Steam Engines & Threshing Machines

Steam traction engine

Small Photo #1 : Lance Barnes' ''Mighty Little Nichols'' ''pulling'' the 20-bottom John Deere plow at Belgrade, Mont, in 1996.

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Regular contributor Kevin Small, P.O. Box 92, 1279 Perry Highway, Portersville, PA 16051, writes in again this issue, wondering about a Watertown engine and sending in some fine engine photos. Kevin writes:

I'd like to comment on the Watertown steam traction engine featured in Spalding's Corner in the March/April 2004 issue. On page 23 of the July/August 1956 Iron-Men Album, there is a photo of an 1889 Watertown engine owned by Edward Rabas of Oconto Falls, Wis.

I do not know if Rabas still owns this engine or not, but I'm sure this engine still exists. If any readers have a current photo of this engine, please send it to Steam Traction.

Here are several more steam traction engine photos. I'd like to dedicate Photo #1 to my good friend Randy Schwerin of Sumner, Iowa, who owns a fine little 1893 10 HP Nichols & Shepard. This engine is either a 13 HP or a 16 HP Nichols & Shepard built around 1900 'pulling' the 20-bottom John Deere plow at Belgrade, Mont., in 1996. Dave Vanek of Lewistown, Mont., is the engineer. Lance Barnes of Belgrade owns the 'Mighty Little Nichols.' What do you think Randy? Now that's horsepower!

Photo #2 is a 1913 20 HP Avery Alberta-Saskatchewan Special owned by Chady Atteberry of Blackwell, Okla. This engine spent its working life in the Red Deer, Alberta, Canada, area. In the early 1950s, it was purchased from a Mr. Ross by the late Louis David of Northville, Mich., and moved to Leroy Blaker's farm in Ohio. The engine came to Oklahoma in the 1970s, and at that time it belonged to the late Ivan Burns. This engine is in excellent condition Chady is very proud of it, and rightly so.

Photo #3 shows a 1905 35 HP Buffalo-Pitts owned by Daniel Anderson of Christine, N.D. This is a big 8-l/2-by-12-inch double-cylinder engine. The late Jacob Johnson of Christine, N.D., originally bought it new in 1905, using the engine for custom threshing for some 28 years with a 41-by-66-inch Buffalo-Pitts threshing machine. Carl and Joseph Anderson bought the engine in 1938 it is still in the family today, owned by Carl's son, Daniel. This photo was taken in 1996 at the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion at Rollag, Minn.

Photo #4 is a nice 25-85 HP 1915 Nichols & Shepard owned by Bill Kennedy. The National Threshers Association will be featuring Nichols & Shepard steam engines in June 2004. This 25-85 is a 6-3/4-by-10-inch double-cylinder engine. It has a butt-strap boiler and is in excellent condition.

Photo #5 was taken at the Rough and Tumble Threshermans Reunion at Kinzers, Pa., in 1999. This engine is the 1907 Z3 40-120 HP Geiser built by Geiser Manufacturing Co., Waynesboro, Pa. There were only eight of the Z3 engines manufactured, all of them in 1907. This engine is the only complete Z3 Geiser with all of its original parts. This engine was originally used for threshing. It appeared on the cover of the September/October 1983 issue of the Iron-Men Album, and at that time Willis Abel owned it. Cliff Foster now owns the engine, and it is shown at Kinzers each year. The Z3 has an 8-1/2-by-10-inch double-cylinder engine.

Photo #6 is a 110 HP 1911 Case plowing with a 14-bottom John Deere plow. Kevin Anderson of Andover, S.D., and David Fie of Watertown, S.D., own this engine, which was restored in 1985. Kory Anderson is the engineer and Jim Briden is the fireman. This photo was taken at the James Valley Threshing Show at Andover, S.D. The Andersons are now restoring a 25 HP double-cylinder Gaar-Scott.

The last two photos were also taken at the James Valley Threshing Show. This is one of the most impressive plowing demonstrations I have seen. John Deere manufactured all the plows. The lead engine is a 40 HP 1920 Case with four-bottom plow followed by a 75 HP 1913 Case with six-bottom plow, a 75 HP 1910 Case with eight-bottom plow, a 25 HP 1920 Advance-Rumely with 10-bottom plow, an 80 HP 1913 Case with 12-bottom plow and the 110 HP 1911 Case with 14-bottom plow. A total of 54 plows in the ground! My friend Kevin Anderson said with a smile, 'We plow until we are sick of it.' To which I replied, 'Let's go plow another round.' So Scott Anderson and I plowed again with the 80 HP Case and Kory and Jim with the 110. Six steam engines and a fine group of engineers it just doesn't get any better than that!


Glen Eastes, 4993 Fairview, Lenoir City, TN 37772, writes in about a recent auction he attended. We don't think he got the machine of his affections, but he enjoyed the event all the same. Glen writes:

This past March, I attended a sale in Morganfield, Ky., of Eugen Bichett's collection of tractors. Bichett was for many years an International Harvester dealer in this part of the county. He passed away about a year ago.

The reason I went to the sale was because he had an 18 HP 1913 Keck-Gonnerman steam traction engine for sale. It was said he had fired the engine a couple years ago. There were a couple guys there that wanted it, and it ended up bringing $21,000. He also had a pretty good-looking threshing machine.

He would have certainly been an interesting man to meet. I talked to a lot of people there and the locals all really admired him and his mechanical ability.


Every year, Earl Smith, 5605 Carmont Ave. S.W., Navarre, OH 44662, attends the Doughty Valley Power Show, and he tells us it's a must-see. Earl writes:

The Doughty Valley Power Show is probably one of the best-kept secrets in Ohio's steam exhibits, and I would like to share my enthusiasm for this show.

The show is held at the Mast family farm in the beautiful Doughty Valley just south of Berlin, Ohio, in Holmes County. Coal smoke from 11 or so steam engines on hand drifts from the valley, luring you in and showing the way.

Abe Mast saws approximately 5,000 board feet of lumber and they thresh 11 acres of spelts during the show. John McDowell keeps every body busy on the 'power eater' and three Baker fans run almost non-stop. The 2003 show saw the addition of J.D. Miller's Prony brake. The show simulates tobacco bed steaming, and J.D. Miller also has his shingle mill humming with souvenir branded shingles.

The thing I like most about the show is it's clean simplicity. For example, have you ever seen a tug-of-war between a steam engine and a bunch of ornery steam lovers? Last year, the Stutzman family of Middlefield had their 'baby Baker' (a 60 percent scale Baker) with a hay rope tied to the hitch. It was hilarious watching a bunch of good-humored people young and old, big and small trying to stall the baby Baker. Believe me, you had to be there. At the end, five engines put on a great spark show what a way to end an already great day.

The Doughty Valley Power Show is always held the third Friday and Saturday of July. This year's show will be held July 16-17, 2004. There is plenty of lodging and there are campgrounds close by.

Any questions may be directed to Abe Mast at (330) 893-3576, or Ray Miller at (330) 897-1060.


Leader engines are quite a rarity, and this issue James W. Russell, 125 E. 600 Ave., Oblong, IL 62449 recalls one such engine that threshed in the fields of Illinois. James writes:

I know many of the readers, as well as myself, enjoy the old pictures. I will try to send one in from time to time. This Leader engine and Case separator belonged to Lewis and Edwin Burner. They were my distant relatives. Their threshing run went from one end of Crawford County, Ill., to the other. After they stopped using the Leader, they purchased a 15-30 Model F Rumely OilPull. This tractor stayed in our community until approximately 1940, and is remembered well by many of the older residents.

Russell Photo #1: Burner brothers threshing rig in 1910. Lewis and Edwin Burner are standing by the Leader engine, water boys are Lew Vooris and Charles Clark. Picture taken near Oblong, Ill.


A number of readers wrote in about Mike McKnight's article on Southern Engine & Boiler Works (Steam Traction, March/April 2004). Among them was Clay Hale, 1403 Emmett, El Dorado, AR 71730, who had some specific reactions to the piece. Clay writes:

Many thanks for Mike McKnight's article on Southern Engine & Boiler Works. I knew about their rocking-valve engine, but had no idea they built a Corliss.

Most builders of slide-valve engines could furnish balanced valves. The first engine I ran pulling a sawmill was a 13-by-16 Chandler & Taylor, which had an American balanced valve. This had a balance ring above the valve and springs, which held it seated on the steam chest cover. A hole in the exhaust cavity insured that only exhaust pressure was above the valve. The Richardson balanced valve, common on locomotives, had a square balance cavity above the valve, seated to the plate above by spring-loaded balance strips.

The patented governor in the illustration is a Rites inertia governor, often used as a shaft governor on automatic engines. I saw one of these on a Corliss, which led to a frustrating experience. This was in a beautiful sawmill powerhouse with three Corliss engines in a row: A Filer & Stowell, which pulled the sawmill, was not involved. The others were direct connected to generators: A Murray with the usual Murray Porter-type governor and a Rice & Sargent Providence Corliss, with Rites governor.

These ran in parallel and had automatic voltage regulators, which were not very common in sawmills. The problem was that the Providence, though smaller, hogged the load. It would be overloaded before the Murray began to take additional load. Adjusting the governor didn't seem to make any difference, and the owners decided the voltage regulators were at fault and gave up trying to run the units in parallel. They separated them so that one carried the electric load of the sawmill and the other that of the box factory. It likely would have been impossible to make governors that differed so much in sensitivity work together where the load varied so much and so suddenly.

Filer & Stowell made a rocking-valve engine that looked much like the Southern, but I never thought of it as being more efficient than a slide-valve engine. It was probably less so, because of the excessively long steam passages and resulting clearance volume. This, of course, was not a great issue in sawmills, where fuel was plentiful.

I used to indicate a 30-by-48 Filer & Stowell Corliss pulling a double band sawmill. Sometimes, the men would try to get me to stop it, but I never would attempt it. They would unhook the valves and use the starting bar and small bypass throttle to cushion it at just the right place, and I never knew them to stop it on center. It must have happened sometimes, for they kept a large chain hoist hanging where they could get hold of a spoke in the 20-foot wheel and turn it off center, if necessary.

Again, thanks for the article. This is the kind of material that makes a magazine enjoyable for me. Tractors, even steam traction engines, can be overdone.


Regular contributor Gary Yaeger, 1120 Leisha Lane, Kalispell, MT 59901 (, writes in again this issue, with some interesting photos of what could be a 50 HP Buffalo-Pitts. Gary writes:

Yaeger Photo #3 : A Buffalo-Pitts road locomotive. It's unclear if this was indeed a 50 HP engine, but note the engine has neither a steam dome nor a flywheel.

You know how I like mystery engines! A few years back, I sent a photo of a Buffalo-Pitts to the Iron Men Album. At the time, I stated it was probably about a '35 HP' size, as that would normally be a huge Buffalo-Pitts. The engine was hauling silver ore to the railhead at Armstead, Mont., circa 1915.

About a year ago, I received e-mail from Beth Vanarsdall, a forward from a friend of hers in Australia who was restoring a Buffalo-Pitts like the one in my photo. He mentioned my photo to Beth, and in the process I learned some things about Buffalo-Pitts engines.

I learned it was perhaps a 50 HP engine, as shown in friend Jack Norbeck's Encyclopedia of American Steam Traction Engines. This same picture was included in T.H. Smith's 1953 printing of The Album of American Steam Traction Engines, but there's no mention of engine size.

I never realized Buffalo-Pitts built a 50 HP engine (and in fact it's still not clear if they actually did), and more astonishing to me was the fact which I hadn't noticed earlier - that this model does not have a fly wheel or a steam dome: It was designed as a road loco motive. I am sure old-timers knew about such a model, but I didn't.

Then I found a postcard of another of these engines located in Fitzwilliam, N.H. The engine was owned by the Emerson Granite Co. of Fitzwilliam, and it's hauling slabs of granite on an ore car.


Acquiring insurance in these litigious times can be difficult, as Gordon McLean, Box 1404, Beaverlodge, ALB, Canada T0H 0C0, (780) 354-8283, has discovered. We don't have any good tips for Gordon, but we're hoping readers do, and that they'll share their knowledge with the rest of the steam community. In the near future, we'd like to run an article giving advice and cautions on the subject, so we are particularly interested in reader input on this matter. Gordon writes:

I really enjoy the improved quality of the photographs presented in Steam Traction, and particularly the use of color photographs. Good job.

My inquiry this time is a little different. Our local museum can no longer provide liability insurance for items on loan to the museum. This affects me directly as I keep my Waterloo and threshing outfit at the museum. Most insurance companies have never heard of a steam engine, and I can only find liability insurance at a very high premium rate.

Can anyone provide me with guidance on obtaining insurance or the name of companies that will provide coverage? Any help or advice will be greatly appreciated.


Letters from readers in England and Australia aren't particularly rare. We can, however, count on one finger the number of letters we've received from Japan. Yasunobu Morishita, Nishino 206-11, Noichi-cho, Kami-gun, Kochi-ken Japan 781-5232 (yasunobu@suninfory, recently found a stationary steam engine, and he's hoping someone can help identify it. Morishita writes:

Yasunobu Photo #1: Yasunobu Morishita found this stationary steam engine in Japan. It features a Pickering governor, but otherwise has no markings to identify its manufacture.

Yasunobu Photo #2: Yasunobu Morishita found this stationary steam engine in Japan. It features a Pickering governor, but otherwise has no markings to identify its manufacture.

I am writing in the hope that you or your readers can identify and date a small, single-cylinder, horizontal stationary steam engine I recently bought here in Japan. The diameter of the flywheel is about 3 feet 6 inches. The engine was used to power a small factory in Japan.

While there is no maker's name on the steam engine itself, the governor unit, presumably made by a different manufacturer to the engine, carries lots of information. The governor is labeled 'The Pickering, Portland, Conn., USA.' Does this company still exist? The governor has two patent dates, May 21/07, and Oct. 15/07. Does this refer to 1807 or 1907? The governor shaft revolution is 350, and the governor carries number 488438 B.

While I have over a hundred gasoline and kerosene engines in my collection, this is my first steam engine. I hope to get it running one day.


Last issue we ran a brace of old photos sent in by reader John Ross, P.O. Box 751, Hebron, IN 46341. Unfortunately, we introduced a couple of errors into John's information.

Early in his letter, John talked about his first show in 1949. The show was in Pontiac, Ill., not Pontiac, Mich. A little later, John discussed a 60 HP 1911 Case his family had and the work they'd done to it. We inadvertently changed John's reference to rebabbitting the engine's canon bearings, noting them as common bearings. Finally, in the fourth-to-last paragraph of his letter, the 14th line should have read, ' ... Forest lived in Latty, Ohio ...'

Also, reader Bob Hart, Apt. 5, 421 W. 18th St., Hermann, MO 65041, tells us he used to own the 12 HP M. Rumely pictured on page 7 of the May/June 2004 issue.

According to Bob, the photo was taken in front of his house in the early 1950s. Bob sent the photo to Al and Ella Brandt, Red Bud, Ill., so they could have a look at the engine, which they later bought. It's a small world, after all.

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;