Ambitious Beginner Builds 80 HP Case Engine

Steam engine novice enters hobby with 80 hp Case engine.


| July 2013



Allen Villmow

Allen Villmow spent about 10 months restoring and reassembling this 80 hp Case steam engine. He hopes to take the engine to the Menno (S.D.) Power Show in September.

Photo Courtesy Loretta Sorensen

Buying a steam engine is serious business. Most engine owners spend years in unofficial apprenticeships, mastering the intricacies of engine operation. When Allen Villmow, Delmont, S.D., went looking for his first steam engine, he didn’t have a lifetime of experience to bank on. But he did have a lifelong dream.

“In the early 1960s there was a farmer in our neighborhood who had about seven steam engines,” he says. “I only saw them being used a couple of times. What fascinated me was how powerful they were and yet how quiet. They were much quieter than the tractors my dad was using at that time. One of my uncles was in the Army. He always talked about the giant steam train engines he saw. I was hardly ever around steam engines, but in the back of my mind I always thought I wanted to at least drive one, if not own one, someday.”

Pick of a pair

When Allen reached a point where his children were grown and both his leisure time and disposable income increased, he began a serious search for a steam engine. Eventually, he found not one but two steam engines for sale: two 80 hp Case engines built in 1916. “The family that owned them was in Minnesota,” Allen says. “One was running, the other was torn apart and needed some restoration. Before I could decide which machine to purchase, I had to drive up and see them.”

As it turned out, the running engine had boiler problems, so Allen opted for the basket case. It came with a fascinating story of its own. In the years leading up to World War II, a northern collector built a collection of 50 Case tractors and steam engines. When scrap metal drives were held as part of the war effort, the collector found himself scrambling to protect his investment.

“This engine had sat outside since 1930 (earlier it was used on a farm), so it looked like the kind of junk the scrap drive organizers were looking for,” Allen recounts. “But the owner of the collection cited false mortgage papers as a way to keep from surrendering his tractors and engines at that time. He convinced them the machines couldn’t be sold.”

Allen was starting big: The 80 hp engine is among the biggest steam engines Case built. With what he paid for the engine, Allen could have purchased a new pickup – but by that time he was in with both feet.