Second Chance: Case Steam Tractor Restoration

The Fisher family of Redland, OR initially declined when the author offered to restore their Case steam tractor in the mid-1980s. Twenty years later he got his wish.

Case steam tractor - compound engine detail

Detail shot of the Case tractor’s compound engine. Case introduced compound engines in the late 1890s, but dropped them after about 1910.

David R. Long

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In 1984, when I was 17 years old and getting interested in steam, I was told that the Fischer Mill Supply outside of Redland, OR, had a steam engine, so I went out there to see if it was true. It was.

I went into the sales office and asked if I could have a look, and I found this Case steam tractor. Although I knew a bit about boilers and basic steam engines, I didn't know anything about operating or restoring a traction engine. I had a little experience working on steam locomotives, so I wanted to give it a shot. I went to the owner, Gene Fischer, and asked if I could help restore it or even buy it — okay, I was dreaming. Gene said, "no" because I did not even know what I was looking at. Disappointed, I left and forgot about it.

Later that year, I joined the Western Steam Fiends at Antique Powerland in Brooks, Ore., home of the Great Oregon Steam-Up, and I learned as much as I could about steam tractors, boilers and stationary engines.

Years went by and life changed. I moved out of state for a couple of years, then moved back in 1992. In 2001 I went back to the mill to see if the engine was still there. It was right where I remembered it, so once again I asked Gene Fischer if I could restore the engine. This time he smiled, and told me to see Dean, his son, who had taken over ownership.

I went to see Dean, and we talked a while about what I knew about steam tractors and tractor restoration. Dean asked me to come back in a week so he could think about it, as he had just received an offer for it. A week later, he told me I could start working on it.

In March 2001, I removed the jacket and checked the boiler. It was in good shape and hydro tested to 150 psi. I replaced the plumbing and inspected the cylinders. The smokebox door was split in two and had steel straps holding it together, so I had Silverton Foundry in Silverton, OR, sand cast a new one as well as a few other parts. I had never seen a tandem compound before, so I started researching and found a reprint of an owner's manual and obtained drawings from the Case Heritage Foundation.

Close Inspection

In May, I called the state boiler inspector for the first of three inspections that Oregon requires on a pressure vessel. The first is an internal inspection with an ultra sound. The boiler passed, but I was told I needed a new safety valve because there was no A.S.M.E. stamp on the one I had. The gauge needed to be calibrated before the final fire test. A week later after it passed its hydro test it was okay to fire the boiler, and I was instructed to let the inspector know when I wanted him back for the fire test — I was to have the boiler hot and ready when he arrived.

During the wait for the new pop valve and gauge preparation I made new wood grates. I used 5/8-inch plate cut in the same shape as the original with the same spacing and a new ash pan. Using the drawings I'd acquired, I made an under-platform water tank to replace the one that was missing. With the brick drawings I made a mold for the arch bricking that goes inside the firebox just below the first row of tubes at an angle towards the crown sheet. This gives fuel gases a better chance to burn in the firebox before going through the tubes. I have found firing an engine with brick is better than without, something I learned from hand-firing steam locomotives.

On June 3, 2001 — the engine's 97th birthday — the Case was operated for the first time in over 20 years. I found two problems with the engine proper, mainly with the valve gear eccentric and worn eccentric bushings.

The following day the final inspection was done. The inspector checked the safety valve to see if it was proper for state law and A.S.M.E. code. The safety valve and gauge must be within 3 psi of each other when the safety valve pops off. The inspector watched to see if I could safely operate the boiler and operate the injector as well as to see if it worked properly. I was asked to blow down the glass and check the tri-cocks. With the boiler certificate done, I attended to other problems, with hopes to have the engine ready for the 2001 Great Oregon Steam-Up. The engine was taken to the show but was only operated gently because of more problems — specifically a bent rear axle on the right side and a shot front left wheel bearing. The eccentric problem grew worse after the second day of operation, and we discovered the engine was more out of time than we thought.

Crown Sheet Woes

In early spring of 2002 the state recertification process began. During the internal inspection while the inspector was inside the firebox, he said, "Oh no." He popped his head out of the firebox door and said that the crown sheet was "pillowed" and I needed to replace it. After crawling out of the firebox, he explained that since the 2001 accident in Medina, Ohio, all hobby boilers, mainly old boilers, were under increased scrutiny.

I went to Dean and told him the bad news. Dean said his friend Tommy Martin was a boiler builder from Redland and had all the A.S.M.E. certifications to put in a new crown sheet. However, we found out the repairs must be done by an A.S.M.E certified boiler repair shop with R-stamp certification in the state of Oregon.

Dean hired State Wide Welding in Salem, OR, to put in the new crown sheet. I cut out the old sheet but kept all the stay bolts because they were in like-new condition. I ground the ends of the bolts down to about a 30-degree angle, and then prepped where the sheet was to be welded. The boiler welder did all the rest.

With the crown sheet out, I had a chance to get a good look inside the boiler and the top of the tubes. Everything looked like new inside. As the boiler work was being done, I took off the eccentric and all the brasses and had those re-machined. They were pretty worn, as was the valve guide, so I had it all trued.

By the early summer of 2003, the boiler was complete and the engine proper was almost finished. I started on making a canopy, using drawings that were copies of the original for this engine. I needed some odd sizes of lumber, so I went to Steam Fiends sawyer Vern Yeager to have him rough-cut fir for me, which I then planed down. Although the front attachment on the boiler for the canopy was removed and you could see where the studs were, we were not allowed to re-drill them. Instead, we had a box welded on the top of the shell where the studs were and made it look like the bolted bracket that would have been there. With the engine done and the timing set, I did a quick test run and all seemed fine. It was just one week before the 2003 Great Oregon Steam-Up.

At the show we found the engine out of time in one direction, and okay in the other, but it was low on power and was hammering. I called on fellow Steam Fiends member Fred Schultz of Woodland, WA to help me with the engine, and we spent almost the whole show re-timing the engine and finding the hammer. The public enjoyed seeing the insides of the Wolf valve gear and seeing the tandem pistons taken apart. At the last weekend on the last day, Fred and I ran the engine in the final hours of the show, and I would not have been able to do it without Fred. Our club is fortunate to have so many people willing to help out and teach us what they know.

I finished the canopy just in time for the 2004 show, the engine's 100th birthday. Tommy Martin and I had a great time showing her off. I still have axle work to do for 2005, and although it's a challenge, it's so much fun!

I am still looking for information on this engine, including photos of it in 1904 and records on who ordered the engine. If anyone has any information, please contact me. I am also looking for the proper Marsh steam water pump for it.