When Kory Anderson searches for a way to describe the enormity of the famed 150hp Case Road Locomotive built more than a century ago by J.I. Case Threshing Machine Co., Racine, Wisconsin, he compares the Case to the Titanic — but not because the biggest ship of its time turned out to be a disaster.
"The 150hp Case steam engine was built as the largest steam traction engine of its time, but all we have left are the stories and a few pictures," he says. "Ever since I was a little boy, I've been fascinated by it."
Because just nine of the behemoths were built, and none are known to survive, it appears that no one in modern times has seen a 150 Case. That all changed in September 2018. At the James Valley Threshing Show, Andover, South Dakota, Kory unveiled the project that has dominated and shaped every facet of his life for the past 20 years: a hand-built, full-size replica of the 150hp Case.
Over the course of seven years, it took $1.5 million, some 50 people and at least 15,000 hours (including about 3,500 hours of engineering) to reconstruct the 150 Case. Once used to haul heavy freight and plow in vast farm fields at speeds of up to 5mph, the Case 150's usefulness waned in the early 1900s as the nation's rail system expanded and took on the job of transporting heavy loads.
It was inevitable that Kory — who now lives in North Dakota — would be involved in the steam hobby. His parents, Kevin and Donna Anderson, have long played a major role in the James Valley threshing show, and they took Kory along almost from day one.
"I was just 5 days old when my parents took me to my first steam show," he says. "They've always been passionate about preserving the history of agriculture and agricultural equipment. All these years, I couldn't stop thinking about how I could reconstruct what I thought of as the Titanic of tractors."
Starting with hands-on experience
Kory, now 35, dug deep into steam engines as a high school student, when he restored a 65hp J.I. Case steam engine purchased by his father in the mid-1980s. He believed the project would help him develop the knowledge and skill set he would need to build the 150 Case.
"I knew I would have to understand how steam engines work, and taking part in a restoration was the best way to gain that knowledge," Kory says. "Like many things a person undertakes, the more I learned about the steam engine, the more I realized I didn't know."
After high school, he enrolled at North Dakota State University, where he majored in mechanical engineering. During college, he worked at Jim Briden's business, Larson Welding and Machine Co., Fargo. There he developed many of the skills he would later put to use in building the 150 Case.
Research and acquisitions set the stage
To fulfill his dream, Kory would need more than just skill. He also needed access to the necessary equipment and facilities, all of which were typically part of the foundry business.
"I also needed funding to make this all happen," Kory says. In 2006, he launched Anderson Industries from the garage of his home. "Initially, I made patterns for a local foundry, and then I started making steam and tractor parts for friends," he says. "Eventually I worked full time making patterns for Dakota Foundry (Webster, South Dakota) customers."
Later that year, Kory traveled to Racine to conduct research at the J.I. Case archives. There he found documents that he used to create CAD drawings that would be used in reproducing the Case 150.
In 2014, he acquired Dakota Foundry, which then had a workforce of 40 employees. It was the final piece of the puzzle, giving him access to the equipment and skilled labor he needed to push forward with his dream.
Original blueprints lead to accurate reproduction
The ability to do much of the work himself made the project economically feasible, and a contribution from his dad didn't hurt any. In 2010, after seeing the project build momentum as Kory made patterns, his father, Kevin, offered to order a new boiler from Jonas Stutzman, Middlefield, Ohio.
"Otherwise I've covered a majority the costs involved," Kory says. "It would be extremely difficult to hire all the different people you'd need to accomplish this. It has taken engineering, parts production and knowledge of the actual design of the machine."
The project also got a boost when Kory gained access to Case archival documents. Since Case produced so few of the giants (just nine were built from 1904-07), and because they were used for such a short time, few photos of the 150 Case survive. However, Kory eventually obtained a copy of the 150's original blueprints from J.I. Case.
"I was able to search the company archives to find what I needed, since the staff there wasn't certain what I was looking for," Kory says. "That allowed me to create the most accurate reproduction of the original."
With a little help from his friends
Castings for the machine were produced at Dakota Foundry. Steel fabricated pieces were produced at Anderson Industries. Finishing work was conducted from March 2017 through August 2018 at a shop owned by a friend, Gary Bradley, in Sheridan, Wyoming.
"Gary has played a major role in helping me accomplish this project," Kory says. "About 40 employees at the foundry here also helped produce parts. There are probably 20 other friends who have helped at various phases of construction."
The engine's rear wheels were finished and parts of the large flywheel were constructed at Larson Welding in Fargo. "The flywheel is 50 inches in diameter," Kory says. "It took some of Jim's large equipment to complete that."
Process unimaginable today
As his project progressed, Kory gained a new respect for the innovation that drove production of the 150.
"Those engineers had to design the equipment used to make these machines," he says. "I found an entire cabinet in the Case archives with drawings of the equipment. They didn't have access to the technology we use today. We can make a three-dimensional foundry pattern design in CAD software. They had to draw the parts, create them and then refine them."
In the early 1900s, engineers created a wooden pattern for each piece they needed to have cast. Each pattern was modified to get the exact shape required. "I'm guessing they'd have had 40 or 50 people working on a machine like this," Kory says, "but the work would have progressed much more slowly (than on his replica)."
Because the 150 Case weighs 32 tons empty, it takes heavy haul trucks to transport it. Kory does not expect it to spend much time on the road. "I do plan to showcase it at the 2019 Rollag (Minnesota) steam show," he says. "That will be a Case Expo. Due to the fact that it has to be disassembled before I can haul it, and the risk of transporting it, the Andover threshing show is where it will most often be on display."
One boiler shell survives
In the November 1956 issue of Engineers and Engines, E.C. McMillan wrote that the first 150 Case produced (serial No. 14666) was referred to as a "sample." Apparently that engine was shipped to a New Mexico copper mine, which subsequently ceased operations. The other eight units were shipped to Kansas, Georgia, Kentucky, New York, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Researchers long believed that engine No. 14666 had been scrapped, but a November-December 1975 article by George Hedtke in Engineers and Engines revealed that the engine's boiler shell remained intact. "The flue sheets, through stays and flues were all removed," he wrote, "and the shell was taken near the mine to serve as an upright storage water tank to water cattle." The boiler was bought and sold numerous times until September 1969, when George purchased it.
Poor steel quality might be behind the quick demise of the 150 Case. In the 1975 article in Engineers and Engines, George speculated on what might have been. "Had the metallurgists developed strong alloys for the gearing, many more of these monsters would have been produced," he wrote, "and perhaps one of them would have been spared the fate of the cutting torch."
A memorable debut
Kory's 150 Case replica was unveiled Friday, Sept. 7, 2018, at the James Valley Threshing Show. After touring the show grounds at the helm of the 150, Kory navigated it toward a 24-bottom plow set up to demonstrate the engine's power. But as he maneuvered the 150 into position, a gut-wrenching "clang" sent a gasp through the crowd, and the engine came to a halt.
Kory and his crew flew into action, bringing a Caterpillar loader with a fork to help repair a minor but time-consuming snag. "The 1-inch taper key that holds the left-hand bull pinion came loose and allowed the differential gear to spread open," he says. "We had to push the countershaft back in and tighten up the differential, then re-secure the key in the left-hand pinion."
After nearly an hour, Kory and his crew brought the 150 back to life. "Are you ready yet?" Kory called out to a crowd of onlookers gathered around the engine. Resounding shouts, whistles and thunderous applause spurred him on as he successfully backed into the plow hitch and easily and smoothly drew the huge plow along. At least 12 men rode atop the platform, each managing a 2-bottom plow lay.
For Kory, the presence of so many friends at the replica's debut — many of whom had driven thousands of miles to be part of the event — nearly overshadowed completion of the project itself.
"Seeing this engine come to life was the dream of many steam enthusiasts, men and women, who've worked hard for many years to preserve the history of these great machines," he says. "Having all of them take part in this, and realizing we have brought back to life a major piece of American history, that's the greatest reward. I hope this inspires new steam hobbyists and young people to a deeper interest and ambitions to preserve the history of our innovative forefathers." FC
Specifications for the original 150hp Case
- Boiler: Shell 42 inches in diameter.
- Tubes: 93 2-inch tubes, 108-1/2 inches long, formed of cold-drawn, seamless steel tubing.
- Fire Box: 58-1/4 inches long, 39-1/4 inches wide, and 45 inches high, made of the best open-hearth flange steel.
- Boiler Heating Surface: 515 square feet. Boiler grate area is 15.8 square feet.
- Boiler Pressure: The boiler tested at 350 pounds hydrostatic pressure, and can carry 160 pounds as a working pressure.
- Water Tank Capacity: About 500 gallons.
- Water Feed: An ejector will fill the water tank in eight minutes from any stream or other accessible water supply.
- Fuel Capacity: Coal capacity of about 2,750 pounds.
- Engine Cylinder: 14 inches in diameter by 14-inch stroke.
- Horsepower: The engine easily develops 150 brake hp running at its normal speed of 300 revolutions per minute.
- Traction Power: The engine has been built for heavy hauling purposes and is capable of drawing 40 to 50 tons up grades from 5 to 10 percent. The engine itself, not loaded, will go up a 40-percent grade.
For more information, email Kory Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com.