What's In Store at OVAM?


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4745 Glen way Avenue Cincinnati, Ohio 45238-4537

Haley's Farm Shop of Odell, Illinois, gives Dr. Robert T. Rhode's steam engine a new smoke box. Case equipment will be featured when the J. I. Case Heritage Foundation Exposition is held at the Ohio Valley Antique Machinery Association show August 7-10, 1997.

The Case Expo that's what's in store. Case enthusiasts and all who enjoy agricultural history are in for a treat August 7-10, 1997, when the International J. I. Case Heritage Foundation hosts its eleventh annual exposition of steam engines, tractors, and related equipment in conjunction with the Ohio Valley Antique Machinery (OVAM) show, held not far from Georgetown, Ohio, and not too far from Cincinnati. Case, Georgetown, and OVAM go together. Georgetown boasted a Case dealership, ably led by Charley Woods, and, in OVAM's inaugural year and for many summers thereafter, Howard M. Dunn of Mt. Orab exhibited his 65-horsepower Case steamer, serial number 35654 (built in 1923). It was the featured engine in 1973. I have a special feeling for that Case, since I bought it in 1995.

According to Full Steam Ahead (St. Joseph, Michigan, ASAE, 1993), the production of engines at the Case manufactory in Racine, Wisconsin, began in 1876. Two years later, the engine with serial number 3.48 became the first Case engine to receive a traction attachment. This fact leads to a question.

Was this the first traction engine devised in North America, as some have claimed? No. according to the May/June 1951 Iron Men Album, a cut in a 1905 Lang and Button catalogue depicted a traction engine for which Maryland had issued a patent in 1787 to Oliver Evans of Philadelphia. In 1916-1917, C. M. Giddings, who radically redesigned the Russell engine, published a series of articles entitled 'Development of the Traction Engine in America' (Lancaster, PA.: STEM GAS, 1980 reprint). He reported that 'in 1868 and 1869 a farmer living near Mt. Vernon (Ohio) conceived the idea of making a portable engine propel itself using horses on a tongue to guide it.' The farmer assigned the patent to Charles G. Cooper of the firm of C. & G. Cooper, which sold traction engines before Case did. Other companies also beat Case to the traction-engine punch. It seems clear that the device which provided traction to early Case engines was of the Cooper type. C. H. Wendel's 150 Years of J. I. Case (Osceola, WI: Motor books, 1994) states that, although early Case traction engines propelled themselves, horses steered them until 1884, when Case advertised its first hand guide, or steering wheel. The Russell Company outstripped Case by offering a self-steered engine in 1882, according to Giddings.

So Case was neither the originator of the traction engine nor the first to market a self-steering engine. Seeking a Case innovation to extol, some fans of Case equipment argue that, by spending two years investigating ways of uniting a threshing device with a cleaning mechanism and by eventually marketing such machines in 1844, Jerome Increase Case was one of the first in North America to sell a viable thresher. Other Case adherents uphold the 1904 introduction of the all-steel thresher as an example of the Case firm's ability to pioneer a concept. Still other Case buffs say, 'What's so important about inventing the wheel? What matters is making the best wheel and selling more wheels than anybody else.' Even those not persuaded that Case equipment was the best equipment do admit that, over the long life of the firm, Case scored an unprecedented array of inventions, whether or not such innovations were showy.

Case experimented with all manner of boilers and engines: return flue, center-crank, compound, and even a straw-burning system fed from the engine's left side in front of the drive wheel. Perhaps this willingness to try out different ideas led to Case's success. The J. I. Case Threshing Machine Company became the leading builder of agricultural steam traction engines in North America. No explanation for Case's unrivaled popularity satisfies everyone particularly if he or she is the devotee of some other manufacturer. Wendel postulates:

There is no single or simple answer to the Case mystique. Even a cursory study of the phenomenon illustrates that many factors were involved. One of them was that Case was in the right place at the right time, offering the right machine to the right people. There also is no doubt that much of the early popularity resulted from advertising efforts which were uniquely effective. Case had already gained a good reputation in the thresher business, and had already begun the formation of an extensive sales organization. This consisted of direct sales, territory men, extensive magazine advertising, and positively elaborate product catalogs. (page 179)

With justice, others argue that several companies had established a reputation for excellence in the thresher business and had vast yet efficient advertising and sales networks. For some reason, Case not only became the leader but also stayed far ahead of the pack. Maybe the well-known and respected mechanical engineer and writer Frank Burris, a nonagenarian who once tested Case engines and who lives in Fallbrook, California, could explain to our satisfaction why Case emerged as the undisputed champion of farm engine manufacturers.

While we wait to see if Frank will take up the challenge of expounding on Case's achievement, we will gather at the OVAM show in August to enjoy another Case event.