Motoring with Case Automobiles

An antique auto enthusiast preserves fine examples of Case automobile engineering, including a 1912 Case touring car and 1913 Case Model O.

| July 2018

  • 1912-case
    The 1912 Case restored by Harold Musolf Sr., on display at a tractor show.
    Photo courtesy Loretta Sorensen
  • 1912-case
    The 40 hp 1912 Case (shown here) is nearly identical, mechanically speaking, to the 1913 Case. The 1912 car had a crank start; the 1913 car had a Westinghouse electric start.
    Photo courtesy Loretta Sorensen
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    The 1913 Case 40 hp Model O at the completion of restoration in 2011.
    Photo courtesy Loretta Sorensen
  • chassi
    The 1913 Case chassis, when restoration began.
    Photo courtesy Loretta Sorensen
  • case-engine
    Engines in 40 hp Case cars built from 1912-14 were a derivative of the Pierce “T” head engine manufactured by Case. The 4-cylinder engine was rated at 40 hp and had a 4-1/2- by 5-1/4-inch bore and stroke.
    Image courtesy Loretta Sorensen
  • case-grill
    Detail of the grille on the 1913 Case. J.I. Case built 1,252 automobiles in 1913.
    Photo courtesy Loretta Sorensen
  • 1912-Case
    Harold and Ann Musolf with their 1912 Case touring car.
    Photo courtesy Loretta Sorensen
  • car-interior
    The beautifully restored interior of the 1912 Case.
    Photo courtesy Loretta Sorensen

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  • 1912-case
  • 1913-case-40
  • chassi
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  • 1912-Case
  • car-interior

Harold Musolf Jr. and his father, Harold Musolf Sr., never intended to restore vintage automobiles. In the 1950s, they were simply intent on being active members of a local Horseless Carriage Club in Seattle, Washington.

And they certainly didn’t realize that their shared interest would trickle down two generations. Today, Harold Musolf Sr.’s grandson and great-grandson not only share that passion – it is their profession as well.

This four-generation bond began innocently enough when Harold Sr. and Harold Jr. learned that they had to own a pre-1915 automobile in order to be voting members of their local Horseless Carriage Club. Their 1923 Model T was a great car, to be sure, but it would not qualify them as voters. So they started looking for a car that would satisfy the club’s eligibility rules.

“In those days, you didn’t purchase a vintage car already restored,” Harold explains. “You found one in a barn and restored it yourself.” The Musolfs located a 1912 Overland that was in running condition. It had sat outside for years, protected by nothing more than a piece of plywood. Because the owners had used it as a clown car, the Overland was painted odd colors to make it look silly. The car’s wheels had been adjusted for comic effect, so as the relic went down the street, it wobbled in cartoon fashion.



Harold’s father purchased the Overland and set about to restore it. The auto was pretty complete, but had no top or top bows. “Once we had it mostly restored, we learned normal top bows wouldn’t work on that car,” Harold says. “The rear seat was wider than the front.”

Instead, the Musolfs’ Overland required “bow-legged” bows. “A local club member called my dad, saying he had found the correct set of bows for the Overland,” Harold says. “We inspected and purchased them.”

In the process, the seller mentioned finding the bows on an eastern Washington farm, where he had also seen “most of a very large touring car.” The man showed the Musolfs a pair of beautiful sidelights from the car, bearing the familiar J.I. Case logo.

“They weren’t just large, they were well built – and in great condition – and had been very expensive,” Harold says. “It took Dad awhile to get out of this guy that the farm was near Douglas, Washington.” 

Gold mine disguised as a barn

Before arranging a visit, Harold and his father researched Case cars, which were built by J.I. Case Threshing Machine Co. from 1910 to 1927. “We also learned few Case cars were known to exist,” Harold says, “in comparison to those produced by other manufacturers of the day.”

The bows the club member had located turned out to be too large for the Overland. But the Musolfs forged ahead with their restoration project, eventually using the Overland in a Horseless Carriage Club Assn. national tour. During the tour, the Musolfs visited with vintage car enthusiasts from all over the country. That experience convinced Harold’s father to purchase the remains of the 1912 Case touring car.

“That farmer was the car’s original owner,” Harold says. “In 1913, he and his family took a team of horses from Douglas to Spokane’s Case factory office. They traded the horses in on the car and drove back to Douglas.”

Harold and his father retrieved the remains of the 40 hp Case with a pickup and flatbed trailer. Much of the car’s chassis had been abandoned outside the barn. The rear seat had been cut off. The engine, radiator, rear end and other small items were missing.

“The farmer had used it as a truck until he wanted the engine for something else,” Harold says. “Because it sat outside for so many years, all the wood in the front seat was rotted and broken. But what was left of the car looked like, eventually, it could be made into a fine, large touring car.”

When Harold and his father had the car parts loaded, the farmer’s son asked if they had looked inside the barn for additional parts. They hadn’t. “In the barn’s loft, we found a wonderful pair of brass acetylene headlights with the embossed Case name,” Harold says. “The son told us we could have the lights and anything else we could find.”



That search netted a back seat and rear doors – which looked like they had just come from the factory. Measurements indicated they could probably be fitted to the Case. “We also found the large fenders,” Harold says. “We loaded everything we could find.”

Gathering parts and pieces

Over the course of two years, Harold and his father located the front half of a 1912 Case chassis with a radiator, engine, clutch and transmission in Reno, Nevada. Eventually, they found a rear end, wheels with rims and most of the car’s instruments. Harold’s dad spent several years assembling the Case touring car.

In the restoration, the front seat wood was replaced. The Musolfs made a door and discovered that the rear seat they’d found was in fact the correct rear seat for the car. Spots where it had been cut off, even the bolt holes, matched exactly.

“The rear seat even had the original tufted leather upholstery, which is in the car today,” Harold says. “In the end, Dad had a mostly complete and fully restored large touring car.”

The car was capable of speeds up to 60 mph. However, narrow tires and just two wheel brakes made stops a challenge. “Mom and Dad drove to tours in the Reno area and many other places, driving about 45 mph and putting a lot of miles on that car,” Harold says. “At that time, folks drove vintage cars toward a destination, stopping along the way as necessary.”

Starting from scratch with a 1913

Before the 1912 Case was fully reassembled, Harold got married. But he continued to restore vintage autos. He and his wife, Ann, found a two-seat Ford Model T Ford roadster. However, they knew they would need a bigger vintage car as their family grew.

“Since the Case had been such a great car for my parents, Ann and I looked for something large we could restore, hoping to find something fairly rare,” Harold says. A Spokane wrecking yard yielded their prize: a 1913 Case Model O that was mostly complete but that would require a complete, frame-off restoration.

“Most all the wood in it was rotted,” Harold says. “I’m not great with woodwork so I found a fellow in the San Diego area who specialized in wood repair on these old bodies.” That man replaced every piece of wood in the car. The wooden wheels were rebuilt by a Portland, Oregon, wheelwright.

Cleaned and powder coated

While the woodworking was underway, Harold tracked down missing parts and tackled restoration of the chassis. He stripped the car down “to the last nut and bolt,” sandblasted and then powder coated the chassis.

Every single component required attention. “Even the rivets holding the frame together were very loose,” Harold says. He removed the rivets one at a time, located bolts machined to an exact size, reamed old holes to fit and, finally, tightened them to the correct torque.

“The springs were dismantled, cleaned and powder coated,” Harold says. “I disassembled the rear end, found replacement bearings (which aren’t manufactured anymore), replaced the brake linings with modern material and put it all back together.” The Case’s three-speed Brown-Lipe transmission looked fine, so Harold simply gave it a cleaning.

 Harold also cleaned the aluminum oil pan and base, replaced the babbitt bearings and re-assembled the engine. He found new spring shackle pins and re-bushed many other worn moving parts. “Almost everything on the car was badly worn,” he says. Throughout the entire process, Harold and his wife raised four children. “It was difficult to come by both money and time,” he admits.

Engine roars back to life

Once the car’s chassis was assembled, it was time to see if it would run. A coffee can hanging on the dash served as a temporary fuel tank. Harold connected the magneto and stepped to the front of the relic to see if its crank start would reward all of his hard work.

“It took quite a few turns,” Harold remembers. “It eventually fired a few times. I adjusted the timing, cranked again and it ran!” After starting the engine several times, Harold installed the radiator and filled it with water.

“There weren’t many leaks,” Harold says. “I started the engine, let it run a few minutes to warm up, pushed in the clutch and put it in first gear.” Slowly and carefully, he let up on the clutch, just until it began to grab. The chassis moved forward. He tried reverse, and it moved backward.

“I had put the engine together correctly!” he says. “But I still had work to do on the chassis, like installing the starter, generator and brake rods.” With those tasks complete, Harold fired up the Case, backed it out of his shop and made several laps around his neighborhood. “Everything seemed to work as it should,” he says.

Applying the finishing touches

Then it was time to set the rebuilt body in place. It had taken hours to get doors to open and close properly, to sandblast and undercoat fenders and complete bodywork. Since the old 28-inch wheel rims were rusted to the degree of being unsafe, Harold had new ones made.

Wheel rims complete, Harold undercoated and sanded the body several times. The final step – modern paint with a clear coat finish – was done at a body shop. “During that time, I cleaned and tested the instruments and shiny brass items, like the windshield frame,” Harold says. “When the car came back from the paint shop, I started installing accessories.”

After the car was assembled and running properly, Harold focused on the interior. “Another vendor, who now makes top bows for these vintage automobiles, made the bow-legged bows,” he says. “My son and I installed the bows, straightened everything and then cut, sewed and installed the fabric top.”

Today, Harold Musolf III and his son, Harold Musolf IV, represent the third and fourth generations of the family with a passion for antique automobiles. The two have made a profession out of repairing and restoring antique autos.

Harold spent 28 years restoring the 1913 Case, completing it in 2010. Since then, he and Ann have put some 1,500 miles on it. “We trailer our cars to shows but drive them during the show,” Harold says. “In today’s traffic, a car traveling at 45 mph would create havoc. And there are only so many miles left in these old cars. We want to enjoy them as long as we can.”

Show time for a rare pair

Several years ago, after his father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Harold had the opportunity to purchase his father’s 1912 Case (Harold Musolf Sr. died in 1999).

Because a speedometer was never installed on the 1912 Case, Harold has no way of knowing how many thousands of miles it had traveled. “The first thing I did was add a speedometer so I could record our miles,” he says. “Since we bought it, we’ve put about 6,500 miles on it.”

The 1912 Case was shown at the first Case Heritage Foundation Exposition in Pawnee, Oklahoma, in 1987. It’s also been displayed at the Albert City (Iowa) Threshermen and Collectors Show, as well as shows in Missouri and South Dakota and several on the West Coast.

“The 1913 has also seen quite a few shows. It was displayed twice at Albert City,” Harold says. “We are aware of about 125 Case cars all over the world, including Canada, South America, Australia, Europe and Russia. Recently I saw photos of a Canadian one no one had seen for more than 60 years.”

Harold remains amazed that Case cars exist at all. “Since Case did little to advertise or promote the cars and they were only available through Case factories,” he says, “it’s surprising that they made them for as many years as they did.” FC

For more information, email Harold Musolf Jr. at musolf.jr@frontier.com.

Loretta Sorensen is a lifelong resident of southeast South Dakota. She and her husband farm with Belgian draft horses and collect vintage farm equipment. Email her at sorensenlms@gmail.com.


Case automobiles boast proud tradition

Case automobiles could easily have been classed the best of the best, for two reasons. First, J.I. Case Threshing Machine Co. of Racine, Wisconsin, entered the fray at a most competitive time. And second, Case produced cars for 17 years, from 1910 to 1927.

The Aug. 11, 1910, issue of Motor Age magazine announced, “Arrangements have been completed whereby the Case Co. have taken over the entire automobile output of the Pierce Motor Co. (of Racine) and the car will hereafter be known as the Case car.” Case had already financed the factory for two years at that time.

Some Pierce Racine cars built late in 1910 wore the Case emblem on their radiator grille. By 1911, all Pierce Racine cars bore the Case name. They were immediately entered into the 1911 Indianapolis 500. None finished; one was hit by another entry, a steering knuckle broke on another and the third suffered a seized piston.

In 1912, four Case entries (including the 290 hp Jay-Eye-See) failed to finish at Indy. In 1913, a Case entry took eighth place. The company was long fascinated with racing. As early as 1895, Case tried unsuccessfully to perfect the rotary valve-design Raymond engine to enter the first-ever auto race in the U.S., held on Thanksgiving Day in Chicago.

All Case cars carried the eagle emblem modeled on “Old Abe,” the famed Civil War-era mascot of the 8th Wisconsin Regiment, and were sold by Case agricultural dealers. Case auto model letters ranged from K through O, T, R and U-Y, though they weren’t manufactured in alphabetical order. Model N, for instance, was built in 1913; Model M in 1915. Early 4-cylinder Case autos were followed by a Continental 6-cylinder in 1918. Three body styles were offered: touring, sedan and “sport,” an open four-seater. Case automobile production ended in 1927. – Farm Collector archives



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