Steam traction engine

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Texas, put together a lot of information on the Kitten engine and his family, which we are glad to present. Ed.

Dave Dearborn of West Campton, New Hampshire, is shown on the 1910 Kitten he formerly owned, in a night photo taken at Lebanon, New Hampshire, October 16, 1977. Alex McDonald of 20 Parkhurst Street, Lebanon, New Hampshire 03766, who took the photos, said that this was the only steam traction engine operating in New Hampshire. We have written to Dave to ask the name of the present owner.

The Kitten steam traction engine was the product of the Kitten Machine Works in Ferdinand, Indiana. Quite a few Kittens are still around, a number in restoration.

The Kitten family in this country was founded when Henry and Theresa Kitten came from Ibbenburen, Prussia, in 1850. Joseph was my great grandfather, and Florenz, one of his sons, became the inventor and manufacturer.

We knew of the Kitten machine works in Indiana but didn't use or save any equipment until two years ago. We were spraying fertilizer in Elm Creek, Manitoba, Canada, and when we were coming home I bought a Kitten steam engine and thresher from Orman Dorney, who had bought it from Joseph Lenkin, of Ferdinand, Indiana. So I guess you would say it's back in the family.

Florenz had one son Joseph who ran the factory when his father retired, but Joseph died first. Joseph's wife and her father operated it with Florenz after that. Joseph had five daughters, but no sons.

Then Shipp & Stallings owned the factory. About this time, the owners started selling off the major machines and, of course, that was it for the manufacturing. This was in the early 1950s. If they had only known! They even took four Kitten engines that were rebuilt like new, and cut them up for junk. They junked all the molds, castings, and sold lathes and so forth all in the early 50s. What was left was bought by the Ferdinand Development Company and saved for the future. However, someone burned down the building in 1972, along with all the wooden molds, etc. Disgusting!

Florenz patented a reverse flue on a two-pass boiler in 1889. This means the heat or fire went through the boiler twice so as to make it more efficient, which it was. Other manufacturers did not use this because of the patent. He filed a claim against one company for using his idea.

His engine was shorter and lighter than others, so it could handle the hills of Ferdinand and the light duty bridges.

He also obtained a patent in 1892 for gearing for the steam engine that gave two different rates of speed, similar to the differential on cars.

Thresher patents obtained by Ferdinand include one in 1879. This was for a straw conveyor and shaker in one. It is successive and pivots in a circular motion rather than in a front-to-back motion. The grain tray pivots also in the opposite direction. This same design can be found in today's combines, for straw walkers and shakers.

A 1905 patent was granted for an upward inclined grate or finger bar behind the threshing cylinder and a shield to keep the straw from being thrown too far. (Even todays combines have the bars behind the cylinder so the grain will start separating, and a canvas behind the cylinder to keep the straw from going too far.)

We are doing more research and may find out some more interesting things later.

Walter Knapp, of Monroe, Michigan, owned a Kitten engine until his death. It is shown in the Encyclopedia of Steam Traction Engines by Jack Norbeck, on page 161. The number on this engine is missing, but it is probably #211 made in 1915. We picked this engine up in Byron, Michigan in September of 1981 and Lubbock County Museum now owns it. I feel sure the engine is in good hands and that it will stay there. They have a harvest parade every year about the third week in October.

The museum also owns a Kitten thresher, donated by Mary Brames, of Jasper, Indiana. She is 'distant kinfolk' of the Kittens.

I own Kitten engine #224, the final steam traction engine made in America in 1940, and Kitten thresher #127, final thresher manufactured by the Kitten Machine Works.

(The author is a member of the firm of Kitten-Moseley Fertilizer and Supply, Inc., Rt. 2, Box 6, Slaton, Texas. Telephone 806-828-6244.)