Steam Engines & Threshing Machines

# Picture 01

Spalding Photo # 1

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New York Engines

Steve Davis, 654 Route 20, West Winfield, NY 13491 (e-mail:, writes in this issue with a plea for anyone having information on companies that operated in New York making agricultural steam engines. Steve writes:

For many years I have tried to see how many New York state-based makers of farm-type steam engines I could identify. Many years ago Iron-Men Album published my findings up to that time. I have found a few more since, and would like to see an updated list published. But before this occurs I would like to ask for assistance from readers it is inevitable that others have pictures or information of which I am unaware.

The bulk of production in New York was by a small number of firms, such as Buffalo-Pitts, S.W. Wood and Westinghouse. But many engines were produced by very small concerns. When I first began my research I intended to include stationary engines, but I soon realized that made it a much larger subject than I was prepared to tackle. I would like to see someone tackle that and would be more than happy to assist.

If anyone has any information (ads, pictures) or leads I would welcome any type of assistance.

Steam-Powered Press

Don F. Gilbert, 21230 Shady Grove Road, Siloam Springs, AR 72761, (479) 524-9883 (e-mail: 74617,, is looking for help locating a period steam engine to run a printing press. Don writes:

We are developing a Historic Adventist Village in Battle Creek, Mich., and within this village we will locate a reconstruction of the first steam-powered press in the state of Michigan. We have secured a single-cylinder roller press that dates to that time. The original press was an Adams Press, but we have not been able to find an Adams of that vintage.

My request now is if anyone can put me in touch with someone who might have a small steam engine of 3 HP to 10 HP that was manufactured sometime between 1830 and 1860. The actual date of the printing shop installation of the steam engine to operate the press was 1855. We want a working steam engine, or at least one that can be repaired and used.

Engine Identification

John Spalding, 112 Carriage Place, Hendersonville, TN 37035, is clearly in the mood for some fun, sending in some great pictures and challenging readers for identification. John writes:

I'm sending in a couple of different ones for you this issue. I have absolutely no clue what the first one is. On the back of Photo #1 it says 'P.T. Slellmacher on engine, Wells, Minn.' It could be a misspelling of Stellmacher, as research shows there are no Slellmachers in Minnesota or Wisconsin, but many Stellmachers. Anyway, set your ole' hound dogs loose on this one I guarantee one of 'em will not only know what it is, they're probably keeping one of 'em in their barn. By the way, I'm realizing I'm way out of my league in almost every aspect of steam tractors, except for water chemistry and the prevention of scale and corrosion (which is what I do for a living).

Photo #2 (this one I know) says 'G.W. Chase, Photographer, Newark' on the back. I'll let 'em try and guess this one.

I know the manufacturer of Photo #3 (only because I can actually read it off of the engine - let's see if the boys can figure it out). It says 'Bowen & Quick, Auburn, N.Y.' on both the engine and the separator.

Photo #4 is an easy one - I'm sending it more for the picture itself than for its obscurity. It reads: 'Uncle Will Haire, Henry Haire, Elmer Haire and neighbor,' with 74 and 3142 circled on the back and 'Brunner, Photographer' written on the front. I had to put in an easy one - I don't want these guys against me, I may need them to show me how to run one of my own giants one day.

Thanks again, and keep up the great job.

Montana Engines and a Further Response

Regular contributor Gary Yaeger, 1120 Leisha Lane, Kalispell, MT 59901 (, writes in again, this time sending something different from Montana, along with a reply to a letter in the November/December 2002 issue of Iron-Men Album. Gary writes:

After all of the Reeves pictures a couple of issues ago, I thought I should send something in, but maybe not Reeves pictures this time.

Photo #1 is of my 15 HP 1909 Case, engine number 21743, on the lowboy and my 1925 Model TT Ford, after their arrival at our 'new' home near Kalispell, Mont. I sent this for Chady Atteberry, as he kind of likes Model Ts and Case engines. He says they go together, and I thoroughly agree.

Photo #2 may not print well, but consider what is happening and the timing of the picture. It shows Steve Anderson's house moving outfit on Main Street in Lewistown, Mont., in front of the Fergus County Courthouse. The photo was taken in the dead of winter, as can be seen by the heavy clothing on the man (Steve Anderson?) in front of the engines. The front outfit is a 12-25 or 15-30 Avery gas tractor. The second engine is a 30 HP under-mounted Avery, and the rear is Steve Anderson's 40-120 Z-3 Geiser-Peerless, both steam engines. They made an impressive amount of steam at this temperature.

Photo #3 shows an Advance compound pulling a separator and I am giving notice to Lyle Hoffmaster that I am not going to attempt to guess the horsepower of this Advance! This picture was copied from the Carl Mehmke collection.

Photo #4 is of an early Best, or possibly even a Remington with wide driver wheels, pulling a combine harvester. This picture is also copied from the Carl Mehmke collection.

Photo #5 shows a Gaar-Scott side mounted engine threshing on a farm near Northwood, N.D. The barn is quite a nice one, and back then farmers took care of their horses in a barn in the same manner as today's farmer takes care of his tractors and machinery in a machine shed.

Photo #6 is a copy of a postcard showing a Holt steam engine plowing with six disk plows. It is also from the Carl Mehmke collection.

Photo #7 shows a larger Minneapolis straw-burner engine and thresher, having been snowed on in the stubble field. It could have been a freak snowstorm or could be normal weather around Thanksgiving time. I am wondering if the engine was belted to the rear or if they turned the engine around before they quit threshing for the day? A continuing thank you to Carl Mehmke, for sharing his pictures and for allowing me to share them with readers.

Well, the stories and pictures of this summer's shows should start arriving on your desk, giving subscribers another winter's enjoyment through our corresponding fellow engine men sharing their special moments at shows. You and your fine crew please keep up the good work in providing the finest steam traction engine materials found in any publication on earth. Bar none!

A Response

Mr. Hughes. I have no problem with you including me with the 'hobby engineers,' as that has been my favorite aspect of my steam career for the past 49 seasons. However, I also carry a second-class stationary engineer's license (up to 250 psi) for our state (Montana), and I happen to use that one in my vocation (I am the maintenance chief and the head engineer for a local school district, plus a retainer engineer with a local lumber mill), as I have for over 14 years. I log an average of nearly 700 hours a year in that capacity, with multiple boilers and as a supervisor. In spite of automatic controls, I am paid to be conscious of the water level in the glass. I realize you were not questioning my expertise or experience, but you had me fooled for quite some time

I stated; 'In the engine I am operating, you will always find one-quarter to one-half glass of water, plus water in the tanks, and enough steam to run the injector or pump.' Yes, Mr. Hughes, I am 'sure about that.' I can honestly and proudly say I never have, and never will, compromise those conditions. Ever. I grew up under the iron fist of a real 'iron man,' and I was taught there is no room for error, so I have conducted my steam life in that manner, to the very best of my ability. I probably should have carried my statement one sentence further and commented on how many times I have pulled a fire because the water level over the crown sheet could have become a threatening issue. I have had hand hole gaskets blow out, cantankerous injectors or pumps that wouldn't pick up, scale in a check valve, and numerous other challenges while under quite high steam pressure that would threaten the margin of safety of the water level. Certainly, my adrenalin level was up until the situation was remedied.

From the moment I first threw a match into our old 20-70 Nichols & Shepard at 11 years old, it was impressed upon me repeatedly, for years, to never lose sight of the terribly destructive force of steam. It was drilled into my subconscious that a drop of water expanded nearly 1,700 times when it turned to steam. No, Mr. Hughes (and Mr. Aldrich), I am not over confident and 'dangerous,' as you would suggest. I take my steam engineering very seriously.

I have not seen the video of the 32 HP Case as it approached the Medina Fairgrounds. People I know who have seen it tell me of the poppet valves (on each end of the cylinder) releasing a puff of steam on each end of the stroke of the piston. To me, this would indicate operating pressures above 175 psi and likely closer to 200 psi. At pressures approaching 200 psi, a standard injector would no longer function.

A functioning fusible plug could, possibly, have remedied this incident. That may have prevented the overheating (read the sheriff's final investigative public report, Mr. Hughes, it states that the crown sheet was 'overheated') of the crown sheet. It would seem that, '... after being subjected to years of corrosion and subsequently reduced to a thickness well beyond acceptable limits' perhaps was not the factor.

But this 32 HP Case engine did go through Minnesota inspections, at least as recently as the 150th Case Anniversary held at Rollag in 1992.

What is your definition of 'acceptable limits,' Mr. Hughes? I realize some boilers can be completely shot. I was not including these. I was referring to the ones that would hold water. However, if it will pass a 150 percent warm water pump up, and provided the stay bolts and sheets have been hammer tested, they can be generally sound.

Living in a state that requires boiler inspections, I believe boilers that pass inspection shouldn't suffer a catastrophic incident as long as water is kept on the crown sheet. I have cataloged boiler explosion pictures and stories for nearly 50 years, and there is one common denominator: If the engineer survived, they nearly always swore, 'there was water in the glass.' But, the crown sheet blew down when the throttle was opened, the injector was turned on, or the engine moved and in one case when the firebox door was slammed. I am glad Montana requires engineer inspections and licensing.

A friend related a story to me of an engine east of the Mississippi in which, when mud and scale was washed out of the mud leg, a 'near dime' size hole appeared in a firebox side sheet. This engine had been operating at 150 psi just the day before and hadn't leaked, or blown up. Please don't accuse me of advocating thin boilers, but this hole, had it sprung a leak in the water leg, would likely have just made it impossible to keep a fire going

I am quite aware that high carbon steel isn't close to being ductile enough for boilers and would only crack and split (and explode) in that application. I have several engineering and ASME books for reference and 'thorough research,' Mr.Hughes. Don't lose yours.

Randy Schwerin, you are correct about fusible plugs. An engineer's mind should never tell him he has one more level of safety when operating a traction engine: You should operate it as though there was no soft plug. Bruce Babcock would undoubtedly agree -there just may not be one. And, Randy, you are also correct - the ASME has no equation to assess an operator's capability.

1893 Geiser

Pierre Bos, La Cerisaie, 16, BD. DIE, F.1 3012, Marseille, France, sent in a copy of a drawing (Image #1) evidently drafted by Geiser Manufacturing Co., Waynesboro, Pa., on the event of the 1893 Chicago Exposition. At some point soon thereafter, these drawings, or copies thereof, made there way to France as part of a display on agricultural mechanization in the U.S.

The drawings are rich with detail, seemingly showing every rivet, stay-bolt and flue. No engine size is noted, and it's hoped one of our readers will have the answer. Next issue we'll run a companion drawing showing further details. Note that all measurements are in meters and millimeters.

Frick Eclipse 28803 Update

Regular readers will remember A.J. Hamilton's story, 'The History of Steam Traction Engine 28803,' which appeared in the July/August 2002 issue of Iron-Men Album. In that article, A.J. presented documentation tracing the engine back to its original owner, a Mr. John H. Burchard of Chestertown, Md. Well, as luck would have it, A.J. was able to track down a photograph (Photo #1) of Mr. Burchard, and he sent a copy so we might share it with readers. The date of the photo is unknown, but it shows John H. Burchard standing alongside his wife, Alice. It's quite something, after all this time, to have the rare privilege of putting a face to an engine built almost 80 years ago.

Thoughts on Boiler Failure

Recent subscriber Ed McCall, 22 Camp Road, Jewett City, CT 06351 (860-376-3131), writes in with his thoughts on the on-going discussions surrounding boiler safety and causes of failure. Ed writes: As a new subscriber to your magazine, I want to thank Gary Yaeger, Chady Atteberry, Larry Creed and Lyle Hoffmaster for their constant banter, as well as the capable Thomas Stebritz and Melvin Pierce for overseeing. They make the magazine!

A letter in the May/June 2002 issue by Mr. Aldrich caught my attention. He criticized Mr. Yaeger for offering insight and impartial comment on metallurgy and related facts involving a boiler explosion. Mr. Aldrich suggests we not ignore facts, yet would deny where those facts lead. Blame (responsibility) is irrelevant, he says, as it will not change anything, yet he wants to avoid such an occurrence in the future?

He offers his own deduction that failure of the crown sheet could have been caused by excessive pressure due to a deteriorated condition of the boiler. He apparently seeks to absolve the operator of responsibility by blaming the explosion on the machine. He claims Mr. Yaeger is denying corrosion of stay bolts, etc., yet the presence of these conditions is evidence of operator error. There are conditions under which all boilers can be safe. It is the responsibility of the operator to determine and meet those conditions.

Mr. Yaeger is further accused of having a dangerous attitude regarding boiler condition versus operator skill. Talk about convoluted logic. Whose boiler exploded? Mr. Aldrich says it is the job of a boiler inspector to shut down unsafe boilers. This is a prime example of bureaucratic mentality. The purpose of an inspector is to determine the conditions under which an activity may be permitted. Permit procedures are in effect to manage or control. 'Regulate' is not synonymous with 'prohibit.'

I thank this magazine for the objective and comprehensive coverage they gave this incident.

P.S. Hey Creed and the rest of you guys, remember, I'm new at this. I need some opinion on compounding versus simple and large boiler low pressure (100 psi) versus small boiler high pressure (175 psi).

If you have a comment, question or reminiscence for Past and Present, please send it along to: Steam Traction, 1503 S.W. 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609-1265, or e-mail :