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Traction Engines and Threshing Machines

Curtis Cook, 3500 Martin Johnson Rd., Chesapeake, VA 23323-1210, (757) 485-1711 (e-mail: writes:

'Please find enclosed a picture of a steam engine and thrasher that was taken a long time ago. The picture is believed to be my great grandfather, Adelbert Rowley (1854-1928).

'Adelbert lived in the vicinity of Clayton, Hudson Township, Lenawee County, Mich., his entire life. In the Rowley family history it states, 'Adelbert at one time owned a thrashing machine and steam engine with which he thrashed wheat for other area farmers in return for a share of the crop. The thrashing venture was not a financial success and was eventually discontinued.

'The date and location of the picture is unknown to me. I believe the steam engine to be a Gaar Scott, but I am not sure. I have no idea on the thrasher. If anyone out there in steam land can shed any light on this picture, I would like to know.'

Lyle Hoffmaster, 1845 Marion Rd., Bucyrus, OH 44820, writes:

'Richard Backus: Thank you for keeping the format the same. That means something to we 50-plus year subscribers. You have a job that is not as easy as any of the former publishers had; you do not have the 'old timers' to turn to. These were the men who had been there, and could really write the good articles. Sadly, they are all gone.

'Now for some comments on the pictures (see Iron-Men Album, November/December 2001): Picture #1 on page 1 by Larry Creed, who says he could just picture me on that front wagon and says he could count my teeth! Well now, he would have to forewarn me so as to give me a chance to put my dentures in.

'Now for three pictures Gary Yaeger sent in. Picture #1 (page 15) is of a center crank Case, probably about a 10 or 12 HP, and it is a compound but not a tandem compound, but a trunk compound. I have seen one of these engines, a 16 HP, and was lucky enough to see it run. I will say right here it was easily and by far the roughest running engine I have ever seen! This rough running was in no small part caused by the short connecting rod used on all but the very last of the center crank engines (about 1898).

Curtis Cook's great-grandfather Adelbert Rowley and what Curtis believes to be a Gaar Scott. Does anyone know differently?

'Now to explain the trunk compound: The cylinder casting was large enough in diameter to bore it out for intended bore of the low pressure cylinder. The length of the cylinder had to be double the stroke plus the thickness of two pistons plus the center head.

'The 'trunk' was very nearly (not quite) 70 percent in diameter of the bore of the cylinder, and of a length of twice the stroke plus the thickness of the center head. These parts were all cast iron and tied to the throw of the crankshaft. This trunk plus the two pistons weighed nearly 150 pounds. The high pressure steam went in at the center head, while the exhausted steam went into the end sections. The thermal efficiency was very low on such an arrangement, plus so much reciprocating weight made the whole arrangement a near disaster. If you will note, the man sitting on the engine seems to be smiling. I couldn't understand this for several days until it occurred to me he had just been fired and was waiting for the new engineer to show up!

'Gary's picture #2 is what he calls a 25 HP simple engine. The fact that he called it a simple just didn't look or seem right to me. I doubt if more than 10 percent of Reeves double engines were used for plowing - most were cross-compound. Secondly, the boiler and stack looked too small for a 25 HP double-single.

' I went back several times to again look at that picture before I finished the magazine, and then I got under a good strong light with a magnifying glass and discovered a positive, telltale feature. Just to the right of the man's head (the man sitting on the water tank, and looking to his right - Ed) are the two parallel levers that shift the intercepting valve. It is in 'simple' position when they are ready to start the plows again after taking on water. These parallel double levers were used on compound engines only. Since the 20 HP double-simple and the 25 HP cross-compound used the same boiler and stack, I went out and measured my 20 HP double-simple. I picked up the scale to use from the front wheels, measuring the width (12 inches) of the engine in the picture, and it checks very close to being a 25 HP cross-compound engine.

'Picture #3, Gary labels the engine as a 25 HP Advance. Now, the old Advance Company never made a 25 HP. This is a 30 HP simple. The next smaller simple is a 22 HP, and it's obvious the engine shown is much larger than a 22 HP. This 30 HP simple had a compound cylinder added and the drivers made six inches wider, and then it was called the 35 HP. I have seen the 35 HP compound but never the 30 HP simple.

'I am also enclosing the specification sheet for Advance engines for the year 1910, and also a picture of a 30 HP engine for the same year.

'Now Gary, I haven't heard from you for a couple of years, and I hope this will get you stirred up just enough to write me a letter. The best to all and to our new publisher.' Lyle (Reeves) Hoff master.

Larry Mix, 2075 Coburn Rd., Hastings,MI 49058-9 173, (616) 948-8497, writes:

'It has been awhile since I wrote to the Iron Men, so I thought I had better do so. I just got these pictures back and I thought that I would share them with other readers. 'Picture #1: Bernie Woodmansee, Hastings, Mich., built this sawmill, but there was definitely something wrong. This dyed-in-the-wool steam engine man, I thought he had turned to the dark side, was using a tractor instead of a steam engine. I thought that this must be a dark day for steam men everywhere, and I hung my head down. But at last, we finally got this problem resolved.

'Bernie and a few of his family and friends had a sawmill day on Nov. 4, 2000. It was a nice day with the temperature in the mid 50s and not a John Deere tractor in sight anywhere. In picture #2 you will also see Raymond Woodmansee of Dowling, Mich., on Bob Woodmansee's 40 HP Case. This is the engine that Harry Woodmansee used to climb the wooden high ramp with. Raymond looks a lot like old Pink Woodmansee of years past. I had to do a double take to make sure I wasn't seeing things.

'In Picture #1, Bernie Woodmansee and Ken Lewis of Jackson, Mich., look over the sawmill. Steve Woodmansee is also looking on. Steve did most of the sawing this day.

'Picture #3: Here I am on Bernie's 20 HP Farquhar. It is a fairly good engine, but it is not an Advance Rumely (just kidding, Bernie). When we where done sawing we were treated to a real steam engine man's meal of pizza and beer, but of course we also had pop for the kids.'

William J. Stewart, 308 S. 12th St., Independence, KS 67301-3632, writes: 'I just received the November-December 2001 Iron-Men Album. Read the reports on the engine explosion in Ohio.

'In 1947-49 I worked for the Frisco railroad as a telegraph operator. Frisco operated steam engines on all their freights and most passenger trains. Those engines worked hard day in and day out. Of course they had a good inspection and maintenance program. I don't know of any railroad engine having a boiler explosion. 1 don't know the service life expectancy of those engines - I can only guess at least 30 years. There is much to maintain on a steam railroad engine. The freight engines on our division were coal fired, passenger engines were oil fired. Steam engines are safe.'

Gary Yaeger, 146 Reimer Lane, Whitefish, MT 59937 (e-mail:, sends some more great pictures this issue, along with an open letter, which follows his explanation of the pictures.

'Richard, I am finally getting around to sending you some pictures for the Iron-Men Album. I am really busy, but didn't want to disappoint my steam cheering squad by being derelict of my photo duty.

Yaeger Photo #1:An early Under mounted Avery near Lewistown Mont. It is unknown if the glass in the windows of the cab was a factory accessory or installed by the owner

'Picture #4 is a postcard photo of a homesteader's 32 HP Reeves, moldboard plow and water wagon near Great Falls, Mont.

'Picture #5 is from Dean Alling's postcard collection. It shows a brand new, early 80 HP Case engine and threshing machine in front of the Fergus County Courthouse. The courthouse is partway up Lewistown's Main Street hill between 7th and 8th Avenue north. The Judith Mountains are visible in the background.

'Picture #6, my last this issue, shows an old wooden threshing machine loaded on a barge and being shipped to the road less Crane Brother's ranch on the inlet of Whitefish Lake. The mountain at right has become The Big Mountain Ski Resorts' home.'

An Open Letter from Gary Yaeger

'I would like to take this opportunity to compliment you on the first 'Kansas issue' of the Iron-Men Album. I commend you for your acceptance of such a difficult task and the fine manner in which you performed that task. Complicating your assignment was the inclusion of having to report on the largest steam traction engine tragedy in most living steam engineers' memories.

'I would like to take this opportunity to express my deepest sympathy to the families of the men killed in the tragedy at Medina, Ohio, on July 29. During the past 48 seasons in which 1 have run steam traction engines, I had hoped that I would never hear, or read, of such a horrible accident ever happening, as happened in Medina.

'Some of you may think I am writing this for selfish reasons, and I guess I could say that is so. I have enjoyed engineering traction engines for public display since the first time I did it in 1956, for Montana's late Governor J. Hugo Aronson at the 50th anniversary of the Montana Agricultural Experimental Station near Moccasin, Mont. I couldn't count the many times I have been operating an engine for public display and had the opportunity to watch young children, and adults alike, who have never witnessed the operation of a traction engine - to see the excitement in their eyes.

'Selfish reasons: 1 hate to see what this incident will do to insurance rates for our shows or, worse yet, what the liability implications will have in barring steam traction engines being operated for public enjoyment for future generations.

'I, like so many of my cyber space steam friends, followed the unfolding tragedy at Medina on a daily basis and searched the Internet for the unfolding story. It upset me enough that I never slept well for about a week after that explosion. 1 personally know a couple of the investigators who assisted the Medina County Sheriff's office. I also have 35mm photographs taken of many angles necessary in that investigation.

'I am able to observe from these photos that the stay bolt holes in the front portion of the crown sheet were stretched into an oval configuration. There were also very thin ultrasound readings in that portion of the crown sheet. I am also able to observe that there was deterioration in the crown sheet and the stay bolts of that area.

I was very disappointed in Pennsylvania boiler chief John D. Payton's assessment of the situation. He seems to have another agenda to promote - namely, shutting down engines he feels have weak boilers. Mr. Payton: I will take a marginal boiler and a good engineer any day over a brand new Canadian Special butt-strap boiler operated by a marginal engineer.

'I would also like him to show me an example of one crown sheet explosion incident, involving a locomotive type boiler, where it blew out while remaining covered with water. It can't be done. You touched too lightly on that subject, Mr. Payton. A red-hot crown sheet will thin out like pie dough, licorice, or taffy. It is trying to stretch and expand like blowing a bubble with bubble gum. No wonder the stay bolt holes went oval shaped in that area. When a crown sheet expands, that is when they lose contact with the stay bolts. If you stretch out any thickness of red-hot metal, it always gets thinner -but crown sheets don't get red hot, nor do they blow up, as long as water remains on them.

'An ever so slight nose-up would allow water to remain on the fusible plug and still have a bare front portion of the crown sheet. As long as there is any water touching the brass of the fusible plug, that tin alloy is not going to melt. If you have ever tried to solder a copper pipe with the least bit of water remaining inside, you aren't going to get the copper hot enough to melt solder. It is the same principle.

'I have filled my 1909 Case 15 HP on level ground until the water starts to appear in the sight glass. It has three inches of water over the crown sheet, as measured through the rear hand hole. That 1908 or 1909 Case 32 HP traction engine had to have been drastically low on water before it ever stopped at that tragic location on the Medina Fairgrounds. Three inches is a huge amount of water to lose in a few minutes, with no outward visible signs, while stopped.

'Mr. Payton, you also omitted the fact that the injector's valves were still in the open position at the time of this explosion. When makeup water hits a red-hot crown sheet, the pressure would instantaneously flash to probably four or five hundred pounds, at the millisecond it exploded.

'Watch a blacksmith sometime as he heats a large piece of iron to red hot in a forge, hammers on it until it has lost it's red color, then drops it into a bucket of cold water. That tumultuous rumble is a tiny example of what transpires upon a red-hot crown sheet.

'In this day and age, when operating in a public setting, it is just easier to keep a half glass of water in the gauge. There is no ingredient of steam engine operation that is more important than keeping a keen eye on the engine's water glass. Do I sound like I prefer weak boilers? No, I believe in boiler inspections. Probably there should be more emphasis put on engineer inspections? I believe the various schools available for traction engineering are doing a commendable thing for beginning, as well as seasoned, engineers. If you fear not being able to pass a test on traction engines, perhaps you shouldn't be operating them? After all, buying a piano does not make one a musician - and buying a traction engine does not make one an engineer.

'I think we all need to do everything we can to prevent another incident from ever happening again, as happened in Medina.

'I am quite concerned for Medina County Sheriff Mr. Neil F. Hassinger and Lt. John Detchon regarding their health, due to Mr. Payton's public report. If they swallowed the hook and line, they may be okay. If they swallowed hook, line and sinker, they could possibly contract lead poisoning.'

Sincerely, Gary Yaeger

Montana Steam Traction Engineer's License # 3082-B5 Montana Second Class (high pressure stationary) License #4699-B2