Mission Accomplished: Building a Scale Steam Traction Engine

42-year-old dream becomes reality in a half-scale Case steam engine.

| April 2008

I would like to share a story about achieving a 42-year-old dream - owning my own steam traction engine. This story begins in 1965 when my parents took me to the National Threshers Reunion in Wauseon, Ohio. For as long as I can remember I've had a strong interest in old iron, whether it is antique automobiles, tractors or steam locomotives. But the trip to Wauseon introduced me to something I had never seen before - steam traction engines.

My interest and knowledge of steam was fostered by my uncle, Ralph Lee, and by attending many reunions at Wauseon over the years. As I studied traction engines, I realized large storage space and heavy equipment were required to own, maintain and show the engines. Concerned about the logistics of owning a full-size engine, I began to notice some of the exhibitors were bringing scale model engines to the shows. I saw this as a practical answer to achieving my steam experience: I would build my own half-scale steam traction engine. However, I would have to wait 35 years to have the resources to achieve my dream.

Setting the stage

In 2000, I found myself in the position to realistically pursue that dream. However, my shop lathe and milling machine were too small for such a project and I knew just enough about welding to know I had no business building my own boiler. My first step was to find a set of plans. Through an advertisement in Iron-Men Album, I obtained a set of half-scale Case engine plans from Lloyd Creed. Armed with that road map, I began to search for a builder to construct an engine, which became a challenge. My wife, Vicki, pointed out an advertisement in Live Steam for Steam Age USA, which was right in my own backyard.

The day after Thanksgiving in 2003, Vicki and I went to Cypress, Texas, about 30 minutes from our home. There we met the owners of Steam Age, Raymond and Valerie Pennell. After several hours talking about steam, and viewing the scale live steam locomotives Ray was constructing, we set plans in motion to begin construction of my half-scale Case steam engine.

Over the course of several years, starting in the spring of 2004, steel was ordered for the boiler and wheel rims and delivered to Steam Age. The adventure had begun. The boiler was finished and tested in June. The boiler, as it turned out, was the easy part of the project. While the boiler was being constructed, I ordered a set of castings for the engine from Lloyd and had them shipped to Texas so they would be ready to be machined after the boiler was finished.

Scavenging parts

My next quest was to find gearing for the engine, which turned out to be a real scavenger hunt. After many phone calls to tractor salvage yards, I located a set of bull gears in southwest Ohio and had them shipped to me. The differential, drive pinions, and intermediate and crankshaft pinion gears were also a challenge to locate. Several years prior, I had located a small tractor salvage yard in Montgomery, Texas, while searching for parts to complete my restoration of an Allis-Chalmers C. The half-scale Case required a gear drive train where all the gears rotated within the same plane. I determined the best source for the differential would be from a John Deere 2-cylinder tractor.