Side Trip for a Case Steam Traction Engine Pays Off

Couple veers off course in pursuit of 1913 Case steam traction engine

| July 2012

When Dave and Nancy Haala were driving to Phoenix in 2002, Nancy looked up from her book with a start. “What are we doing in Fargo?” she asked. “I told her we were taking the shortcut to Phoenix,” Dave says, laughing at the memory.

The shortcut took the couple to Geraldine, Mont., for a final look at a 1913 Case 40 hp single-cylinder steam traction engine. “That machine meant a lot to me,” Dave explains, “because that’s the year my dad was born.”

Dave grew up on a farm near Sleepy Eye, Minn. Both his dad and his great-uncle were interested in old iron. “We had some older machinery and gasoline engines around,” he says. “As a kid, I’d take them apart.” They didn’t always go back together, but Dave’s interest was sparked.

He bought his first gas engine while playing hooky. Instead of going to school one day, he attended a neighborhood auction where he bought a Fuller & Johnson gas engine that had been used to pump water. Decades later, the engine is still in his collection.

Stumbling onto a find

In 2002 a friend of Dave’s was elk hunting in Montana when he happened onto a 1913 Case steam traction engine on a ranch near Geraldine. “I contacted the sisters who owned the ranch,” Dave says. “They said they would sell the engine, so I drove 950 miles one way to look at it.”

He liked what he saw, so he asked the Montana state boiler inspector to evaluate the engine. “It tested out very good,” Dave says. “The boiler tested at 86 percent of new condition, which is very rare to find.” The inspector used a machine to check the thickness of the crown sheet, the metal between the fire and the water. “When the engine is running at 150 pounds pressure, if the metal is breached and it blows up, it is very dangerous,” Dave explains, “so it’s very critical that the metal thickness is what it should be. I‘ve heard of people rebuilding that wall, but it‘s very, very expensive to do that.”