Steam Engines & Threshing Machines


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Steam and tractor historian Jack Alexander, 7795 Crews Road, Gilroy, CA 95020 (, has a wonderful habit of coming across interesting steam-related material. This month, Jack sends us a great postcard, and we'll leave it to readers to make of it what they will.

While on the subject of Jack, we should mention he's just published a new book, The First American Farm Tractors, Developments to 1917, that's sure to be of interest to steam and gas tractor fans. Jack's book is the result of years of research, and it contains references to hundreds of manufacturers and would-be manufacturers. Much more than simply a listing or a 'Who's Who' of inventors and builders, Jack's book is a compelling look at America's drive to develop mechanized cultivation as the frontiers of the country steadily gave way to the farmer's plow. It's an interesting and effective chronology of agricultural innovations, and an important work to anyone interested in steam, gas and agricultural history. As for the postcard, Jack writes:

I can't help but smile every time that I see this card, which falls in the class of fantastic steam powered inventions from the 1800s and early 1900s. The back side is plain, so it may not have been a postcard perhaps a show premium? Enjoy.

Pierce Photo #1: George Schaaf's 1890 Case return-flue at the 2003 17th Annual Case Exposition. Case return-flue engines were straw burners, available in 12 HP and 16 HP sizes.

Maumee Valley Update

Lester E. Pierce, 4998 320 St., Stanberry, MO 64489, director of the J.I. Case Heritage Foundation, chimes in this issue with a quick review of the 2003 J.I. Case Heritage Foundation Annual Exposition. Lester writes:

Antique power was well-represented at the Maumee Valley Antique Steam and Gas Association 26th Annual Show at New Haven, Ind., Aug. 14-17, 2003. A dozen or so steam traction machines of different makes were on hand, and gas tractors were lined up axle-to-axle in the tractor-pull pavilion.

The Maumee Valley Association also hosted the 17th Annual Case Expo. One feature was George Schaaf's 1890 Case return-flue engine, which is destined for placement in the new Racine Heritage Museum in Racine, Wis. The attractively restored piece will be part of the museum's J.I. Case memorabilia. It's a fine engine, and certainly a bit unique in its appearance.

Another real antique on hand was a Case portable that came from the Black Swamp area over at Archbold, Ohio. Brought to the show by the Sauder Village Museum, the engine closely resembles Case #1 owned by the Smithsonian Institution. Case cars were also represented, with a 1912, 1915 and 1916 model on hand.

Hahn Photo #1: Ames portable steam engine as found in Plumas County, Calif., at an old mining site. The engine bed is hollow and incorporates a feed water heater coil.

There was no plowing, as the field was too wet. Greg Sellers had his 110 HP Case on the sawmill, and even with his heavy hand Jack Corson just couldn't stall the 110 Case - but he did complain of choking down the sawdust drag! The portable sawmill matched a 65 HP Case well, and Case gas tractors such as the 30-60s, cross-motors, three-wheelers, letter series and number series were present in the area of the building and tent occupied by the J.I. Case Heritage Foundation.

Steve Maxwell, Maumee Valley Association vice president, is a past president of J.I. Case Heritage Foundation. Those Case Heritage folks are always welcoming other fine folks into their organization. In 2004 the Case Expo will be at Albert City, Iowa, and in 2005 it will be at Lathrop, Mo.

Ames Portable Found in California

Peter H. Hahn, 3608 Big Bend Lane, Reno, NV 89509 (, writes in this issue, looking for information on an Ames portable engine discovered in California. Peter writes:

Jack C. Norbeck of Coplay, Pa., referred me to your magazine in the hope that you might be able to supply some information on an Ames engine.

This engine was recently discovered abandoned on a historic gold-mining site in a remote location in Plumas County, Calif. We are seeking documentation of the engine in the form of catalog illustrations and descriptions, photographs of this type of engine in service, and any other pertinent information. I am trying to document it as completely as possible to convince the U.S. Forest Service to allow it to be removed for proper display. Plans have been put in motion to remove the engine, and some other very old mining equipment, via Air National Guard helicopter (as a training exercise). The engine and equipment will be exhibited at the Plumas County Museum in Quincy, Calif.

It is a two-cylinder engine mounted atop the boiler. A unique feature (to me) is that the steam chests exhaust into a hollow engine bed, which contains a feed water heater coil. The end of one coil can be seen where the cover has been partially removed near the large spur gear. The exhaust pipe extends forward from the engine bed into the smokebox, where the nozzle was mounted. The steam dome, which looks like a cap stack, appears to be a fluted casting.

Also unusual is that the flywheel (broken off) appears to have been mounted on the front shaft, and driven at plus or minus 40 percent of crankshaft speed. Crank discs (one is present but dismounted) were on the shorter shaft with the small gear.

There are brackets on the front of the firebox, which could have held a jackshaft, and brackets inside the rear wheels (firebox view), which could have had a sprocket mounted. This suggests that the engine could have been self-propelled, but still steered by a team. There is no steering mechanism.

I have received a description of the 'Vim Agricultural Engine' made by Ames in 1909, but it is a single-cylinder and bears no resemblance to this engine.

Any further information we can obtain on this engine will be greatly appreciated and will add to the historic interpretation, which will be made as a museum exhibit. Thanks for any help.

Spalding's Corner

Herbert E. Mann, 2588 W. 250 S., Warsaw, IN 46580-6101, was the first person to correctly identify the 'mystery' engine shown in Spalding's Corner in the November/December 2003 issue of Steam Traction. It was, as Herbert noted, a Style K built by A.B. Farquhar Co., York, Pa. For getting his correct answer in first, Herbert gets a free copy of Steam Engine Guide by Prof. P.F. Rose.

Not surprisingly, we received more than a few correct answers, some giving more detailed information on the engine. JimW.Gemmill, 3902 Beckleysville Road, Hampstead, MD 21074, happens to own an identical engine, so this was a pretty easy catch for him. Jim writes:

The 'Mystery Traction Engine Photo' on page 25 of the November/December issue of Steam Traction is a Farquhar traction engine manufactured by A.B. Farquhar Co. Ltd. of York, Pa., Model K, Size 15-45. I own the exact engine here in Maryland.

Of special note, however, was the response we received from Susan Stant, 6101 Harmony Road, Preston, MD 21655. Susan writes:

This issue's mystery engine is a 1912 Farquhar Model K. They were manufactured in York, Pa. I am 12 years old and found this engine myself. Thank you.

Okay boys, that certainly ups the competition, now that you know there's a sharp-eyed 12-year-old girl out there! In special recognition of her interest, and to further encourage her interest in steam, we're sending Susan a copy of Steam Engine Guide. An 'atta girl,' if you will.

Dorset Steam Fair

Many of you may not be aware that Steam Traction mails out far beyond the shores of the U.S. Our readership extends to just about every continent, but by far the largest group of 'foreign' readers is located in England. That makes sense, as the language barriers are few.

British steam enthusiast Boz Oram is an energetic participant at the annual Great Dorset Steam Fair in England, and this issue he writes in with some thoughts on making it easier for overseas visitors to take in the Dorset event.

Boz's thoughts are essentially a business proposition (he is a partner in a tour company), and we normally steer clear of announcing issues of this sort in our editorial pages. However, given his knowledge and involvement in the Great Dorset Steam Fair, and given the difficulties in finding accommodations in or around Dorset, we think Boz's idea merits mention. Think of it as a public service announcement. Boz, by the way, owns an 1891 Savage electric light engine that was the prototype of the Showman's engine.

Beth Vanarsdall took this photo at the 2002 Great Dorset Steam Fair in England.

Vanarsdall Photo #1: A 10 HP Fowler crane engine, the Wolverhampton Wanders, pulling a load of rocks at the 2002 Great Dorset Steam Fair in England. Note the cast wheels on the trailer loaded with rocks.

If anyone is interested, contact Boz at: P.O. Box 1829, Shrewton, Salisbury, Wiltshire SP3 4PN, England, or e-mail: Boz writes:

I couldn't help but notice the article written by Beth Vanarsdall about the Great Dorset Steam Fair in Steam Traction, Vol. 57, No. 6. It must have been quite a shock for your readers to see so many different photos of European engines in an American magazine! Beth's article was brilliant it's good to see the show through fresh eyes and nice to see photographs from the working rather than the flywheel side. Yes, I know our steamers look strange to you, but they look okay to us. Personally, I am intrigued by the shape and cleverly designed engines that grace the continent of North America, especially as the machines were designed so cleverly for maintenance. The designs differ quite significantly, and I read somewhere that the proposed working life of North American engines was about 10-15 years and the British were about 30 years. Fortunately those designers all got their calculations wrong, as we found a passion in them, which means that we still have them around, albeit heavily rebuilt.

The Dorset event has been and gone again, and I am sitting here at my PC suffering from miles of walking, listening, watching, taking part, plenty of eating and drinking and thoroughly enjoying a working grand social event. Due to the fact that the whole show is situated on over 500 acres, the meeting of nations takes place here, there and everywhere.

Like all successful shows, it started with small beginnings: a bit of threshing, heavy haulage, steam electricity generation, cable ploughing, or watching an old-time fair in operation with steam carousels, steam yachts, chair-o-planes, etc. The event grew and grew, until the original site at Stourpaine was too inaccessible as the Dorset roads are narrow, and with many thousands of people attending, it became a victim of its own success. It moved to another site and now takes over Tarrent Hinton. Just shows you what happens when you supply what the public wants. Somewhere over 250,000 people go to the event, including people from the U.S., Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Holland, Germany, Belgium, Japan heck, the list is endless.

I have had a number of requests about going to this show, and I have had a word with the organisers as to how we could make it easier for overseas visitors to come over and enjoy it. The hotels and B&B's are fully booked a year or two in advance, so nearby accommodation is nigh on impossible. But traveling larger distances means getting trapped in traffic queues, and sometimes waiting over three hours to get in. One solution to the problem is to hire a selection of caravans to stay in. The caravans would be normal four-berth-type, and those who use them would have to cater for themselves. We can put a pre-tour in as well. It all depends upon numbers, but it is a way of meeting people from different countries and making friendships from all nations. Admittedly it will be basic, but if there is interest, then I'll go ahead and sort out the logistics. Price will be determined by how many people come across. As Beth said, there are some 100 mechanical organs, a large display of working horses, tractors (with many from the U.S.), country crafts, a market trader section where you can buy all sorts of bits and pieces, an auction, models, railway loading demonstrations, oh, and I almost forgot well over 300 steam engines! The dates are Sept. 1-5, 2004.

Ohio Engines

The search for the first steam traction engine built west of Pennsylvania has been a subject of keen interest for steam historian and author Robert T. Rhode, 990 W. Lower Springboro Road, Springboro, Ohio 45066 ( Bob has an uncanny knack for ferreting out new information on the history of steam traction engines, and he's done it again with his discovery of an Ohio traction engine built at least by 1871. Bob writes:

The March/April 2003 issue of Steam Traction carried my discovery that the Newark Machine Works of Newark, Ohio, had produced a traction engine as early as 1858. Recently, I unearthed another fact in the history of traction engineering in the Buckeye state.

The Twenty-Sixth Annual Report of the Ohio State Board of Agriculture, covering the year 1871 but published in hardcover in 1872, includes the findings of a committee charged with evaluating the performance of some two-dozen portable steam engines at the 22nd Ohio State Fair. Among the committee's conclusions is this surprising detail:

'Your Committee wish to call the special attention of the Board to the road steamer and portable engine of Hulburt & Page, Painesville, No. 7, as being worthy a special commendation. The machine consists of a portable engine resting on a frame supported on four high wheels, connection with two of which is made by gearing, and a belt from the pulley of the engine, so that the steamer can traverse ordinary roads, and over quite rough grounds. The inventor, Mr. Rider, uses this engine in connection with one of Russell's threshing machines, drawing the thresher after the engine from farm to farm, setting it up in the desired place, then putting the engine in its proper position, and in trim, when, by throwing off the connection between the engine and driving wheels, he is in position and ready to run the thresher. It was remarkable with what ease this machine could be manipulated to place it in position to run a threshing machine as he did on the grounds; going to their different threshers, placing it in position by its own power, putting on the drive-belt and going to work all in the short time of about five minutes.'

For those readers unfamiliar with Ohio geography, I locate Painesville almost on Lake Erie northeast of Cleveland. While 1871 is obviously not as far back as 1858, it is before 1874, the year when the Owens, Lane & Dyer Machine Co. of Hamilton, Ohio, won the Grand Gold Medal presented by the Ohio State Board of Agriculture at the 1874 Ohio State Fair for the first traction engine west of Pittsburgh. I wonder why the Ohio State Board of Agriculture awarded such a medal for what was touted as 'the first' traction engine when, not three years before, the same board had received a report from a committee commending Mr. Rider and Hulburt & Page for producing a traction engine. I also wonder why the Board was not familiar with the traction engines of Newark Machine Works 16 years earlier. One fact is clear: many years' worth of traction engines existed in Ohio before one rolled from C.&G. Cooper's factory in Mt. Vernon, Ohio. I am amused by the persistent claim that Cooper built the first traction engine in the United States. Unfortunately, I have no illustration of the Hulburt & Page traction engine.

Belt-driven planer

Miller Photo #1: Belt-driven planer.

Belt-Driven Planer

Gary L. Miller, 101 E. 3rd St., Jasper, MO 64755, (417) 525-4228 (, is looking for a home for an old belt-driven wood planer he's come across. Gary writes:

The plate on this old woodworking machine identifies it as a 'Hall & Brown Woodworking Machine Co., St. Louis, Mo.' I would like to find someone interested in saving it. It is apparently a wood planer, and it has cutters on all four sides. The machine is located in a vacant building on the same block where I live. It's quite heavy, but we were able to move it with a tractor. If anyone is interested please contact me.

Steam Engines in Indonesia

Steam power was used extensively for manufacturing and transport in the sugar industry, and in some countries its use continues. Steam buff Ray Gardiner, 28 Hyacinth St., Asquith, Sydney NSW 2077 Australia (, took a trip to Indonesia this past summer, and he has written in to give the rest of us a brief look at steam's continued presence in the Indonesian sugar industry. Ray writes:

I have recently returned from my sixth trip to Indonesia looking at steam locomotives and steam-powered sugar mills. Unfortunately, steam power is slowly disappearing, and only a few sugar mills use steam locomotives on the field trains, with most cane being brought to the mill by truck. The cane is transferred to rail wagons to be shunted into the mills, but a number of steam locomotives are still in use pulling the rail wagons.

There are still about 50 sugar mills operating on Java, and most still use steam-powered machinery in some capacity. We visited every operating mill (and several closed mills) and counted over 600 stationary steam engines, of which about three-quarters were still in use.

I have sent several photos of a vertical-boiler steamroller at the Tasik Madu sugar mill. Only used on rare occasions, we paid to have it steamed specially for us in August. There are still about eight steam locomotives in use at the mill and we posed the roller next to several for photos.

Unfortunately, the roller has no identification on it, but it may be a Kelly-Springfield. The pressure gauge was made in the U.S. Most of the locomotives and machinery in the mills were built by German or Dutch companies. There were a small number of locomotives built by Baldwin, Dickson and Vulcan Iron Works in the U.S., and most were built around the 1916-1920 period when it may have been difficult to get locomotives from Europe because of the war.

The Dutch company of Du Croo & Brauns built many locomotives for the sugar mills of Java, and the book Du Croo & Brauns Locomotives by Jan De Bruin also has a drawing of a vertical-boiler steamroller identical to this one. Although the book says that Du Croo & Brauns built three of these rollers, this is very unlikely as they do not appear in the builder's list, but several portable engines are listed. It is more likely that Du Croo & Brauns were agents handling the sale of the rollers.

I have also seen a photo of a very similar roller in use in Malang in the mid-1920s. Maybe one of your readers will be able to help identify this roller.

My good friend Rob Dickinson runs two Web sites that have much more information: World Steam, internat.htm and Stationary Steam, livesteam.htm

Frick History - Setting the Record Straight

Accurately documenting the history of various old-line manufacturers is sometimes art as much as a science. Fortunately, there are people in the steam community like Brenda Stant, an avid researcher and collector of information pertaining to the Frick Co. of Waynesboro, Pa. Brenda, 6101 Harmony Road, Preston, MD 21655 (, read the article on Frick equipment in the November/December 2003 issue and noticed an error in need of correction. Steam must run in the Stant family blood, as Brenda is the mother of 12-year-old Susan, the steam engine sleuth. Brenda writes:

Gardiner Photo #1: A circa 1912-1927 Henschel steam locomotive and an unidentified steamroller at the Tasik Madu sugar mill in Indonesia. Both units are functional.

Just received my issue of SteamTraction and found the article on 'Frick Catalog Cuts' interesting. I wanted to mention one item in the story: It says production of Frick traction engines ended in 1936. Actually, the last Frick traction engine, no. 30519, was shipped on Oct. 6, 1927. My Dad purchased that engine in 1959, and I own it today. I have a letter from Frick Co. from 1960 verifying that it was the last Frick traction engine built. Although Frick Co. showed traction engines in a few of their catalogs after 1927 available on special order none were ever built.

In fact, Frick Co. had my engine shipped back to their factory in Waynesboro for their 150th anniversary festivities Oct. 4, 2003 two days short of the 76th anniversary of it leaving the factory for the first time!

I know you have to rely on your contributors for accuracy of their columns, but I just wanted to point this out to you. A lot of times, years later, people use these columns for researching facts and it makes it hard when statements are inaccurate.

Gardiner Photo #2: The unidentified steamroller at the Tasik Madu sugar mill in Indonesia. It appears to be a Buffalo-Springfield, but what model?

I haven't been able to find any records of when the last portable steam engines were built, but the last two were shipped in 1945. I remember Mr. W.J. Eshelman talking about the 'last production run of 1936,' but I haven't found out if any were built on special order after that. Frick Co. used the date the equipment was shipped for the year built. We also have no. 30704, which was shipped in 1941 according to Frick shipping records. All told, 122 portable and stationary engines were shipped between 1936 and 1945.

Frick Co. sold its sawmill business in 1973. Today Frickco Inc. of South Bloomington, Ohio, manufactures complete sawmills and sawmill components under the Frick name using original Frick drawings.


Bowen & Quick, Stevens Engines

Regular readers will remember the catalog illustration of a Bowen & Quick Wide Awake Thresher sent by Charles Hitchcock and published in the July/August 2003 issue of Steam Traction. A further illustration of the Bowen & Quick Wide Awake Thresher comes to us from William U. Waters Jr., 11421 Mountain View Road, Damascus, MD 20872-1605. Bill sent copies of a 1904 Bowen & Quick catalog showing the firm's thresher and announcing their offering of the complete line of steam traction engines built by A.W. Stevens Co., Marinette, Wisc.

The catalog makes for interesting reading, informing prospective customers that Mr. Bowen, Mr. Quick and numerous other employees of Bowen & Quick were previously associated with the A.W. Stevens company, presumably when A.W. Stevens was in its old factory in Auburn, N.Y., and called itself A.W. Stevens & Son Co. When the company moved to Marinette in 1898 it changed its name to A.W. Stevens Co.

In announcing Bowen & Quick's association with A.W. Stevens Co., the catalog notes that Bowen & Quick had been working on designing its own steam traction engine when it decided to sell the Stevens line, instead.

Twin Cities Steam Traction Engine?

Some time ago reader JimTemplin, 11316 County Road 475, Anna, TX 75409, alerted us to an interesting misidentification. It concerned a catalog photo of a steam traction engine Jim came across at the Willard Public Library in Battle Creek, Mich. In his note, Jim wrote:

I discovered a 'mystery' steamer. I have been corresponding with Doc Rhode about it, and he feels that readers might be very interested in helping identify a catalog photo on file at the Willard Public Library.

It is of a rear-mount, tandem-compound engine, very similar to the Advance-Rumely Universal or Case, except it has heavy flat-spoked wheels and a large Twin Cities logo on the boiler. The library's index lists many catalog photos that are described as Nichols & Shepard products, but are obviously Twin Cities of Minneapolis.

Until this photo turned up, there had never been any idea that Twin Cities made a steamer, as they were one of the few early tractor manufacturers involved with gas engines only (or so we all thought). I think it would be of interest to readers, so I thought I would call it to your attention and maybe see if the Willard people would allow you to publish the photo in an effort to discover its real history.

After receiving Jim's letter, we contacted the folks at the Willard Public Library. Librarian George Livingston was pleased to have the error noted so he could correct their catalog index, and gladly gave us permission to publish a copy of the library's photo of the Twin Cities steam traction engine. But it didn't end there.

Twin Cities Photo #2: Left, or cylinder, side of proposed Twin Cities steam traction engine of 1919.

In the course of e-mail conversations with regular contributor Gary Yaeger, 1120 Leisha Lane, Kalispell, MT 59901 (, Gary happened to mention photos of a Twin Cities steam traction engine sent to him by Thomas Stebritz. On the back of one photo Tom wrote: 'Mpls. Steel & Mchy. Co., Mpls. Minn., 1919. Proposed TC? Castings look like straight from Advance patterns.'

Note that Tom sent Gary 'photos.' The Willard collection only contains one photo of the Twin Cities, showing the right (flywheel) side of the engine. Tom sent Gary two photos, one identical to the photo on file at the library and another showing the left side of the engine. These pictures are more than a little intriguing, showing as they do an engine previously undocumented, and coming from a company known only for gas-powered machines. Minneapolis Steel & Machinery Co. did have experience with steam, however. In 1903 the company started building Corliss steam engines, but those were built primarily for industrial applications.


Waters Photo #2: A.W. Stevens traction engine offered by Bowen & Quick. Stevens engines were all single-cylinder. This appears to be a 16 HP engine.

And then there's the date written on the photos: 1919 was pretty late in the game for any company to be developing a steam traction engine. Gas-powered tractors were grabbing an ever-larger slice of a growing tractor market, and by that time the writing was on the wall: Steam was on the way out.

You Know You Might Be A Steam Engine Man if ...

We received an interesting e-mail from steam enthusiast Travis Brown ( containing some fun - perhaps even thought-provoking observations on steaming. Travis writes:

Thanks for the great job you're doing with the magazine. I've been working on a submission on the road trips we took the last year, taking our model to several different shows in Illinois and Indiana. But for now ...

You know you might be a steam engine man if:

1. You have ever used a coiled flat belt lying on the seat next to you as a 'cup holder.'

2. If there is firewood hidden behind your wife's shrubbery or landscaping.

3. If those little chunks of coal are riding around in the back of your truck or on your trailer on a year-round basis.

4. If you do not consider a person a 'real' member of your family until they have been showered with soot and water by a steam engine.

5. If you have ever used your oil can full of steam cylinder oil for other uses (last year, while towing home, I used a little steam cylinder oil to nurse a failing universal joint the last 100 miles).

And finally ...

6. If you have read any edition of Steam Traction magazine more times than your wife has watched the video of your wedding!

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:

'I wonder why the Ohio State Board of Agriculture awarded such a medal for what was touted as 'the first' traction engine when, not three years before, the same board had received a report from a committee commending Mr. Rider and Hulburt & Page for producing a traction engine.'