Tommy Jordan Gets His Steam Engine

Steam engine

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for Tommy L. Jordan R.R.2 Knoxville, Iowa 50138 2723 Abraham Drive Cedar Falls, Iowa 50613

Tommy Jordan exhibits his half-scale 65 Case at the Midwest Old Threshers Reunion, Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. This was the newest steam engine at the 1988 show.

His love for steam engines began as soon as he could walk. When Lena Jordan could not find her four year old son, she searched across the fields in the direction of the sound of the steam engine. She would usually find him there where the men were threshing grain.

Even before that, when he was just three, Tommy took off down the road to his grandfather's, where they keep machinery. Then Santa Claus, fully dressed in the middle of a hot July day, came hunting this boy who was drawn to the sound of farm machines. Scared of Santa Claus, he ran all the way home.

'Oh, steam engines have always been in my heart and mind, ever since, I suspect, I was four or five years old,' Tommy said recently when reminiscing about his life-long love for steam engines.

'I rode around a lot with Dad in his, especially plowing in a field, and even when he was threshing. I could hear them threshing a mile away could hear the old engine, and I'd take off afoot across the field, and followed that old sound until I found it.'

One time when he was really lost, the whole 'gang' and a hired man set off looking for him, but Tommy had gone down to the railroad tracks to see what was going on there and came back to the house. When the search party came in they found him in the kitchen eating cookies!

Throughout his life in Marion County, Iowa, Tommy has experienced all the changes that have taken place in farming from horses, to steam, and gasoline engines. Of all of them, it is the steam that fascinates him the most and when asked why it was so bad that tractors had replaced steam engines, he emphatically said, 'They took away the best thing they ever made!' Then he told me how a few steam engines were saved from the cutting torch because they were the ones that rounded up the others and brought them in to be cut up for scrap for war needs.

After he retired in about 1970, Tommy began to think about having his own steam engine. 'I'd go to steam engine shows and I'd try to buy onea big one,' he said. 'Well, one year I went to Mt. Pleasant, and there was this big ole Shepard, just like we used to have. If I'd had $8,000, I'd probably have bought it. But I didn't have a shed to put it in.' The next one he found was for $12,000, and Tommy decided he just didn't have the means to buy an engine and thought he'd have to give up the idea. But his buddies at Old Threshers Re union at Mt. Pleasant kept looking for him and told him not to give up. One of them gave him a tip on a steam engine in Missouri.

On a vacation trip to Texas with his wife Mary, Tommy got this notion to stop and look at that engine in Missouri. He hadn't said anything to his wife about why he wanted to stop in this little town, and his dream about owning a steam engine was not something Mary was aware of. When he started measuring the steamer to see if it would fit in the pickup, Mary got suspicious that he was serious, and wouldn't even get out of the truck to look at it.

When asked if she knew he was wanting one, she said she never knew, and to that he replied, 'She wasn't listening,' and laughed.

On their winter trip to Arizona in 1987 Tommy wrote a letter and sent a dollar to Tom Terning in Wichita, Kansas, for the price list of a steam engine and steam engine parts to build your own. Then one day, when Tommy and Mary were walking in their courtyard, there was Tom Terning's mother waiting for them at their trailer. She introduced herself and talked to them about steam engines. At about the same time there was an antique show and tractor pull nearby, and to Tommy's delight there was a fellow exhibiting his scale steam engine, made of Tom Terning's parts. Mary went with Tommy to see the steam engine and while they were there, she visited the man's wife and learned how much he enjoyed his steamer.

On the way home from Arizona, they stopped in Kansas to see Tom Terning. Already Tommy was ex cited about the prospects, as Tom had said, 'I've got the engine for you that you want.'

Tommy knew he couldn't afford $14,000 or $15,000 for an engine, and Mary had not even asked about the cost of one. Tom took them in, let them park their trailer by his shop and gave them supper and they talked, but didn't see the engine until the next day.

'It was an engine he started six years ago,' Tommy said. 'The fellow couldn't come up with the money to finish it, and Tom says if I pay that man off and he'd accept the check, you can have the engine.'

When it came right down to the wire, Mary was getting a little 'soft' about the steamer and she said to him, 'Well, if you want it. . .' Then there was a little dickering going on. She said she didn't like her second hand Wurlitzer organ, that it didn't sound as good as a Baldwin and asked, 'Do you suppose I could get a new organ if you got the steam engine?' To her request he answered, 'No problem, no problem.' Then Mary wrote out the check and Tommy signed it.

His colorful half-scale 65 Case steam engine is the biggest toy Tommy Jordan has ever had. He laughs and says about it, 'Well, I never had anything like this. All I ever had was a pocket knife and a French harp.' He readily adds, 'I never thought Ma would like the steam engine as well as she does.'

Dressed in their old-time clothes, Tommy and Mary Jordan ride in parades and visit with all the people who come along asking about the steam engine. Some younger people don't even know about steam engines, so in the 4th of July parades or RAG-BRAI (Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa) in Pleasantville, Iowa, near where they live, they affectionately explain how farming was done with this great machine, how it operates on water and fire and wood or coal. Some of the bicycle riders from the coasts want to know if everyone farms with them. Some call it a tractor; others have never even heard of steam engines. All are fascinated with it and how it works.

Wearing clothes from the 1920s, Tommy and Mary Jordan drive their steamer in the Midwest Old Threshers Reunion parade.

Each year Tommy and Mary take in six steam shows and are often the only steamer in local parades and holiday events. Tommy never dreamed the Case could be so much fun. Friends come to their home to see the steamer, and they spend the evening sitting over coffee and cookies talking about steam days. There are so many requests for the Jordan's to bring their steamer to events around the county, that they no longer accept all the invitations. They keep the engine licensed in several states and take in a new show occasionally.

Tommy Jordan, R.R. 2, Knoxville, Iowa 50138, has always had a great love for steam. He finally got his first engine, this half-scale Case, in 1987. It's his pride and joy. The engine at home near Pleasantville, Iowa.

Tommy enjoys chatting with a friend who has dropped by to see his engine. For the full scoop on Tommy and his Case, look inside for 'Tommy Jordan Gets His Steam Engine,' a story written by his daughter, Tomma Lou Maas.

The dream of getting his own steam engine has come true, and it's much more than Tommy ever imagined possible. 'I thought if I got one I'd fire it up and drive it out in the field a couple of times a year or saw some wood, then put it in the shed.'

But the steam engine became a work horse for fun during their retirement. Mary stitches up colorful long dresses with bonnets to match and keeps Tommy's engineer's hat and red kerchief ready to go. They ride together on their Case with its two decorative flags flying because, as Tommy says, 'I have this love for steam engines.' And to that Mary replies, 'It keeps him young at heart.'