Purrfect Timing for Another Kitten Steam Engine

Possibility of a museum spurs purchase of a Kitten steam engine.

Kitten near completion

Kitten engine no. 197 near its completion.

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The Florens Kitten family was born in Prussia in 1840. When Florens was 10 he moved with his family to the United States where they settled in a promising Indiana farming area near Ferdinand. Florens helped his father on the farm until he was 19, then for six years he worked as a carpenter. It was at the end of this period that the name Kitten began to spread in popularity.

Florens was the founder of the Ferdinand Foundry & Machine Works. He started by building steam engines and steam threshers in the second floor of his home around 1880. On May 29, 1889, he filed an application with the United States Patent Office to receive the patent rights for his steam engine, thresher and sawmill. This patent no. 409,594 was granted on Aug. 20, 1889.

Soon, area farmers saw the need for his equipment, and he needed a bigger building. Florens constructed a two-story factory and foundry adjoining his home.

The first engines built used an upright boiler, but soon he started building a horizontal-type boiler; both were horse-drawn. After several years he started making traction engines, which was a big improvement as now farmers could move on their own, pulling their threshers and machinery from farm to farm. The primary use of steam engines was for belt power, but at times they were also used for field and road construction.

From the 1880s through 1940, Kitten built a total of 224 engines. Most of these engines spent their working days within the tri-state area, as moving heavy equipment in those days was not easy. The total weight of the Kitten engine, fully loaded with water, tools and coal, is 17,025 pounds.

The Kitten engine used a 25 HP boiler with a return-flue design. It was a rather unusual engine as the cylinder was mounted on the right and the flywheel/belt pulley was on the left. Kitten designed the short return-flue boiler because he thought it would perform better in the hilly farming area around Ferdinand and southern Indiana.

Known Kitten Engines

There are about 22 Kitten steam engines known to exist in the country. The last one, built in 1940, was bought new by Lueken & Pund Lumber Co., Ferdinand, and is now owned by Jerry Kitten, great, great, great nephew to Florens, of Slaton, Texas. Jerry also has a thresher and sawmill built by the Ferdinand Foundry & Machine Works in his collection.

Each year Jerry and his family have a Kitten reunion and the main attraction, of course, is firing up the Kitten engine and bringing back memories of the years when steam was the king of all power.

Engines 176 and 214

Engine no. 176 was built in 1912 and sold new to John and Ed Weyer, uncles of my wife, Juliana (Weyer). In 1924 it was sold to Herb and Harry Ruhe. Harry sold his half share to Bruno Johanneman, then the engine was sold to Joe Lueken Sr. and Joe Lueken Jr. Joe Sr. sold his half share to Leo Pund. Lueken and Pund sold the engine to Jake Marner, Loogootee, Ind., who turned around and sold it to Wallace Freeman, Cadiz, Ky.

Engine no. 176 is now restored and owned by Lindauer Farms.

Engine no. 214 was built in 1924 and purchased new on March 30, 1925, by Frank Arnold, Mariah Hill, Ind. Frank and his two sons had two Kitten engines, threshers and sawmills. When steam-generated power was retired in favor of gasoline engines in 1947, Frank sold the engine to Henry Humphrey, Osgood, Ind. According to Henry’s son, James, the engine was his father’s pride and joy, and the last time he fired it up was July 4, 1962. He spent most of the afternoon blowing the steam whistle.

In 1967 the engine was sold to Al New, Pendleton, Ind. Al is a collector of steam-powered engines and still owns Kitten no. 220, which he takes to several shows each year. Al owns several other brands of steam engines but says you have to own a Kitten, as it is quite a unique engine. Al sold engine no. 214 to Paul Stolzfoos, Leola, Pa., and it was put on display at the Rough & Tumble Engineers Historical Assn. grounds. This is where I purchased it, and it is now restored and on display at the farm.

The exact number of threshers Kitten built is not known but was around 190. Several of these are still around, and at least four Kitten threshers were on display and used at the Ferdinand Benedictine Farm Show in July 1992.
The Kitten thresher, sometimes called a separator, is a well-built machine using the very best grade yellow poplar lumber available. It has a 36-inch cylinder and all the straw walkers are built of wood. Area owners of Kitten separators are as follows:

  • Henry and Phil Kempf, Troy, Ind. – serial number unknown
  • Francis Lindauer family, Ferdinand, Ind. – no. 104
  • Herb and Eugene Burke, St. Anthony, Ind. – no. 116
  • Francis Lindauer family, Ferdinand, Ind. – no. 136

Henry and Phil Kempf’s is one of the early-built threshers and is still a hand-fed machine and uses the box measuring instead of the weigher, which was added later.

Mine came new as a hand feeder and box measurer, the Roth self-feeder and weigher were added later. John C. Thimling, Haysville, Ind., bought no. 104 new in 1910. In 1929 it was sold to Philip Keller of Haysville, and was later owned by his son James Keller. From James it was sold to my family where it is today. This thresher was well taken care of and is now restored to near mint condition.

Last Kitten Restored –
No. 197

The third and last Kitten engine purchased and restored by my family was engine no. 197. The engine was sitting in the woods at Cedar Lake, Ind., close to Chicago, for about 28 years. William Ruttledge had owned it until he passed away. His grandson inherited it, but never moved it.

A fellow by the name of Tom Poleski had seen this engine as he walked to school years ago. In later years he decided to take a closer look at the engine, as he says he does not like to see older machinery just deteriorate. After getting closer to the old relic, he noticed a casting on the side of the slide valve and cylinder, noting the Ferdinand Foundry & Machine Works had built it. This made him want to find out more about this engine, so he called the Ferdinand Chamber of Commerce. He asked if anyone would still be around who knew about this Kitten machinery. Tom said they told him to call my family, gave him our telephone number, and assured him his question would be answered.

Tom called us several times, but we really did not need more engines, so at first we did not even think to look at the engine. At that time there was some interest in starting a museum at Ferdinand, so we thought we would check it out anyway. Henry Kempf, a good friend of mine and very knowledgeable on engines, said he would like to go along. Henry also owns a Kitten engine.

Tom received permission from the owners to take a look. We found the Kitten engine with grown trees all around, but it seemed that when it was parked many years earlier it was probably in good condition. The gearing and heavy cast iron parts were better than average. The boiler had never been welded, but we knew it would need a lot of work to operate again. Of course all the lighter metal parts like the water tank, canopy, platform, toolbox and coal bin were rusted beyond repair, but these we could make new with a lot of work.

We decided to purchase the relic and tackle the job to restore it, which took about two years. Now it looks almost like new, and the first time it was fired up was when the school children and Dubois County Historical Society were at our farm demonstration tour in April 2004.

On June 30, 1920, Frank Beckman purchased this Kitten, engine no. 197, new from the Ferdinand Foundry & Machine Works. The owners after him were Joseph Berg, Wilbur Collins, William Ruttledge and now my family, who purchased it on Aug. 30, 2000.

Contact steam enthusiast Francis Lindauer at (812) 367-1488. 

Surrounding Ferdinand Area Kittens

Seven of the 22 engines left are now within 25 miles of the Ferdinand area.

Owners:  Manufacturing date, number and horsepower: 
Francis Lindauer & Sons Farm, Ferdinand Oct. 24, 1913, no. 176, 25 HP
Francis Lindauer family, Ferdinand June 30, 1920, no. 197, 25 HP
Hubert and Eugene Reynolds, Boonville June 7, 1922, no. 204, 25 HP
Francis Lindauer & Sons Farm, Ferdinand March 30, 1925, no. 214, 25 HP
Graveyard marker, Adieville Date unknown, between 1926-27(?), no. 217, 25 HP
Lawrence Troesch, St. Meinrad Date unknown, between 1935-1937(?), no. 221, 25 HP
Henry and Phil Kempf, Troy Date unknown, between 1935-1937(?), no. 222, 25 HP