PAST AND PRESENT

Steam Engines & Threshing Machines

Lynn Mix and 19 HP Port Huron

Mix Photo #1: Lynn Mix and 19 HP Port Huron at the 1965 Michigan Steam Engine and Thresher Club Show.

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CENTURY OF PROGRESS

Regular contributor Larry Mix, 2075 Coburn Road, Hastings, MI 49058 (crazyhorsel3@hotmail.com) chimes in again this issue, sending along some great photos. Larry writes:

Several people have asked me to send in more pictures for Steam Traction, so here you go.

Photo #1 is a picture of my dad, Lynn Mix, who passed away in 1993. This was taken at the Michigan Steam Engine and Thresher Club Show in 1965. The engine is our 19 HP Port Huron, engine no. 7991, belted up to our Perkins shingle mill. I'm running the engine; I have no idea who the man at the left is. I still have the shingle mill, but I don't know who owns the Port Huron now.

Photo #2 is my dad on our 19 HP Baker, engine no. 1520. The photo was taken in the late 1970s, and the Baker is now owned by Bill Kennedy.

The next two photos were taken at the Century of Progress exhibit at Michigan State University in Lansing, Mich., in 1955. I was there, but at four years of age I don't remember much about it. I asked several people to help me identify the engines and people in the pictures, but I haven't had much luck. However, Dick Watson has helped me with some information.

Photo #3 is Case engine no. 1 from the Smithsonian Institution's collection. Hard to believe that Case no. 1 was there, but my good friend Dick Watson was at the exhibit and he says it was indeed Case no. 1.

Photo #4 is an Avery under mount. I don't know whose engine it is or who is running it, but maybe somebody can identify it.

Photo #5 is an old post card that was in my dad's collection, and when he passed away my mother gave it to me. It is an Advance engine, but I have no other information.

Photo #6 is a picture of an Advance compound engine, most likely a 16 HP. I have no information on this picture, either.

I don't have any information on Photo #7, either. The first engine is an Advance, but I don't know what the second engine is. I'll leave that up to the experts.

I was told the engines for the Century of Progress exhibit in Lansing, Mich., in 1955 were hauled in from out of state. Ken Lewis of Jackson, Mich., said there were some very unusual and different engines there, and Dick Watson told me that Big Mac McMillan from Kansas was there and climbed the high ramp. If anyone out there was at the event or has pictures of the Century of Progress exhibit, send them into Steam Traction magazine and share them with the rest of us.

SCALE ENGINES

Jim Hinterweger, 364 N. 4th St., New Strawn, KS, 66839; (620) 364-5485 (e-mail: jhinte@kans.com), writes in with comments on the September/October issue. Jim writes:

Very nice back cover article on the Turning 1/4-scale Case engine. I wonder how many of these little engines are out there? Aaron Terning once told me he thought they had built over 100 of the 1/4- and 1/2-scale engines. I would be interested in hearing from 1/4-scale engine owners. It would be fun to share experiences and operating tips.

SPALDING'S CORNER

John Brewington, 5613 Highway 6167, Imperial, MO 63052, was the first person to correctly identify John Spalding's 'mystery' engine in the September/October issue. John phoned in as soon as he got his issue in the mail, and the engine was of course a Birdsall steam traction engine, most likely an 18 HP as that was the company's most popular offering.

Nobody, however, correctly identified either the automobile or the thresher in the photograph. To be fair, we don't know what the thresher is, and we were hoping a sharp-eyed reader would solve that part of the mystery. The car we're sure about; it's a 1910 Buick Model F Touring. As the first person to identify the Birdsall, John gets a copy of Steam Engine Guide by Professor P.S. Rose.

Bob Carlson's e-mail answer to the mystery photo arrived just minutes after John's phone call. Bob didn't have any information on the auto or the thresher, but he did have some thoughts on the picture. Bob writes:

I just got my magazine today, and I hope I am first and not second this time. The engine is a Birdsall. I am not sure of the horsepower, but all of the ones I have seen have shaft drive, as in the picture. However, this Birdsall has solid drive wheels, while the few I have seen had open wheels. Which was more common? I don't know the make of the thresher. The car has New York plates on it, so the picture was probably taken near where Birdsall was made. I think the car dates from 1907 to 1912 - note the gas lights, right hand drive and costly leather seats.

UNDERMOUNTED AULTMANS

Regular contributor Thomas Stebritz, 1516 E. Commercial St., Algona, CA 50511, writes in this issue, continuing the discussion on the undermounted Aultman engines. Thomas writes:

I am offering this letter in response to Alan New's letter in the September/October issue and his views about the undermounted Star.

Mr. New's method of judging the proportions of the engine in the picture is in serious error. The under-mounted Star pictured in the January/February 2003 issue of SteamTraction could in no way be a 16 HP; the 16 HP was 95 inches wide while the 35 HP was 135 inches wide. The 16 HP had a 30-inch boiler shell while the 35 HP had a 40-inch diameter shell (and other specifications larger in proportions). Mr. New makes the remarks that the 22 HP was perhaps the largest Star undermounted made; that was just a guess - his.

The Aultman Co. also built a monstrosity called the Double Mogul. It was a 25 HP undermounted double cylinder, firebox return-flue engine. A real doosey. I gave a picture like the one I've included to Gary Yaeger. I don't have the specs on this one, but it still wouldn't be larger than the 35 HP undermounted engine.

Actually, I take the last line back. Rechecking, I found the specs for the Double Mogul return flue and the shell was 36 inches in diameter. For some reason the spec sheet doesn't give the cylinder diameters for the Double Mogul. All of this of course simmers back to the largest engine, which was the 35 HP undermounted Double Star. Mr. New should compare the 63-inch by 18-inch drivers of the 16 HP to the 72-inch by 24-inch drivers on the 35 HP.

Stebritz Photo #1: 'Table of Dimensions of Single and Double Engines' from a 1907 C. Aultman catalog.

TABLE OF DIMENSIONS OF SINGLE AND DOUBLE ENGINES

Rated Horse Power

Name of engine

STYLE OF ENGINE

CYLINDER

FLY-WHEEL

BOILER

WHEELS

Bore, Inches

Stroke, Inches

Diameter inches

Face, Inches

Revolutions per Minute

FIRE-BOX

TUBES

Heating surface, square Feet

Diameter of Shell

REAR

FRONT

Distance Between Axles, Inches

Extreme Width of Engine Inches

Length, Inches

Width, Inches

Height, Inches

Grate Area, Square Feet

Number

Diameter, Inches

Length, inches

Diameter, Inches

Face, Inches

Diameter, Inches

Face Inches

12

Simple

8

10

37

9

220

35

23

33

5.59

32

2

72

158

28

59

14

43

5

93

80

14

Simple

8

10

37

9

220

35

23

33

5.59

32

2

78

158

28

59

14

43

5

93

80

16

Simple

8

11

40

9

220

40

25

35

7.08

36

2

82

167

30

63

18

42

8

104

90

16

Double

6

8

35

10

275

40

25

35

7.08

36

2

82

167

30

63

18

42

8

150

95

20

Simple

9

11

42

10

320

45

27

38

8.44

40

2

84

218

32

66

20

44

8

110

95

22

Double

71/8

10

38

10

250

45

27

38

8.44

48

2

90

235

32

66

20

42

8

150

98

35

Double

8

10

40

10

240

51

38

44

13.07

82

2

90

285

40

72

24

48

8

175

135

20

Mogul

Simple

9

12

42

10

220

42

28

36

8.16

1/24

14/2

74/120

197

36

66

20

42

8

102

99

25

Double

10

38

10

250

50

30

44

10.44

63

2

96

334

36

66

24

42

8

150

98

THRESHING MEMORIES

Editor's note: This past summer, while attending a family reunion in upstate New York, I was showing my father's cousin, Dick Backus, 244 Woods Hole Road, Falmouth, MA 02540, a copy of Steam Traction. The magazine's subject matter brought back some great memories for Dick, one of which he sent to me upon my return to Kansas.

It was a surprise for me to learn of Dick's experiences in the field, as I had never heard him mention them before. Given the era of his youth, the 1920s, I shouldn't have been surprised, and it was with great interest that I read his reminiscences of threshing, reminiscences I believe readers will enjoy, as well. For the record, I was named after Dick, whose full name is Richard Haven Backus. Dick writes:

The 1860 edition of the Historical and Statistical Gazetteer of New York State, a copy of which was a Christmas present from my father about a century later, says that in Monroe County, 'Until within a few years past, wheat has been the great staple.' Amiel Miller's field that I saw harvested about 1927 when I was 5 or 6 must have been one of the last in our part of the county.

The field was a flat one, just on the edge of the steep oak and hickory-clad ridges and gullies that stood above Iron dequoit Bay. Indeed, to get to it one had to drive team and wagon right along the fence at the south edge of the farm where the ancient stream bed to be crossed incised the land the least. I went to the sunny field with Mr. Miller's hired man, Martin, where we loaded the wagon with sheaves and hauled them back to the barn.

Then one day not long after, the great high-stacked, high-wheeled steam tractor crept down Bay Road pulling the irregular, intricate, wheeled box that was the threshing machine. This dragon, which brought mix photo #7: Yet another post card photo, with yet another Advance. The second engine is unidentified. the threshing rig and turned the mechanism once there, was set up at a safe distance in the pasture south of the barn. I went over with my grand-father Haven.

The high wagon doors of the barn had been rolled back and the threshing machine pushed in onto the threshing floor. The opposing door, between threshing floor and barnyard, was also open, and the flue that was to discharge chaff and straw extended. The belt between tractor and thresher pulleys was a 10-inch wide, 50-foot loop that sagged in the middle to within a few inches of the ground. It had a wonderful vivacity when everything was set in motion.

I can't seem to hear the clatter nor picture very well our neighbors up in the loft throwing the unthreshed wheat into the machine's frightening mouth, but down where I was on the floor at the side of the rig George Vosburgh was nicely sliding the cylindrical, wooden peck-measure into a certain cavity just as he took out its grain-filled twin, not letting a kernel escape. He dumped the vessel into a bin in the granary and added a mark with the stub of a pencil on the casing of the granary door. He was older than the others, and the favored job even let him dress a little nattily. Was that the reason for his smug look, or was he, like I, simply delighted with the beautiful stuff that was heaping up slowly in the bin? Croesus-like, I ran my arms into it up to the elbows again and again and let the stuff fall back in golden showers.

In the meantime, my friend Martin was out in the barnyard atop the straw heap with a pitchfork keeping things even. He stood just to one side of the dirty blizzard that was the other product of the operation, a red bandanna tied over his nose and mouth. He was almost black.

KITTEN TOW-PASS BOILER

Last issue we were amazed to receive a photograph of a Kitten steam traction engine with a two-pass boiler from steam historian and author Robert T. Rhode. Regular readers will remember that we first discussed the odd engine in the July/August 2003 issue after receiving a copy of an 1892 ad for an 'Improved Traction Engine' sent in by reader JerryKitten. The 1892 ad, which showed a Kitten unlike any we'd ever seen, discussed the engine's mechanical attributes, including the engine's two-pass boiler.

We weren't sure if F. Kitten's Machine Works, Ferdinand, Ind., had ever actually built any of these engines, and we noted as much in the original article. Then along came Bob's photograph, proving without doubt that at least one of these engines was made and put to work and it doesn't end there.

After seeing Bob's photo last issue, contributor John Spalding sent in yet another picture of this curious Kitten, and amazingly it's the exact engine as shown in Bob's photo, but caught in the clear (in Bob's photo the Kitten was popping off, obscuring the engine slightly). Comparing the two photos shows the same engineer, the same engine and at the same location.

BAKER HIGH-PRESSURE STEAMER

Jim Mead,4868 Route 38, Oswego, NY 1387, sends in a really interesting reprint of an A.D. Baker promotional piece showing Baker's high-pressure steam tractor as built in the mid-1920s. Jim writes:

I found an original of this on eBay a few years back and had some good copies made; I thought you might like one.

Good job with the magazine. I think New York needs to look at what Ohio is doing, but I don't dare say much - good boilers sitting, bad boilers in service; government at its worst.

THE FIRST STEAM TRACTION ENGINE?

Regular contributor Steve Davis, 654 Route 20, West Winfield, NY 13491 (sdavis9953I@aol.com) recently came across an interesting article in an old issue of The American Thresherman, prompting him to write in with a question. Steve writes:

I was just now looking through some old issues of The American Thresherman, and a short blurb in the June 1923 issue caught my eye. It was titled 'The First Traction Engine,' and it contained the following information:

'Levi Palmer, a former thresher man who now lives in West Madison, intends to write several letters for our readers on the first steam traction engine, invented by James Baker of Madison some 60 odd years ago. Mr. Baker was a son-in-law of Dexter Curtis, famous in the early days as a horse pad manufacturer. After working out his own designs Mr. Baker went to the old Pitts company and developed that firm's first engine.'

Does anyone have more information or know more about Mr. Baker?

CIRCUS ENGINES

Ed Gladkowski, 1128 W. Gardner St., Houston, TX 77009, writes in with some information on steam traction engines used in the circus. Ed writes:

In the May/June 2003 issue of SteamTraction you were kind enough to publish my letter in which I mentioned being curious about the use of traction engines in circuses. I recently come across some references that might interest readers who are also curious about the subject.

First, according to ACentury of Traction Engines, by W. J. Hughes (printed by Percival Marshall & Co. Ltd. in England, 1959), Jim Myer's Great American Circus used a Bray's traction engine (an early English engine) to pull its bandwagon when it toured Folkstone, England, in 1859. Mr. Hughes stated that this became the world's first showman's engine.

Second, an article in the June 1900 issue of AmericanElectrician tells of two 'complete portable electric lighting plants' built for Barnum & Bailey's circus. Wagon-mounted, they are interesting even if they weren't self-propelled. The boiler was apparently nickel-plated and could raise 100 pounds of pressure in six minutes from cold. I suspect it was adapted from a fire engine boiler.

The other intriguing point is the engine driving the dynamo. It looks to be an enclosed upright, about 20 HP, driving a 15 kilowatt generator. The article says the unit is 'in some respects similar to the Buffalo Bill plants which are now so well-known, especially in the matter of the prime movers, which are the familiar Case engines, built by the New Britain Machine Co., New Britain, Conn.' Now, that's got me scratching my head!

It's interesting to note the different way steam was used in England and the U.S. Our 'showmen' used standalone light plants while theirs usually had a dynamo mounted on the traction engine smoke box itself (see Steam Traction, July/August 2003, page 7), and we usually, though not always, plowed by direct traction while the English used cable-drawn plows (see Steam Traction, July/August 2003, page 5). Just goes to show different conditions give rise to different solutions, I guess.

'American Steam Wagon' in the July/August 2003 issue sure was interesting. It is good to know the history of small and relatively unknown companies is being recorded. As always, many thanks to you and all the contributors who make Steam Traction such a great magazine.

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