Steam Engine Tales

Aultman Taylor engine

Aultman Taylor engine which was shipped to South America. Owned by Fred Kemna of Danville, Illinois.

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R.R. 3, Box 381 Danville, Illinois 61832

In 1915 my grandfather, Haskill Creed, of Cairo, Missouri, ventured west to the Larned, Kansas area. He had been hired to engineer a 32 HP Reeves for a Mr. John Alfred. This engine was a simple, with a lap seam boiler. It pulled a wooden 44 inch Reeves separator which was several years older than the engine and quite worn. In 1915 they managed to keep the separator running and they made some money. In 1916 my grandfather purchased the engine and separator from Mr. Alfred for $600. Grandfather continued to thresh Mr. Alfred's run for three years. The engine and separator stayed in Kansas year 'round, and Grandfather came out from Cairo, Missouri, to run the outfit during the harvest. After the 1918 harvest, Grandfather decided that the separator was worn out. He had the separator burned and the engine loaded on a flatcar in Great Bend, Kansas, and shipped to north Missouri for $75.

In north Missouri the big Reeves was primarily used to pull a road grader on the county roads. Occasionally it was used to pull hedge. Dad remembers his father hooking a cable around a hedgetree and the other end to the Reeves. He would move the engine slowly forward to get the slack out of the cable and then gently rock the Reeves by opening and closing the throttle. At first all you would see was the hedgetree shaking and giving a little each time. The next thing that you would see was roots coming out of the ground from all directions.

One day in 1922, Grandfather decided to check the thickness of the boiler. The standard practice in those days was to peck on the boiler with a hammer to check the thickness. Evidently the boiler was not very thick, since the hammer went completely through the boiler in several spots. This was quite a surprise, because it had carried 160 pounds of steam the previous fall. At that time there was no satisfactory way to repair a boiler in that condition, so the Reeves was cut up for scrap.

In 1925, Grandfather bought a 1922 12 HP Case steam engine east of Macon, Missouri, for $350 from a widow. Dad remembers going to get this engine. It looked like it was brand new and was always stored in a shed. This engine was used to fill silos and pull a buzz saw. In 1928 this engine had its first flue go out and it was cut up for scrap.

Dad can remember other engines in the Cairo-Jacksonville area, but he only remembers one person who successfully farmed with a steam engine. This person Bill Darby, from Jacksonville had Advance and Nichols & Shepard steam engines which he used for threshing and plowing.

In later years, Dad became acquainted with Les McKinny of Cairo, who owned several large engines. Les thought that the best engine ever built was a Rumely. He built five scale models of M Rumely engines. They all had boilers built at Moberly, Missouri, by Solomon Boiler Works. He built his last model in the late Sixties; we believe it was a double cylinder. One model he traded even for a brand new car. I would like to correspond with anyone who would know where any of these models are located.

My other grandfather, Elmer Mosteller, lived near Mansfield, Indiana, in the area called Rocky Fork. He used steam engines to power his Enterprise sawmill. The first engine that Elmer owned was a portable engine with a wet bottom firebox. My uncles cannot recall the make of this engine. This engine left a bit to be desired because of the fact that it had a hole in the bottom of the boiler. My grandfather would whittle out a wooden plug, hammer it into the hole, and stack wooden blocks underneath the plug. He would drive a wedge-shaped piece of wood between the plug and the stack of blocks to hold the plug in place while the boiler was under pressure. All of the wheels were chocked to keep the engine from rocking. Caution was used to keep the engine steady because if the plug blew out he would lose a day of sawing. My uncles remember a few times when the plug did blow out which would clear the sawmill shed of everyone except for my grandfather.

Elmer later owned a Reeves traction engine and sawed with it. One time they were crossing a rocky creek bed and a steering chain broke which allowed one front wheel to cut back into the side of the boiler. Before the engine could be stopped, the front wheels lodged between some rocks and tore the front pedestal out from under the boiler.

The last engine that Elmer owned was a Baker which was scrapped in the lot behind his house. Several years later my dad was walking through that lot and saw something sticking out of the ground. He started digging and uncovered a Powell whistle which we assume was from the Baker engine.

In the mid-Fifties, Dad found an 80 HP Case near Lena, Indiana, which was for sale for $125. Dad lived in St. Louis, Missouri, and he did not know anyone who lived near Lena where he could park the engine, so he did not buy it. Later the owners offered to give the engine to anyone who wanted it. Bob Johnson of Terre Haute, Indiana, took what he could get off of it and it was cut up. Dad and Bob have regretted not getting that engine ever since. Bob took some black and white film of it running the sawmill years before. It looked like it was a good engine to me.

After we moved to Indiana in 1962, Dad met Albert McChargue of Bridgeton, Indiana. He had owned Minneapolis, Baker, and Huber steam engines. The Minneapolis was used to power a Sinker-Davis sawmill in Bridgeton. The Baker was used to power a 40 inch Baker threshing machine, the Huber on a wooden 36' N&S threshing machine.

The Huber was formerly owned by someone who used it to run a sawmill. The owner got concerned about the Huber's boiler condition and decided not to use it anymore. It was pulled out to the side of the sawmill and another engine was used to finish sawing the timber. When the sawmill was moved the Huber was left behind for the junkman. Albert heard about the Huber, looked it over, and purchased it. Since he did not have a boiler pump and the boiler looked good to him, he decided to fire it up. He set the pop-valve to 180 pounds, filled the boiler with water, and lit a fire. After the fire was going real well and the pressure was rising, he filled the firebox with wood and retreated to a hilltop about a quarter of a mile away from the engine. From there he watched the engine and waited for the pop-valve to open. About a half hour later the pop-valve opened and the boiler held. He went back to the engine and made more preparations while waiting for the boiler pressure to drop to a safer level. When he was ready, he opened the throttle, engaged the clutch and out he chugged on the engine that was given up for junk.

Albert introduced my dad to Fred Kemna in the mid-Sixties. Fred lived on the Illinois-Indiana state line near Danville, Illinois, and always had several steam engines. I can remember when I was eight years old and going to Fred's to see all of the engines. Keck-Gonnerman, Baker, Buffalo Pitts, Gaar Scott, Advance, Advance Rumely, Nichols & Shepard, Port Huron, Case, and Reeves were some of the ones that I can remember. I don't think that Fred ever saw a steam engine that he didn't like. Two things that upset Fred were to see an engine sitting outside with its stack uncovered or an engine mired down in the ground. On Memorial Day and Fourth of July, Fred almost always had an engine fired up to play with. Several times Dad would go up to Fred's and get to run an engine. One time Fred tried to give Dad a 20 HP Nichols & Shepard engine to take home and play with. Dad refused the offer because he felt that it would be taking an unfair advantage of his friendship with Fred. I think that the 20 HP Nichols & Shepard, as well as several of the Keck-Gonnermans that Fred owned, went to southern Indiana.

One engine that Fred owned was an Aultman-Taylor which was shipped to Kinzers, Pennsylvania, then on to South America. He always wanted to go to South America and visit this engine, however he never was able to do it.

Fred owned many different makes of engines and he liked them all. Fred never saw a lap seam boiler leak at the seam. He always said that a properly built lap seam boiler, after several years, could be as strong as a butt-strap boiler. He felt that there were more ways to trap moisture in a butt-strap boiler.

Fred and Dad's favorite engine was a 22 HP Advance Rumely which is still in the Kemna family. If you attend the Skinner Farm Museum Show near Perrysville, Indiana, you might be lucky and see it in action.

The stories that people write about the good and bad points of Case engines are interesting. Frequently the 65 HP Case is the main subject of these stories. It is interesting to note how the Advance Rumely 20-22 HP is built similar to a Case 65. There are very few in-depth stories written about the good and bad points of an Advance Rumely engine. It would be interesting to see how a 20-22 HP Advance Rumely compares to a Case 65, and to see how a 25 HP Advance Rumely compares to an 80 HP Case. I guess Advance Rumely would be the subject of these stories had they sold more engines than any other company.

I enjoy the IMA and I especially enjoy hearing stories from the older folks about steam engines. The stories about buying and restoring engines are very informative. I would like to encourage more people to contribute to this publication.