THE KITTEN: From Wood To Cast Iron

Kitten factory

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Rt 2, Box 6 Slaton, Texas 79364-9501

I have a story to tell you about the Kitten factory, and more specifically the travels of the wooden patterns for the Kitten steam engine.

Florenz Kitten came here from Ibbenburen, West Germany with his parents when he was ten years old. They settled in a small southwest Indiana town called Ferdinand. It was there that Florenz attended school.

One teacher noticed that during recess Florenz would leave the school ground and return when classes were to begin again. And as the story goes, the teachers could not find out anything about what he was doing every day when he left the school ground. Of course, all children were supposed to stay on the school property until classes were dismissed for the day.

The problem was solved one day when a teacher followed Florenz on his usual journey. At this early age, he was busy building his own small scale steam engine in his secret hiding place.

As you can tell, Florenz started early in his life to work on his dream. And from that day on, the teacher who followed Florenz continued to help and encourage him to build and sell steam engines.

For one thing, to manufacture equipment before the turn of the century one had to do most of the work oneself, for the supply of steel wasn't very available, nor were there any factories to make cast iron on a custom basis. So, like other manufacturers of the time, one had to have one's own blacksmith shop, machine shop, carpenter shop, foundry, and of course, someone to design the machine. That designer was a gentleman by the name of Florenz Kitten.

Over the years, the Kitten Machine Works made, first of all, a horse drawn combine, a thresher, a steam engine, a saw mill, a gasoline engine, and even worked on making an airplane. These machines had cast iron in them, so first, he and his men had to make the pieces out of wood so that they could be cast. Florenz Kitten, like so many other manufacturers, had hundreds of wooden molds. The wooden molds were difficult to make, and expensive, so they naturally were well cared for.

The Kitten Machine Works changed hands several times during the seventy some years that it was open. In March 1960, what was left of the buildings and equipment was bought by the Ferdinand Development Corporation. This corporation bought the property for the sole purpose of saving the buildings and equipment for posterity. That was done, until 1972, when the whole place burned to the ground.

However, thanks to a man named Walter Knapp, the story continues, You see, when Finton Stallings owned the building, he was selling (in his words), anything that he could, just to make a living. This included hauling Kitten steam engines to the scrap pile, and a few parts to Walter Knapp. When Walter Knapp heard that he could still purchase some parts from the factory, he jumped in his truck and headed for Ferdinand.

Finton sold him some parts plus, more importantly, all of the wooden patterns for the Kitten steam engine. Walter kept these wooden patterns safe, until late in his life. He then sold them to Eiffel Plasterer for the same use to preserve them and make parts when needed. Eiffel kept the parts as promised, for posterity.

Now of course I, Jerry Kitten, being a distant relative of Florenz, started collecting antiques, mainly those of the Kitten factory. Through the years, I heard of the Kitten patterns that by Eiffel Plasterer owned. I made several trips to Huntington, Indiana, wrote many letters, and made numerous phone calls to Eiffel, in an attempt to procure the by now famous Kitten patterns. The best I could do was to get Eiffel to say that whenever he was through with the Kitten patterns, they were to go to me, Jerry Kitten.

Eiffel has since passed away, and now the Kitten patterns are here in Slaton, Texas. We have done some research and studying on the patterns, and it sure is one gigantic jigsaw puzzle. There are well over 100 patterns that we have identified, and two small boxes with various pieces with uses we are unsure of

It seems that the Kitten patterns are home now: not because they are back in their hometown, but because the Kitten patterns are once again owned by Kittens: Kittens who are distant relatives of a once powerful, but quiet gentleman named Florenz.

This fairy tale of a story could end here, now that we have a happy ending, but there is more to the story. However, that will be told another day.

One thing in advance the title to my next story will be:

'Ole Man Winter'.

Kitten Engines To Gather in Ferdinand

The above picture shows a Kitten engine with Mike and Francis Lindaucr standing behind it. This Kitten will be used on June 27, 1992 for a demonstration in Ferdinand which is to be part of the Ferdinand Benedictine Heritage Farm Show, at the Monastery Immaculate Conception. Ferdinand is located just 1 mile north of Exit 63 of 1-64 across Indiana, 70 miles west of Louisville, Kentucky.