our own and for respecting the values of yesteryear.

Works Cited

'A Huge Overland Traction Engine.' Scientific American. July 29,1899. 68.

Clymer Floyd. Album of Historical Steam Traction Engines. New York: Bonanza, 1949.

'E. S. Kelly, 78, Dies at Home.' Springfield Daily Republic. May 16, 1935. 1, 12.

Eskin, Sandra. Transcript of telephone conversation with the author. May 28, 1996.

'History of the O. S. Kelly Company.' Unpublished monograph by Austin Moon. In the collection of the Clark County, Ohio, Historical Society.

The Industries and Wealth of Ohio. New York: American Publishing and Engraving, 1891.

The Industries of Springfield, Ohio, and Environs. Springfield: James P. McKinney, 1893.

Kelly, Maurice A. The American Steam Traction Engine: A History of Trans Atlantic Variety. Stamford, Great Britain: CMS, 1995.

Kelly-Springfield Today. 3 Parts. 1987. This work is a special series published by the Kelly Springfield Company to commemorate corporation history.

Maggard, James H. The Traction Engine: Its Use and Abuse. Philadelphia: McKay, 1915.

'Manufactured and Sold by the O. S. Kelly Company.' This piece is an advertising sheet showing two cuts of engines on one side and offering specifications on the verso. Although no date appears, the style of the engine is the later Kelly design.

Norbeck, Jack. Encyclopedia of American Steam Traction Engines. Sarasota: Crestline, 1976.

Scientific American Reference Book. New York: Munn, 1884. Census data for 1880 appear in this source.

Weber, Irving B. Historical Stories about Iowa City. Vols. 1, 2 and 5. This work also goes under the title Irving Weber's Iowa City. Weber read portions of this series over the telephone to the author (see below).

Weber, Irving B. Transcript of telephone conversation with the author. May 29, 1996.

Yester Year in Clark County, Ohio. Springfield: Clark Co. Historical Society, 1978. Sections of this work were first published under separate titles in 1947 and 1948.