Pat's Steam Dream Comes True at Last

Traction engine

The death of close friend and fellow traction engine enthusiast Jim Link at the age of 56 focused Pat's mind.

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We wish to thank the Kent Messenger Group Newspapers for their permission to reprint this article and photo, which appeared in their Kent Today April 9, 1992.

Mechanical engineer Pat Neilson has dreamed of owning his own steam traction engine for 20 years.

Steam is probably the most emotive form of transport and power ask any railway enthusiast who hankers for the days before the diesel and electric train.

The mighty traction engines which before the Second World War repaired roads, ploughed fields and provided the power to run farm machinery, capture the essence of steam in a form that affected everyone's life.

And the enormous showman's engines, with hundreds of decorative colored bulbs, once a regular sight slowly towing fairground rides from one town to the next, then carrying on their labors generating the electricity to run the rides, symbolize bygone days of innocent childhood, even in those too young to remember steam.

Pat, 45, who lives in Kennington, Ashford, was determined to own a traction engine and decided on a half-scale replica.

For the past eight years he has worked on building a copy, organizing everything from one-off foundry castings to hunting the correct gauge metal for a perfect replica.

'But two years ago I realized the job was probably going to take as long again to complete and I began considering buying from one of the specialist builders,' said Pat.

'Steam engines are something I love and when Jim died I realized how easy it was to plan for tomorrow, next month or next year but the reality is that I may not be around to see it.'

REPLICA

Pat is not a millionaire and the decision to spend a considerable sum of money on a steam engine was taken only after a long discussion with his wife Glenda, who shares his passion for steam.

Once the decision had been made he turned to the United States to buy his dream. 'There are British companies building replicas but I fell in love with a picture in a book and the idea grew from there,' said Pat.

The J. I. Case Threshing Machine Co., Wisconsin, is still in business turning out all manner of modern farm machinery.

But 80 years ago the company built steam engines and Pat's is a replica of a 1914 65 HP Case.

Tom Terning in Kansas has been building Case replicas for enthusiasts for 30 years.

In 1990 Pat found an article about Tom Terning. A transatlantic telephone call followed by a couple of letters convinced Pat he had found the man to build his dream.

'Glenda was a little surprised when I sent money to a man 4,000 miles away who I had never met.' said Pat. 'But I knew it was safe.'

A family holiday in Miami in May gave Pat a chance to see his engine under construction.

'Tom invited me to drop in,' says Pat who found that one of the welders working on the engine was English. 'Just dropping in though meant a flight halfway across the country. America is a big place.'

Satisfied that work was progressing well, Pat returned home and waited.

At the end of March a wooden packing case weighing more than two tons arrived at Felixstowe docks and was transported to Ashford by Kent Machine Services, West Malling.

Pat's dream had arrived. He now owns the only Case traction engine in Europe and the engine looks set to be a common sight at steam fairs all over the country.

It is a working vehicle and will be put to use running handsaws, threshing and maybe will even tackle a bit of ploughing.

Pat has also agreed to appear with the engine at several charity events where he will give rides to help raise cash.

The Sellindge Steam Fair in May was its first appearance in Britain.

But seven days after delivery Pat was still waiting to hear the Case, christened Kansas Glen, running.

'It has passed all the U. S. tests but before I can run it in this country it needs to be checked again,' he said. The Case will be fully licensed to run on the road too.

Driving a steam engine is both difficult and easy at the same time, says Pat.

'You need to understand the engine,' he said. 'No two boilers are alike and each vehicle has its own characteristics and personality.'

EASIER

Pat's other interest is a pristine Harley-Davidson motorcycle, a 1200cc Electra Glide, built in 1970.

He has owned it for ten years and it reflects the love he has for mechanical things.

The bike has been a regular visitor to shows and rallies all over Britain during the past decade but it may have an easier life this year when the Case steals most of Pat's attention.