Keck-Gonnerman Steam Engine History

A Brief History of Keck-Gonnerman Co.

22-65 HP engine

Another view of the Biesecker Keck-Gonnerman.

Photo by Jack C. Norbeck

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Keck-Gonnerman steam engines were built 16 miles south of Evansville, Indiana. Mr. Billie Keck and Mr. Gonnerman were from Germany and were fine mechanics when they came to the U.S.A. They started a blacksmith shop and built their first engine where the factory was in Mount Vernon, Indiana.

The company was established in 1873, headed by John Keck, Louis H. Keck and Wm. Gonnerman for their lifetime. The steam traction engines at first were side mounted single cylinder units, very simple and powerful. These engines were well balanced and had everything to make a good traction better. The Arnold reverse gear was used and was very positive and well liked; the friction clutch was positive and was one of the best designed to be found on any traction engine. Rocker grates, cross head pump, and injector were used. Very reliable, this engine made friends wherever it went.

Then came the double cylinder Keck-Gonnerman, offered as both inside and rear geared models. These were also accepted fast by the trade. The gearing used was heavy; all engines had pumps and injectors, friction clutch; in fact nothing was left out. The later models had the new Miller reverse valve gears on the single engines and the Gentry type on the double. A Keck-Gonnerman hitched to a good thresher would make itself known, and was found busy from morning to dark during the threshing era.

Keck-Gonnerman built in 1924 at Mount Vernon, Indiana, now owned by Butch Biesecker, Bear, Delaware. This engine is a 22-65 HP engine #1775. The bore and stroke is 9 x 12 using a Broderick boiler which holds 47 2-inch tubes. In 1994 the rings were replaced, the valve linkage was rebabbitted, main bearings were replaced, the flues were retubed, the gearing rebushed, and they replaced the cross head pump with castings. Photo taken at Rough & Tumble by Jack C. Nor beck, author of the Encyclopedia of American Steam Traction Engines. You can see this engine in action every year at the Rough & Tumble show.

Keck-Gonnerman threshers were fast grain savers and dependable; equipped with self feeder, weigher and baggers, wind stackers, and a fifteen bar cylinder. With a good crew the Keck-Gonnerman was a hard one to beat during the threshing season. They were long lived and easy to keep up.

After 1921 all Keck-Gonnermans were mounted on boilers built according to the A.S.M.E. specification, having 3/8 inch inch boiler shell and a waist double butt strap riveted and made to stand 175 lbs. of working steam pressure.

The Keck-Gonnerman gas/oil tractors likewise were well constructed. The power was ample for the largest threshers. Some of these can be still found in good condition. The bean and pea threshers were well liked. In the '20s and '30s, cow peas were a major crop in west Kentucky, southwest Missouri and southern Illinois. The Keck-Gonnerman sawmills likewise were heavily in demand in the 1900s to about 1925. Coal mining machinery was another unit built by Keck-Gonnerman.

This old firm stayed in business longer than almost all others did. The company was incorporated in 1901.

Information for this article came from the Encyclopedia of American Steam Traction Engines and from Butch Biesecker, Bear, Delaware.