KITTEN ENGINES:

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Kitten steam engine

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Reprinted with permission of The Ferdinand News, Ferdinand, Indiana. Thursday, October 12, 1995 issue.

A banner year for Ferdinand was 1906. The town's railroad began operation after years of planning; Ferdinand Bottling Works would soon begin making carbonated beverages under management of the Haug brothers and, after two months the pressman for the recently established FerdinandNews, Mr. Henry Haake, took over as publisher and editor-in-chief.

That year also saw a changing of the guard of The Kitten Machine Shop. Florenz Kitten, who founded his empire in 1868, turned the operation over to his only son, Joseph F. Kitten. Though he would live another 14 years, Florenz was undoubtedly ready for a rest when he retired at the age of 66.

At this time the foundry was located at Eighth and Missouri, while the Machine Shop adjoined Florenz Kitten's home at the corner of Ninth and Virginia. In the huge (for its time) two story building a crew made steam engine powered equipment, including threshing machines, grain separators, clover haulers, and corn separators, as well as other steam-driven equipment like saw mills for the lumber industry.

The manufacturing plant continued successfully, but in 1908 Joseph sold the business to John Hassfurther and John P. Reinecker, who changed the name to the Ferdinand Foundry and Machine Works.

Joseph took the plant back over in 1914, but his death in March, 1918 ended the Kitten dynasty. In an age when women were expected to stay home and raise children, Joseph's wife Elizabeth and her father, Tony Buschkoetter, successfully managed the business. Eventually Elizabeth and Joseph W. Bickwermert bought the company.

Bickwermert leased the operation in January 1931 and he purchased the business as sole owner in 1935.

The name underwent a change for the second time to the Ferdinand Machine Company.

Bickwermert ran the business for the next 10 years, selling it in 1945 to Leo G. Schipp, Mike and Fintan Stallings, who continued the operation in a similar fashion.

Meanwhile the world of agriculture was changing. A man named Deere came up with a pretty good design for farm tractors. The invention of the combine would soon follow and by the late 1950s steam powered threshing machines were almost obsolete.

Eddie Wessel and Leo Jasper are pictured here in 1922 in front of a threshing operation using a Kitten steam engine. This photo was loaned by the Ferdinand Historical Society.

The company, always forward thinking, entered the woodworking finishing market in 1950 with the introduction of single and two-station direct roll coater and curtain coaters.

Additional items for finishing purposes were added to the line over the years, including multi-station printers, scuff sanding machiner, reverse roll coaters, IR and UV curing equipment, high velocity electric or gas fired ovens, various types of conveyors, material handling equipment and high speed paper and vinyl laminators.

Preparing for the future, what had begun as the Kitten Machine Shop in 1868 was incorporated in 1952 as DuBois County Machine Co., Inc. with Fintan Stallings listed as president and Mike Stallings name vice president. Additional manufacturing was begun in a new Jasper facility in 1953 and Ed Vogler became the third major shareholder.

Bob Dall joined the company in February 1957. He handled repairs and occasionally worked on Kitten engines, by this time obsolete. He remembers when, in December of 1959, all operations were moved to Jasper and the Ferdinand shop was sold to Ferdinand Development Corporation. 'Bob Oser was driving a truck load of long steel. The weight of the steel in the truck bed was so heavy it lifted the front wheels off the ground.'

Bob is the only active employee left from the Ferdinand shop. He will retire in a little more than a year, after 40 years with the company. He has seen the business grow and the focus change.

Ownership changed hands several timesMike Stallings sold his interest to Joe Zoglman and the officers were Fintan Stallings, Joe Zoglman and Ed Vogler; then Jim Deaton bought Zoglman's interest.

On February 1, 1969 Bill Lange joined the firm as an engineer. Lange designed a differential roll coater, which was a major development in the woodworking finish market. Lange became an integral part of the operation. Lange purchased the interest of Ed Vogler and was a shareholder with Deaton and Stallings. Following Jim Deaton's death, Lange eventually purchased the shares of Fintan Stallings and is the sole owner of the company today.

Dubois Machine Company bears little resemblance to the Kitten Machine Shop.

The company today employs seven engineers to design custom manufacturing systems, built in the machine shops for firms in Europe, South America and Canada as well as the United States.

Florenz Kitten would be so proud! His company was founded on innovation and today, in its present incarnation, Dubois Machine Company, Inc. is known as a world wide design leader.