That's My Daddy's Steam Engine

65 HP Case engine

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Route 3, Box 61 Calhoun, Kentucky 42327

My Dad always has been and will always be my hero. In springtime when I was a child on the way to and from school, someone would shout: 'Hey, look, there's a steam engine.' I could say with pride, 'That's my daddy's Case steam engine.' The pride swelled until I stood 10 feet tall.

My daddy would be making his annual spring tobacco plant bed steaming run with his pride and joy his beloved 65 HP Case. It always took a whole month for Saturday to arrive, so I would be out of school and could go with Daddy to the steam engine.

Up before daylight, once breakfast and the farm chores were done, we would head for the farm where the engine had been parked the night before. Once at the engine, the first thing he would do, after lighting his kerosene lantern, was open the water glass to see how much water had boiled out during the night. Then, he would proceed with cleaning the fire and swabbing the flues. He always intended to have a full head of steam by daylight or soon thereafter.

One of the first jobs I can remember he assigned to me was taking the rake and cleaning the ashes out of the ash pan. What a thrill! I was getting dirty, and I was helping my dad operate his steam engine.

Of course, it wasn't long until I wanted to fire. Gee, it looked so easy the way he carefully guided each scoop-full and spread it evenly over the firebox. Needless to say, my first attempts resulted in a very uneven fire, falling steam pressure and Daddy having to take over to restore order to the situation.

My dad always took the time and patience to tell me why he did everything he did while firing and running a steam engine. He would always say: 'Keep calm and don't panic if a little something goes wrong.' Another saying of his I remember so well even to this day was: 'Always know where your water is. Keep plenty in her, but remember steam engines were made to run on dry steam and not hot water.'

Stewart W. Lee is at the throttle of his 65 HP Case engine during a steaming run at the Russell Hicks farm in McLean County, northwestern Kentucky, on April 13, 1960. The whistle behind that smokestack is not standard Case equipment; it's an Illinois Central Railroad steam locomotive whistle from Tommy Lee's extensive whistle collection

Well, the day finally arrived after a couple of lifetimes waiting when he let me steer the engine on the road. The thrill is as fresh in my memory today as it was almost 40 years ago.

Soon afterward, one day when we were making a three-mile move, he shouted over to me: 'Here watch the throttle for me and keep your eye on the road, I have to check something on the ground.' With my dad walking along beside the moving engine, my heart swelled with joy and pride; for at last, I was in complete control of a big steam engine. Dad sensed the thrill that his boy was having, because he took his time getting back on the engine. From that day on, Dad always saw to it that I got my turn at the throttle.

My dad was an excellent fireman and engineer, and accomplished blacksmith and woodworker. His knowledge of the working of a steam engine was excellent. He set the valves on his own engines. He and I were great pals for 45 years, and I shall always treasure my memories of him and the knowledge he passed on to me.

Yes, my dad is and will always be a hero. For as God's golden gift of memory takes control and time turns back to a youthful spring of long ago, I can still hear some kid on the way home from school shout: 'Hey, look, there's a steam engine.'

And, I can still say with pride, 'That's my daddy's Case steam engine!'

During a late fall stop at the Lee family farm in northwestern Kentucky, Helen Case Brigham, right, caught Joan and Tommy Lee in the midst of a bountiful 1986 harvest of tobacco. Helen visited the Lees to check the progress of Tommy's restoration work on his 40 HP Case steam traction engine (in background), but she also received an education from the resident experts on the preparation of their tobacco crop for market. The engine was purchased by Stewart Lee, Tommy's dad, in 1971, for $1,000.