Steam Engines & Threshing Machines

A scale sawmill

Ross Photo #9: The ''mischievous bunch'' from Churubusco, Ind., working with a scale sawmill in 1951.

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McLean Photo #1: A 25-75 HP 1916 Case sitting derelict in Canada's Northwest Territory about 40 miles south of the Arctic Circle.


GordonMcLean, Box 1404, Beaverlodge, ALB, Canada T0H 0C0, took a break from the arctic cold of northern Canada to send in an intriguing photo of an abandoned 1916 Case engine. Gordon writes:

As I write this letter, our outside temperature is a very cool -46 degrees C - or about -50 degrees E Not a good day to think about steam engines.

This photo shows a 25-75 HP Case, serial no. 33717. According to the J.I. Case affidavit of manufacture, this engine was completed on July 24, 1916. Alberta's first record of this unit shows it was sold to a Louis Goebel in 1920 at Stoney Plain, Alberta, Canada, a farming community just west of the city of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The engine was next sold in 1933 to the Great Bear Lumber Co. It was moved to an area known now as Sawmill Bay on Great Bear Lake in the Northwest Territories, about 40 miles south of the Artic Circle.

This move would have entailed covering about 1,400 miles of territory where no roads existed. It is likely the engine was shipped by rail north to Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, and loaded on a barge for the rest of the trip. It probably was unloaded and moved around the rapids at Fort Smith, then reloaded to continue the journey to Sawmill Bay. This is all speculation on my part, and I'm trying to locate someone who can supply better information about this interesting venture.

The engine operated a sawmill on the edge of the bay. A uranium mine started operating at about this same time. The lumber was probably used in the mine's construction, as there is no other use for the lumber for hundreds of miles in any direction.

This picture was taken in 1996, when a friend of mine hired a floatplane to take him to the site. They had no trouble locating the engine and were able to land in the lake right beside the engine. It is still fairly complete, but there was no sign of the front wheels anywhere. As far as I know, it is still in the same isolated spot. I am trying to find out more about this project, and if I find anything interesting, I will write in to keep you posted. Keep up the good magazine.


Editor's note: I had the pleasure of meeting John Ross, P.O. Box 751, Hebron, IN 46341, at the Pioneer Engineers 2002 show in Rushville, Ind., where we sat down and talked about the days of steaming, past and present. In this issue, John shares his memories - and old photographs - with readers. John was there for some of the earliest shows, and his recollections evoke a time long past. John writes:

When I talked to you at Rushville, Ind., sitting on pop coolers under the fly tent, you said there was interest in pictures I took as an 11- to 15-year-old of the early steam shows in our area. I went to my first show in 1949 when Dad let me miss a day of school (3rd grade) to go to Pontiac, Mich. The following spring, we went to Leroy Blaker's farm, and was that ever a long trip in our then-new 1950 Chevrolet. The roads were all two lanes, passing through many little towns along old U.S. 30.

My dad told me he and my oldest uncle bought their first engine in about 1905: a little 10 HP Springfield and a little wooden separator that was hand-fed with a stacker. I still have old pictures at home of four other engines they owned, including a 60 HP 1911 Case they bought used in 1915 that had been used to stone our township roads, pulling two wagon trains of four each. Most unusual today, those wagons could be turned around by just changing the tongue from one end to the other and changing a pin from front to back of each wagon to make them steer from the other end. When they bought the 60, both common bearings had to be rebabbitted, and the gear behind the flywheel and both drive pinions were renewed. I still have the sales slip from the Case branch in Chicago on Michigan Avenue. That engine saw an extreme amount of use: My dad and uncle took care of ditching our township roads using a pull-type grader, plus they used the Case for threshing, shredding and silo-filling until early 1930.

In 1918, they bought an old, used Aultman & Taylor sawmill equipped with rack-and-pinion plus friction drive. The mill was used up until the early 1950s and is now at the Northern Illinois Steam Power Show at Sycamore, Ill. I have been the lucky one chosen to run this old mill at the show for the last 25 years.

The following pictures were all taken at Leroy Blaker's farm, the original site of the National Threshers Association, in 1951 and 1952.

Photo #1 is of Louie David's 40 HP Avery in 1952 before being steamed up for the first time in 30 to 40 years. When we arrived that morning at about 10:30, the hand-hole plates were still out from washing the boiler to get rid of alkaline water leftover from the engine's time in western Nebraska. Later in the day, they got it steamed up, but it primed so badly there was no hope to make it to the Prony brake. It was parked and left for another boiler wash the next morning, so we never got to see it work that year.

Photo #2 is the Homer Holp family's 16 HP Advance in 1952. I think Homer's grandsons still own this.

Photo #3 shows the 24 HP Port Huron that was Leroy Blaker's sawmill engine. The Brodbeck family could probably tell us more about it, as they still own it. This picture was taken in 1951.

Photo #4 was also taken in 1951, and it shows Percy Sherman's 25 HP Russell, which he brought from Palmyra, Mich.

Photo #5, also taken in 1951, shows Forest Williamson's 23-90 Baker, the first steamer I ever saw on balloon tires. When they put it on the Prony brake it danced up and down so badly it threw the belt off. After they got it belted up again, they placed a jack under one side of the front axle and a big block under the other side to help steady it some. The airplane tires on the rear still let the engine dance around like it had the heebie-jeebies. By the way, I think Forest Liver, Latty, Ohio, and I saw this engine four to six years ago at Portland, Ind., on the sawmill and back on steel wheels.

Photo #6 is from 1952 and shows James Whitby's 20 HP M. Rumely, which was called Susie Q. For a couple of years starting in about 1954 or 1955, Jim had his own show north of Ft. Wayne, Ind.

Photo #7 is, I think, Leroy Blaker's 65 HP Case, which he bought about this time (1951) in either Kansas or Nebraska. It ran on the old Baker factory brake for about three hours, pulling 111 brake horsepower. That was the longest and hardest I ever saw an engine pulled, and it was so heavily loaded a 50 HP Case was used to pull it back on the belt three or four times during that overloading run.

Photo #8 (also from 1951) shows the little 12 HP Frick that belonged to Elmer Egbert from Botkins, Ohio.

The last picture, Photo #9, was taken in 1951. This was the mischievous bunch from Churubusco, Ind. Clint Bloom, his brother and a friend of theirs were always into something. I remember seeing them at NTA, Blaker's farm, Pontiac, Ill., Central States and at Whitbey's farm for the Old Time Threshers and Sawmill Operator's Show.

BARN THRESHING PORT HURONWe're privileged this issue to share a letter from CarltonJohnson, 2256 W Wilson, Clio, MI 48420, who threshed in the 1940s. Carlton's memories of threshing are important reminders of our hobby's origins, helping us connect our present fascination with steam and threshing to its working roots. And happy birthday, Carlton. We're looking forward to hearing from you in the future. Carlton writes:

I have enclosed a photo of barn threshing taken in 1942. The engine is a 19 HP Port Huron engine belted to a 33-by-54-inch Port Huron separator called a Port Huron Rusher. I threshed from 1940 until 1950, the last five years mostly field threshing. A thresher made more money barn threshing, because every time a wagon load was threshed you had to slow the machine down and wait for another load to pull up to the machine. Some horses where afraid of the machine and were hard to drive up, but after they became used to it they were better.

A thresher had to travel twice the distance. First he made the round on wheat and later came around for the oats, barley and rye, if they raised it. And of coarse a steam engine was geared up for about 2 mph. A few put them on rubber tires towards the last of threshing.

When you threshed out of the barn and you got done the grain was in the granary and the straw was stacked near the barn to be used for bedding the animals. Another thing when field threshing, you had a different man feeding the machine. Some were faster than others, and that made a difference in the quality of work you did. You had lots of straw for bedding the livestock.

I would say barn threshing was done for 60 years. When the barns were built, lumber was plentiful and close by so the large timbers used in barns were nearby.

I still have the Port Huron engine and a Buffalo-Pitts 16 HP. I bought the Port Huron engine first and started filling silos in 1936. I also have a 6 HP Russell portable, which makes a nice rig for buzzing wood. I have a son and grandson who are interested in the engines and fire one or two each summer. I will be 87 on Feb. 2, 2004.

Stebritz Photo #1: The back of this photo is marked: 'Unknown make used in 'Economy System of Threshing,' Grand Forks, N.D., about 1910.'


JohnSpalding's 'mystery' engine on page 14 of the March/April 2004 issue garnered its fair share of attention, with letters coming in from all corners of the country. Thomas Stebritz, 1516 E. Commercial St., Algona, IA 50511, was the first to correctly identify the engine, in the process breaking a streak of identifications by the under-15 crowd! As the first to correctly identify last issue's engine, Tom will receive a free copy of Steam Engine Guide by Prof. P.F. Rose. Tom also sent in some interesting photos for readers. Tom writes:

Looking at John Spalding's latest mystery engine, I would say it is a Watertown steamer made by Watertown Engine Co., Watertown, N.Y. I can't identify the thresher. Somewhere in my collection of material, I have a picture of a catalog cut of the left side of the engine showing the English-style of drivers and a sectional cast steam dome.

I am enclosing a picture for the experts to ponder over. The late E.R. Potter of Canada sent this picture to my late father, and his writing on the back indicates he didn't fully know what the engine was. The picture is a little dark, but legible. I believe the engine to be a 35 HP under mounted Aultman Star, and it's pushing a so-called header thresher. A number of things indicate this to be an Aultman engine I have no doubt about this, myself. However, this engine has a top-mounted cylinder, but does it also have two cylinders under the boiler barrel? Well, fellas, let's have a good description of this engine.

The second correct response came from Jeff Pewitt, 5203 Cottage Lane, Columbia, MO 65201 (, who also has some thoughts on articles past and present. Jeff writes:

I received the new issue today and started devouring it as usual. I came across the mystery engine picture and believe it to be a Watertown. The cast iron steam dome and the square smokestack base are the best clues. The company was making these about 1888. According to Jack Norbeck's Encyclopedia of American Steam Traction Engines, the company made them in 6, 8, 10 and 15 HP models. I can only guess from the picture that it is about a 10 HP, based on the size relation of the men and the engine.

I have enjoyed the Iron-Men Album and Steam Traction magazine for many years and recently acquired my grandfather's old copies of IMA going all the way back to the 1950s. I have gone back and read most of them, and it has been interesting to see how the articles changed over the years. In the early issues, there were lots of stories told by old steam guys about their favorite engine or a funny story. Those fine men are all gone, and those of us who just like the hobby are writing in about restorations and the fun we have with them. These lumbering giants have a character of their own and continue to be fascinating to run and watch.

Keep up the good work on a fine magazine. My only complaint is that I have to wait two months to get another issue.

The third correct response came from James R. Erdle Sr., 5071 Parrish St. Extension, Canandaigua,

NY 14424. James writes: Your mystery engine is a Watertown, built by Hood & Bradford, Watertown, N.Y. I have one of these traction engines, and I know of one more.


Larry Gaertner, 7737 St. Joseph St., Walsh, IL 62297, shares a great vintage photo of an M. Rumely steamed up and ready to work. Larry writes:

I really enjoy the Past and Present department of Steam Traction reminiscent of Anna Mae's column. Here is a nice photo of a 12 HP M. Rumely. That is all that is written on the photo envelope. I think the picture was taken during the 1950s because of the type film that was used. It looks like the blower is turned on and the engine is running. The photo is from the collection of the late Al and Ella Brandt, Red Bud, Ill. More pictures forthcoming.


Steam historian and author Robert T. Rhode, 990 W. Lower Springboro Road, Springboro, OH 45066 (, continues his quest for the origins of traction engineering west of the Alleghenies. Bob recently received another piece of the puzzle from a fellow writer. Bob explains:

Jack Alexander, author of Steam Power on California Roads and Farms (1998) and The First American Farm Tractors (2003), sent me a reference to another early Ohio traction engine. Page 218 of the Sept. 29, 1860, Scientific American contains an announcement that on Sept. 14 John Walker of Mount Vernon, Ohio, exhibited a self-propelling 'locomotive cross-cut steam sawmill' at the United States Agricultural Society Fair in Cincinnati. This event occurred only two years after the Newark Machine Works produced a traction engine (Steam Traction, March/ April 2003).

The journalist described the workmanship of the Walker machine as 'rude' and criticized the placing of an upright boiler, water tank and engine on a relatively insecure three-wheeled wooden frame. The article states that the 5 HP engine had a flywheel to furnish 'power for threshing or other farm work,' and the reporter explained that for milling work a pitman from a crosscut saw could be attached to the flywheel. The writer conceded that with proper advances the Walker engine could become a boon to western farmers.

Several years ago, when I was researching steam engine and saw mill manufacturer Reinhard Scheidler's life, I ran across a reference for a Mr. Walker - no first name given - who was described as a Canadian who had built two engines for the Union Iron Works in Newark, Ohio, after 1890. Could this be the John Walker of the 1860 Scientific American story? Professor John Edson Sweet, a well-known engineer and educator, complimented one of the Union Iron Works engines on display at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. That engine was mounted on a locomotive boiler. The other Walker steamer had a Bury-style boiler (Engineers & Engines, July/August 1976).

According to the Nov. 8, 1940, edition of the Newark Advocate, one of the Walker engines demonstrated its power at the Licking (Ohio) County Fair by lifting a mass of pig iron by means of a pulley attached to the limb of a tree. Scheidler provoked Walker into betting $100 that no other engine could manage the weight.

By the next morning, Scheidler had attached special mud lugs to the driver wheels of his road locomotive. Walker and the Union Iron Works employees protested, but nothing in the wager had precluded the use of lugs. One of Scheidler's sons ran the engine. He jerked open the throttle, the wheels slipped in the mud and a murmur ran through the crowd. He stopped the engine and then pulled the throttle again; this time slowly and patiently. The engine crept forward and the bulky pig iron rose higher and higher. Walker yelled, 'Stop her! Stop her!' The Scheidler son kept going, as his father directed. The iron smashed into the pulley, the limb crashed to the ground and the locomotive dragged its trophy back to the exhibit of Scheidler equipment while the crowd roared. Walker felt only humiliation.

Does anyone have information about the Walker engine of 1860 or to the Walker engines of the 1890s?


Pete LaBelle, 802 Shadybrook, Holland, MI 49424, is on a quest for information about Buffalo-Pitts engines. His goal is to create a list of engines and owners, including specific information about the engines. Pete writes:

A few years ago, I became the proud owner and restorer of a 15 HP Buffalo-Pitts steam engine. Since it followed me home, I have discovered there are not many Buffalo-Pitts engines around. In discussions with other Buffalo owners, the thought surfaced to locate as many Buffalo-Pitts engines as possible in hopes of expanding knowledge-sharing opportunities between owners.

With that, I'm asking for the readership's help: If you own a Buffalo-Pitts steam engine, or know of one in your area, please send me a note with the engine specifics and the owner's name and address. I will compile a list, and I will send a copy of the list to everyone who sends in information.

Please send any information you have, along with a self addressed, stamped envelope, by June 30, 2004. I should be able to print a list and mail it out about a month after the deadline. And remember, even if the guy down the road has a Buffalo, send me a note about it anyway, as he may not. I would like to make this list as complete as possible. Thanks for your help everyone!


Conrad H. Milster Jr., 178 Emerson Place, Brooklyn, NY 11205, writes in with an interesting observation on steam power and its use - or not - in powering air ships. Conrad, we should point out, is chief engineer of the famous engine room at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y. Conrad writes:

In the November/December 2003 issue, Robert T. Rhode had an article on the various oddball and often-unsuccessful uses of steam power.

One of these, which most people would laugh at today, is the use of the steam engine for powering an airplane. Yet, some people took this possibility seriously, as evidenced by the enclosed photo of the name-plate on the turbine generator set located in our engine room at the Pratt Institute. It's a 150 KW General Electric unit installed in 1907 and retired in 1948. When this unit was installed, the Wright brothers first flight had occured only four years previously in 1903, and most people in 1907 probably subscribed to the 'if God had wanted us to fly, he'd have given us wings' theory. Yet, someone at GE saw a future for aviation and put that limitation on the nameplate.

My guess would be they probably had dirigibles in mind rather than heavier-than-air craft, but that's only a guess. It doesn't, however, detract in the least from the historic interest of the plate.

The engine room is the site of the original plant (1887-1900), which was replaced by three Ames engines these are still in running shape.

Although the turbine was retired in 1948, the three engines ran daily until 1977. We still run one (or more!) whenever we have a public event at Pratt so visitors can see what such a plant used to look like.


William Ellis, 322 15th Ave., Moline, IL 61265-2927 (, noticed the Twin Cities steam traction engine discussed in the January/February 2004 issue. William, it turns out, is well-versed on the subject, and he provides some interesting observations on the engine. William writes:

While making no claims to a wide and deep knowledge of steam engines, I am quite familiar with the photos of the Twin City 'steam engine' shown in the January/ February 2004 issue and sent to me by Charles Doty (I also perused your Web page,

Original pictures of the left side, right side (and I believe front-on) reside at the Minnesota State Historical Society (MSHS) in St. Paul, Minn. Copies from their photos are presently in my photo collection. MSHS would be pleased to print more, but any interested party would need to visit them in person. They can be reached at 345 W. Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55102-1903; (651) 296-612;

After close examination of the photos, I have concluded they are photos of drawings of a proposed engine, not photos of real iron. The quality of the draftsmanship is excellent, but they are clearly either highly retouched pictures of someone else's engine (to which the TC logo plates and TC wheels have been drawn on) or a drawing.

Some clues are: The lack of a 'vanishing point' or any perspective, each component is viewed straight on; while the wheels are of typical TC design (spokes bear on the hub, not on the rivets), they have no visible width; spokes on all four wheels are dead plumb, as are all visible square bolt heads (yeah, it could happen, but not likely!). Additionally, several of us Minneapolis-Moline fans have reviewed many thousands of company photos, and the 'steamer' never shows up in the factory background with other machines or in other than the three or four known views. Other 'one-offs' they made sneak into various pictures of real iron to intrigue us.

As for the 1919 state of affairs, Minneapolis Steel & Machinery Co. was industrially capable of building a steamer if and whenever they wanted to. Yet, the lack of extant advertising combined with no mention of the machine in various MS&M corporate annual reports makes me think they did not build it. Even their successful 'high-wheelers' TC 60-90 and 40-65 were on the way out. Yes, MS&M read the writing on the wall. Others misunderstood what they read.

It would be nice to get an Advance expert's opinion on what model and year Advance was being copied, if only to close in on the reported 1919 date. As you said, it seems late.

Keep up the good work. If Tim Templin or anyone else wants to view or purchase the photos at MHS, I can provide them with details.

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;