All fired up

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Biggest of Wayne and Judi Fischers' steam traction engines
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Percy Curran's 1915 20-22 Sawyer-Massey,
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Sawyer-Massey threshing machine
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Nnew 1918 11-22 kerosene Sawyer-Massey tractor
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20-22 at the Curran's in Creemore
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The Fischers' 1912 75-hp Case
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Tatue of the Case mascot "Old Abe
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The engine's flyball governor
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The Fischers' 1913 76-hp Sawyer-Massey
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1913 25-hp Sawyer-Massey
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Bim Watson's 25-hp George White & Sons engine
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Bim Watson's 25-hp George White & Sons engine
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1912 locomotive for passengers to board the train

Ever float 1a 15-ton steam traction engine down a river on a makeshift barge? Or have to decide whether to keep or sell your father’s and grandfather’s traction engine – the machine that, in effect, fed your family for three-quarters of a century?

In Ontario, Canada, collectors have faced both scenarios as they work to preserve and enjoy their steam traction heritage. Among serious engine fanciers in this most-populated of Canada’s provinces are Wayne and Judi Fischer of Puslinch; the Dalton Curran family of Creemore; Bill ‘Bim’ Watson of Carlisle, and Sherwood and Gladys Hume of Milton.

Wayne has four of the big engines parked in his new, specially built engine barn – and he hasn’t ruled out more purchases, either. He’s the ‘new kid on the block,’ so to speak, having only started to collect engines four years ago, but he is experienced enough to do a good deal of his own restoration work.

His framed operator’s license hangs on the wall in the engine barn. An alumnus of the Pawnee Steam School in the United States, Wayne explains that to receive the document, which is issued by the Canadian Technical Standards and Safety Authority, he had to complete 120 hours of actual running time on an engine and pass a three and a half-hour written examination.

He says he enjoys the fun of collecting and restoring the old engines, and appreciates being able to play a small part in the preservation of Canada’s agricultural history. He and Judi try to attend four shows a year with some of the machines, so the public can learn more about them, and on Boxing Day, (the day after Christmas), they host their own show at home, where Wayne has constructed a mile-long private road on which he can drive the big engines.

Three are Western plowing engines; one was made in Canada and the other two came from the United States. Before the barn doors even open, a freshly painted ‘Old Abe’ statue, positioned out front, cues visitors to expect a Case.

‘From 1890 through the early 1900s,’ Wayne explains, ‘the Canadian government was promoting the development of western Canada – after the American West had filled up. A lot of people came north then, and that’s why a lot of American engines are out in western Canada.’

Case engines in particular are representative because Case made more than half of all steam engines ever produced, Wayne adds, noting that in 1912 alone, the company reportedly made one engine every 40 minutes – ‘and there was no assembly line yet.’

Wayne’s biggest engine, though, is a 1912 85-hp Nichols & Shepard, made at Battle Creek, Mich. ‘This one broke virgin prairie soil,’ he reports, noting the son of the original owner is still living and can attest to that fact. The machine spent its work life in Dauphin, Manitoba, and then spent 15 years on display at the Manitoba Agricultural Museum in Austin, Manitoba.

Wayne bought it in May 2001 and hauled it straight from the museum to a boiler shop in Auburn, Ontario. There, it was fitted with a new firebox, flue sheets and 62 flues, all to original specifications. At a Fillmore, Saskatchewan, foundry, Wayne also had a ‘like-original’ water tank fashioned of riveted sheet metal and two new steel steps copied from the one remaining step, and he had a solid oak toolbox made, also just like the original.

‘This one’s been a bit of a challenge,’ he says. ‘The boiler work is done and the worn parts replaced, but I still need parts for the crosshead pump.’ Nevertheless, he managed to get the Nichols & Shepard to four shows last summer.

Next in size in Wayne’s barn is his Canadian-made 1913 76-hp Sawyer-Massey. Manufactured in Hamilton, Ontario, this machine spent its working life in Saskatchewan. The Derring family near Saskatoon bought the Sawyer-Massey in 1913, to use for plowing, along with a new 17-hp Sawyer-Massey, to run their threshing machine. When their son, Euwart Derring, retired in 1962, he put the big engine up for sale.

It was purchased by a partnership consisting of Gordon Smith, who became a provincial member of the Ontario Parliament, and Allan Byers, who was a John Deere dealer near Orillia, Ontario; in the winter of 1962, Sherwood Hume, who was in the trucking business at the time, hauled the engine back to Ontario. Early in the partnership, Smith sold his interest in the engine to Byers – on the condition that the engine would never be sold out of Canada.

In 1978, John McKay, then living in Mississauga, Ontario, purchased the engine on the same condition and displayed it at various antique equipment shows in southern Ontario until Wayne purchased it in July 2002.

And then there’s that Case. It’s a 1912 75-hp steam traction engine that also spent its working life near Saskatoon -two farms away from the farm on which the big Sawyer-Massey was located. Wayne says both the Case and the big Sawyer-Massey engines are capable of pulling eight-furrow plows with 14-inch-wide furrows, and plowing 35 to 40 acres a day.

In the early 1950s, a sawmill operator in northern Ontario bought the Case and had it shipped by the Canadian Pacific Railway to a remote, roadless location along the French River, south of Sudbury. A railway crane was sent with the flatcar carrying the Case, and the engine was lowered off the railway bridge down to the edge of the river, where the sawmill was. The Case ran the sawmill until the area was logged out and then sat in the bush until the mid-1960s.

The engine then was traded to Byers as a down payment on a Caterpillar bulldozer. However, the deal was ‘as is, where is,’ which meant Byers had to retrieve the engine from the bush, where no road had been built in the interim. The railway was not interested in dealing with the engine again, so Byers rented a small barge and towed it 10 miles up the river from Highway 11 to the sawmill site. When he and his helpers drove the Case onto the barge, the 15-ton engine almost tipped the boat into the river.

To stabilize the whole thing for transport, they cut two 40-foot-long poles, lashed oil drums to the poles and lashed the poles to the barge as outriggers. Then, they were able to float the barge and its cargo back down the river.

The engine was taken to Orillia, where it was overhauled, and subsequently used to demonstrate plowing, pulling a 12-foot wide, eight-furrow John Deere plow at a number of local steam shows.

In 1980, McKay, then-owner of the big Sawyer-Massey, wanted to purchase the plow to use with his engine, but Byers would only sell the plow and the Case as a pair. So, McKay bought them both, and through the 1980s and ’90s, he gave plowing demonstrations with both engines.

In August 2000, Wayne bought the Case, and in July of this year, he bought the Sawyer-Massey, too. So as it turned out, he says, both engines have been owned by the same three men in recent years; today, McKay refers to them all as ‘brothers.’

The Case will burn coal or wood, and Wayne notes that when he was working on the machine, he discovered an 1896 Victorian penny in its hydrostatic lubricator. Apparently the lubricator’s sight glass had broken at some point, perhaps in the field, and the operator had resourcefully substituted the coin – and never replaced it with new glass. ‘I said to myself, ‘You know what, I’m gonna leave that penny in there’,’ Wayne recalls, and he did.

Last summer, he bought the fourth engine, which was the Curran family’s 20-22 Sawyer-Massey. It’s for Judi to take to shows, he says, noting he turned up two implements for them to use for demonstration purposes: a vintage Sawyer-Massey road grader for Judi and a Sawyer-Massey stone crusher for him.

In early August 2002, the 20-22 was at the boiler shop having its boiler replaced, and then it was scheduled to be power washed. After that, Wayne would decide on any additional work. The road grader has an angled blade with teeth, and adjustable wheels. Wayne points out the grader’s brass nameplate is affixed to the machine upside down: ‘They made mistakes back then, too,’ he says with a smile.

Originally, Wayne explains, both Case and Sawyer-Massey engines were available with full families of implements, and applications went beyond agriculture to road and railway building, and heavy-freight hauling.

He says it took two years of ‘gentle pestering’ to convince the Curran family to part with their antique engine, which was a familiar sight at the Curran’s home equipment show, the Georgian Bay Steam Show, held near Cookstown. The Currans custom threshed with the engine until the late 1950s, and Wayne says, they did as many as 70 farms in some years, so the engine worked very hard.

Sherwood and Glady own a Sawyer-Massey too. Their engine and Bim Watson’s George White engine are as familiar to the Milton Steam Show crowds as the Curran’s 20-22 was to the folks at the Georgian Bay show.

Bim, one of the friends who helped Sherwood restore the Hume tractor, put his 25-hp George White & Sons engine back together almost from scratch. The only original parts on it today are the injectors and whistle – and Bim has the original sale bill, which says the original buyer ‘gave George White $2,500 FOB Tillsonburg,’ paid with 10 percent interest in $500 payments, ‘to be made every fall.’ ‘FOB’ means ‘free on board,’ which designates the buyer will pay the freight costs.

Bim recalls that he and his brother, Peter, retrieved the engine’s boiler from a greenhouse, brought it to his house and put it back together with the rest of the machine. The flywheel now on the engine had been used in a threshing operation by Bim’s grandfather; the uncle who had it told Bim he could use it on the George White. The flywheel has places on it for two drives, Bim notes – one place for an ordinary wide belt and the second for a rope belt, sometimes used in situations where a wide belt would be more apt to tangle, such as when the engine has to be placed at some distance from the threshing machine, or in windy conditions.

‘We got it going again in 1971,’ he recalls, ‘and ran it from 1972 until about 1986 or ’87, when the tubes started to leak. We put in a new set of tubes, but it never ran right – until now.’ More recently, the engine needed new rings, and Bim decided he wanted to figure out why; he checked the eccentrics for the camshaft and found they were out of time. George White and Sons Co. Ltd., manufactured steam engines from the 1890s to the 1920s in London, Ontario, and also distributed them from Brandon, Manitoba.

The Hume family, which also includes sons Gordon and Frank, restored their 1913 Sawyer-Massey twice. Sherwood says the engine was made at the Hamilton, factory, too, and spent all its working life in Saskatchewan. ‘It plowed and threshed,’ he says. The side-mounted, 25-hp engine returned to Ontario in 1958; Sherwood bought it in 1974 from Winn Nichols and began its restoration.

‘The engine needed new tubes or flues and a real good clean up and paint job,’ he recalls. ‘We installed the rubber on the wheels in 1978 so we could drive it on the street, and we took it to the Canadian National Exhibition (C.N.E.) in Toronto for their 20-day annual show. We drove it and the water wagon from C.N.E. grounds to Queens Park, the legislature building for Ontario, a distance of 10 miles through the city, joined the opening parade and returned to the C.N.E. grounds in one day. That was the year that the C.N.E. turned 100 years old -1978.’

It was by a fortuitous turn of events that he acquired the water wagon, which is new but historically accurate. After looking for a long time without success, Sherwood ran into an old acquaintance, a retired barn builder named George McKinless of Walkerton, Ontario. The two men discussed Sherwood’s water wagon situation, and George went home and built a white cedar tank, which Sherwood notes, ‘even has a baffle in it to keep the water from sloshing around.’ Sherwood turned up a wagon to put the tank on and had himself an abundant supply of portable water for the engine. He says the kind of initiative that George showed is a hallmark of Canadian collectors.

Sherwood ran the Sawyer-Massey at area shows until 1986, when the boiler went bad, and then the engine sat idle until 1992, when he sent it to Boilersmith, Ltd., at Seaforth, Ontario. ‘The (new) boiler was $30,000, FOB Seaforth,’ Sherwood says.

Of this second restoration on the engine, Sherwood says, ‘I enjoyed doing it, but I’d never do another.’ FC

All aboard!

Engineer Eric ‘Smitty’ Smith eagle-eyed the tracks, steering the 1912 vintage steam train backwards out of Tottenham Station on a sunny afternoon’s run to Beeton and back. The 10-mile trip kept fireman apprentice Andrew Harris shoveling coal into the giant firebox in response to readings on multiple gauges and occasional direction from veteran Guy Sanvido. The scene might have come from a 1950s Spaghetti Western, but actually, it was a real-live excursion into the Canadian past.

Ontario steam enthusiasts seem as keen for railway trains as traction engines, and the South Simcoe Railway is a good example of their preservation efforts on behalf of the old ‘iron horse.’

The South Simcoe Railway runs regularly out of Tottenham through the Beeton Creek Valley to Beeton, and then back again to Tottenham, which is about 30 miles north of Toronto. The 1912 engine pulls three coach cars, which can handle about 200 passengers in total. The locomotive, with power to spare, usually draws a full load.

The heritage railway is operated by the non-profit South Simcoe Railway Heritage Corp.; engineer ‘Smitty’ is president and operations manager. He says the South Simcoe is one of only a handful of steam trains still operating in Canada – compared to about 6,000 in the 1950s. The Railway Heritage Corp. has about 250 members, about 45 of whom work on the line.

Volunteers have restored all the equipment and handle the various duties associated with running the train. Andrew, a native of Wolverhampton, England, who now lives in Whitby, Ontario, has been a volunteer for 10 years, the last three as an apprentice fireman. In real life, he works at a nuclear power plant.

Andrew’s instructor, Guy, is a 73-year-old retired actor who lives at Scarborough, Ontario. He says he’s been fascinated by steam trains since childhood and has been helping with the South Simco since 1969. Sherri Lusher of Port Credit, Ontario, is another longtime volunteer, who got involved with the group about 12 years ago. She says at first she felt a connection because much of the equipment formerly was stored near her home; now, she’s hooked on the train because it’s ‘real, live history.’ Sherri has a number of volunteer jobs, from secretary to personnel manager to trainman; every weekend, she drives to Tottenham to be part of the crew; at home, she works in the accounts receivable department of Carleton Greeting Cards. The South Simcoe group owns two restored locomotives. The 1912 engine was built at the Montreal Locomotive Works; the second one is called No. 136 and was built in 1883 when Sir John A. MacDonald was Canada’s prime minister. No. 136 helped build the Canadian Transcontinental Railway, which was completed in 1885.

– For more information about the South Simcoe Railway, write Eric S. Smith, P.O. Box 136, Tottenham, Ontario LOG IW0, Canada; (905) 936-5815; e-mail:

Percy’s 20-22

Saga of a Sawyer-Massey

Dalton Curran of Creemore, Ontario, recalled his father’s purchase in 1925 of a 1915 Sawyer-Massey steam traction engine, its working life – and his family’s decision to sell it last summer to Wayne and Judi Fischer of Puslinch, Ontario.

Dalton’s father’s name was F.P. Curran; the P. stood for Percy and that’s what everybody called him. A farmer and custom thresher in the Creemore area all his life, Percy bought the 1915 engine and a 1922 Sawyer-Massey threshing machine at the same time.

‘It was shipped by railroad from the Sawyer-Massey warehouse in Alliston, Ontario, to Collingwood,’ Dalton says. ‘That’s what Dad started with, and he always kept it.’

Dalton’s son, Bob Curran, says his grandfather threshed at as many as 70 farms a sea-son. ‘We have his log book to prove it. He would thresh whatever was needed at the time: wheat, barley, oats and, of course, clover.’ Bob says his grandfather also owned a Sawyer-Massey Monitor clover huller, which eventually had a Waterloo feeder and steel wheels, and a 17-50 Sawyer-Massey steam traction engine, which Percy sold himself in 1955.

‘Two outfits on the go made threshing that many farms much easier, although the 20-22 did the bulk of the work,’ Bob says. ‘Both engines were kept busy even in the off season, although with that many farms to tend to, there was surely not a lot of down time; threshing continued well after there was a foot of snow on the ground.’

After his father passed away, Dalton says, the rest of the family wanted to sell the 20-22 Sawyer-Massey, but he and his children, daughter Darlene Curran and son Bob, wanted to keep it, so they pooled their money and bought the machine. Darlene, named ‘best lady steam engine driver’ in 1986 at the Georgian Bay Show, wanted them to buy a thresher too, so they could demonstrate threshing at the shows again. Through a man named Alan Manley, they finally found such a machine.

‘Mr. Manley had been attending our show when it was at Beeton, Ontario, with his brother for some years,’ Bob recalls. ‘Every year when they arrived, they would go straight to our engine, and he would approach Dad about purchasing his Sawyer-Massey threshing machine.

‘Dad’s response was always the same -a very stern, emphatic ‘No!!! I had enough to do with one of those when I was younger, and I don’t want anything to do with one now.”

The next year, Manley and Dalton would go through the same routine, and that went on about five years. One time, though, Manley approached Dalton while Darlene and Bob were with him: ‘Dad’s answer was the same, only followed by, ‘Talk to these two,” Bob recalls. ‘Dad had hoped that would be the end of it – never once thinking we would make arrangements to view it, and purchase it.’

But Bob and Darlene went to see the thresher a week after the show and three weeks later, they brought it home, and after Dalton saw it, he had a change of heart.

‘Mr. Manley would not speak to anyone else about purchasing his threshing machine,’ Bob says. ‘In fact, very few people knew it was about. He chose where he wanted it to go, and we are very grateful for his choice.’ For five or six years before he died, Bob adds, Manley enjoyed watching his thresher work, belted to the Currans’ 20-22.

So, the Currans were in the demonstration business, again, but they discovered the cost of keeping up such a set of equipment was pretty steep, and when Wayne Fischer pressed them to sell the engine, and was willing to pay their price, they finally decided to deal.

The only condition Dalton set for himself was that the old engine be replaced with something else. That ‘something else’ turned out to be a rare 1918 Sawyer-Massey 11 -22 kerosene tractor. ‘So,’ Dalton says, ‘we kept the Sawyer-Massey name.’

‘The 11-22 is indeed rare,’ Bob says, ‘as there are only two such tractors in the province. Our No. 1 threshing machine is about two years newer. Although not sold as an outfit, these two pieces are what the farmer would have received from Sawyer-Massey when purchasing a threshing outfit with an 11 -22 tractor.’

The No. 1 is serial no. 8948; it is a 22- by 36-inch machine with steel wheels and axles. The Currans also own a No. 2 Sawyer-Massey mill, ‘part of the deal’ when they purchased the 11 -22. The No. 2 is serial no. 6400; it is a 28- by 44-inch machine with steel wheels and wooden axles.

‘We have begun to conserve it,’ Bob says, ‘in hopes that it will be at Cookstown next year. Notice I said ‘conserve,’ not ‘restore.’ We conserved the No. 1; it sports original paint, striping and decals. It was carefully hand washed, and a coat of wax was liberally applied. The No. 2 will receive the same treatment.’

He adds that the No. 2 is too large for the 11-22 to run, so they may show it next year and then sell it. The mill is more suited to being run by a 20-60 (20-22) steam traction engine or a 20-40 kerosene tractor, Bob says, noting ‘There has been interest in our selling it even before we landed it home.’

Last summer, the 11-22 took the place of the 20-22 for the first time at the Georgian Bay show, powering the No. 1 thresher, and drawing its own curious crowd.

‘This one broke virgin prairie soil,’ Wayne reports of the Nichols and Shepard. Sherwood’s Sawyer-Massey and Bim Watson’s George White engines are as familiar to the Milton Steam Show crowds as the Curran’s 20-22 was to folks at Georgian Bay.

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