Celebrating a Legacy of Local Steam Engines

Ozark Steam-O-Rama showcases local steam engines.

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by Leslie C. McManus
Part of the lineup at the Ozark Steam Engine Assn. 2021 Steam-O-Rama in Republic, Mo. From its beginning in 1962, the event has showcased historic local steam engines.

When Louie McHaffie died in 2020, his passing marked the end of an era at the Ozark Steam Engine Assn.’s Steam-O-Rama in Republic, Missouri. Louie was the last living charter member of the Ozarks Steam Engine Assn. His Peerless engine has long been the oldest steam traction engine displayed at the club’s annual shows. It continued that run at the 2021 event.

Larry Voris and Ruthie Geraci ride in buggy pulled by a black power-horse tractor.

Built by Geiser Mfg. Co., Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, the 4057 Model R Peerless is thought to date to 1882. In the late 1870s, Peter Geiser, who built his first thresher in 1848, began to sense the need for a Geiser-built steam engine to pair with his threshing rigs.

While attending the U.S. Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876, Geiser was impressed by a steam engine on display there, produced by the Best Foundry in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Brothers Frank and Abe Landis played key roles in development of the Best, and Geiser was eager to make their acquaintance.

Once he did, Geiser persuaded the brothers to work for him and develop a Geiser steam engine. By 1881, the new engine made its debut. A year later, the Peerless engine that would eventually be part of Louie McHaffie’s collection was produced, carrying the name of its designer, F.F. Landis, on the smokebox door.

closeup of geiser peerless steam engine

In 1882, the 4057 was sold new to Harold Baumgartner in Belle, Missouri (roughly 125 miles northeast of Republic). Baumgartner used the 13hp engine in his threshing operation. On one job, Baumgartner took a yearling steer in trade for labor. A fading photograph dated 1885 shows the crew standing by the engine – and a steer tied to the engine. The photo also shows wooden spokes and felloes in the engine’s front wheels and wooden spokes in the rear wheels.

Made for hilly country

The Peerless was not in bad shape when Louie McHaffie bought it from Ed Peacock, but he put in a lot of work nonetheless. He added a new stack to replace one that had rusted beyond repair. “It made it look more original,” says his son, Billy, who displayed the Peerless at the 2021 Steam-O-Rama.

Corbin Michael, Billy McHaffie and Billy McHaffie Jr. standing in front of steam engines

The Peerless has its share of unique features. The flywheel is on the left, a hollow crankshaft contains a reversing mechanism, springs in the back end minimize jolts, and an interior baffle maintains an even water level in the boiler regardless of terrain changes, protecting the crown sheet. “The Peerless was made for hilly country,” Billy says.

The McHaffie display also includes a 1911 25hp Geiser sold new in nearby Springfield. It was first used to pull a big crusher at a quarry near Ozark, just south of Springfield. Later, a contractor used the engine to pull a grader. “It’s never been more than 100 miles from where it was originally sold,” Billy says.

Geiser and Geiser Peerless engines

By the time Louie got the engine, it was worn out. Louie rolled up his sleeves once again and went to work. “He worked more than 40 years in the structural steel business,” Billy says. “Whether he was restoring a steam engine or building a scale model from scratch, there was nothing on paper. He just did it all in his head.”

A Harrison family heritage

black steam engine with yellow wheels and red accents

Randy McCauley, Nixa, Missouri, and his son, Josh, maintained family tradition with their display at the Republic show. Their display included a 1932 17hp Harrison, a 20hp Harrison and a 9hp portable Harrison, all of which have been regulars at the Steam-O-Rama over the years.

“My great-granddad threshed with a Harrison and my granddad (Orville McCauley) grew up on engines built by Harrison,” Randy says. Orville bought the 1932 17hp Harrison Jumbo in the late 1960s. “He already had a 20hp Harrison,” Randy says. “Later, he bought the 9hp Harrison that was built in the late 1870s.”

As a young man, Orville started out with a 12hp engine and a custom threshing crew working south of Springfield, Missouri. He had his own cookshacks and the crew slept in tents.

“When the crew got tired, they’d stuff the thresher and there’d be a breakdown,” Randy says. It was not, however, his granddad’s first rodeo. “He traded that 12hp engine for a 20hp engine,” Randy says. “The crew couldn’t choke up the thresher anymore.”

“I got a grinder and went to town”

For 27 years, Orville took the 17hp Jumbo to Silver Dollar City near Branson, Missouri, for a national craft festival. There, the engine was used to provide power for threshing, sawing and cheesemaking. “He was very proud of that,” Randy says.

Then came a quiet time, when the 17hp Jumbo sat in a shed for years. At a friend’s persistent urging, Josh got it out. Although he’d never seen it run (Orville had quit taking the engine to Silver Dollar City before Josh was born), Josh decided to tackle restoration of the Jumbo.

Randy and Josh McCauley standing in front of their steam engine

In the summer of 2017, Josh redid all the plumbing, checked the boiler and had an ultrasound done on the hydro. “We took it to the show in 2018,” he says, “but it looked ratty. After that, basically, I got a grinder and went to town.”

From December 2018 to June 2019, he cleaned and repainted the engine and built a new platform on the back. “You had to be careful where you stepped on the old platform,” he says.

The Jumbo has a 2-speed transmission (high and low), an advanced clutch design and sixblocks, giving it a smoother ride than engines with just two blocks. “Those tall drive wheels just roll so easy,” Randy says, “especially here, where there are a lot of rocks. It was a good design.”

It’s also easy to fire. “You can stand on the ground and fire it,” Randy says. “You don’t have to stand on your head. And it will sit and hold pressure all afternoon.”

Come hell or high water

Carl Wagner, Miller, Missouri, stands astride two worlds. “I grew up on the farm,” he says, “but now I build digital LED displays.” His display at the Steam-O-Rama – a beautifully restored Oliver 80 Row Crop – leaves no question where his heart is.

green steam tractor

“My dad bought this tractor 30 years ago in Nebraska,” Carl says. “It was a tricycle with rubber on the front and steel on the rear. I had seen a photo of an 80 wide-front on steel, and I said if I ever had the chance to find the correct wide-front for that tractor, I would put it on.”

As it turned out, he got that chance. “I found one in Oklahoma City and the serial number was within 200 numbers of this tractor,” he says. At some point, there’d been trouble. “The cylinder walls were pitted,” Carl says. “You could see where the pistons were stuck.”

Carl Wagner beside his tractor

Carl found parts, and Mike French, Craig, Missouri, said he could fix it. Eventually, Carl delivered the tractor to Mike’s shop, just in time for the flood of 2020. “When the flood waters reached his shop,” Carl says, “Mike moved the tractor out and parked it on higher ground in the middle of the street.” Before the flood receded, water had reached the bottom of the engine.

Carl’s dad died two weeks before the tractor returned home, completely restored. “I would have loved having Dad see it,” Carl says, “but he got to hear it run over the phone.”

Driven to be different

Over the years, Dan Kronschnabel has shown tractors at many Red Power Round-Ups. “We hauled tractors on a trailer and drove on the highway,” he recalls, “like normal people.”

Dan and Paula Kronschnabel sitting together

It’s an important distinction, because in 2020, Dan and his wife, Paula, drove their display – a 1952 Farmall H and a 1953 International R120 truck – from their home in Aurora, Missouri, to the round-up in Huron, South Dakota. “We try to do things together as much as we can,” Dan says.

vintage white truck with the hood popped

It began simply. “I thought we’d just take her tractor and pull a flat hay wagon,” he says. “We’d load it up with tools, oil, a generator, battery charger and a tent, like a modern-day covered wagon.”

Then the plan evolved. Dan found an old International truck and spent countless hours getting it running. When the pair set off, Paula was at the wheel of her tractor and Dan drove the truck, pulling a 16-foot camping trailer dating to the 1970s and a trailer loaded with a golf cart and a generator.

No days off on the road

On the first day, it rained all day. “She had a rain suit and a hat,” Dan recalls. “We stopped for lunch and played gin rummy.” The couple camped in Walmart parking lots, church parking lots and even a farmer’s yard in Kansas. “We met a lot of really interesting people,” Dan recalls. “We had a sign that read, Smile: God loves you. Huron-bound RPRU!”

Paula Kronschnabel driving a red Farmhall H tractor

Through the round-trip of 1,700 miles (on their longest day, the couple covered 150 miles), the pair’s average speed was 16-17mph. Guided by a 2-inch-thick AAA trip planner, maps marked with the route and Gazeteers for each state, the Kronschnabels motored along quiet county roads.

Their trip home took a different route. “We found out it was legal to drive a tractor on state highways in Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri and South Dakota,” Dan says.

The two drove 10 hours a day, regardless of the weather. Running into a heat wave on the return trip, Dan nearly roasted in the truck, sometimes wearing gloves if the steering wheel got too hot. There were no days off. “You’ve just got to keep going,” he says.

Although Paula admits she was relieved to get home, she clearly enjoyed the adventure. “Every day, we talk about the fun we had,” she says. The two hope to take the truck and tractor to the 2023 Red Power Round-Up in Grand Island, Nebraska. And why not? On their first journey, Dan says, “we had a ball!”

A display marked by hogwash

Griffin Hough is deadly serious about his desire to show people how stationary gas engines were used back in the day. But at least part of his display is nothing but hogwash – and visitors love it.

A hog wash display with steam powered well pump

Marked with signs reading “Hillbilly Pig Wash,” his hogwash display consists of a series of cascading wooden troughs. A stream of water, delivered courtesy of a Goulds well pump and a 1924 Fairbanks-Morse 3hp Model Z engine, trickles through a trio of perky (if plastic) pigs. Other signs discourage diving and cannonballs.

The display is Griffin’s sly approach to education. “It gets people interested, so I can show them the ways these engines were used,” he says. Elsewhere under the tent, a Cushman binder engine runs an F.E. Myers pump, an International LA runs a burr mill and a 1-1/2hp International L provides power to a corn sheller. A 3/8-scale Rumely that he built from scratch runs a buzz saw.

Griffin Hough

As a boy, Griffin was encouraged by his parents to try different things. He got his first engine at age 12. The more he delved into mechanical devices, he came to realize he had a natural gift. “Internally, I can see how a thing works,” he says. “I don’t have to think about it.”

A mechanical engineer by trade, Griffin attends three or four shows a season. He likes engines that are unique in some way, but says he’s turning into a Fairbanks collector “because I have a lot of them.” In a working display, he says, the engines have to be good runners.

model of miners having a party beside railroad tracks

“I really love showing kids what these old engines did,” he says. “The kids ask a lot of good questions. Most of them are genuinely curious. A lot of them don’t realize the engines are as old as they are.” Interactions like those, he says, are a vital part of building community – and that’s exactly what keeps a hobby alive. FC

Leslie C. McManus is the senior editor of Farm Collector. Email her at Lmcmanus@ogdenpubs.com.

For more information: The 60th annual Ozarks Steam Engine Assn. and Southwest Missouri EDGE&TA Branch 16 Steam-O-Rama will be held September 15-18, 2022, in Republic, Missouri. Case is the featured steam engine line, Associated Manufacturers Co. is the gas engine feature, Minneapolis-Moline is the tractor and garden tractor feature. The showgrounds are located at 7175 W. Farm Rd. 170, Republic, Missouri. Contact Jeff Ruth, (417) 767-4632; email: thesteampowerman@hotmail.com. Online at www.steamorama.com and on Facebook at Ozarks Steam Engine Association.

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