Hand-Built Pence Steam Engines Are Machinist's Legacy

The late Harold Fleisch lives on in his engines.


| July 2009



Main drive gear

Main drive gear and steering gear box with chain steering.

James Boblenz

Back in the days when farming made the transition from horsepower to tractor power, steam was king.

Youngsters stood by the front gate and watched in awe as the big, slow moving monsters came down the road, blowing clouds of black smoke, clinking and clanking. Sometimes an engineer would make the whistle scream as the engine towed its load of a huge separator, its own water wagon and maybe a fuel tender en route to the next farm to harvest grain.

For those who were youngsters then, the name of the passing engine was of little importance. Today, of course, it’s a real treat to see your favorite engine at a show, especially if it was a local engine, owned and operated nearby. But the sad reality is that steam engines are increasingly rare at many small, local shows.

If you find yourself in the right place at the right time, you might just come across a Pence steam traction engine. But it won’t be a nostalgic moment, because Pence steam traction engines were not manufactured as production models. Just three exist, each hand-built by the late Harold Fleisch, the master machinist of Pence Machine Shop in West Alexandria, Ohio.

Pence engines a good fit

Tim Calvin of Calvin Ottawa Bota Farms near Radnor, Ohio, owns two of those engines. He bought one from Doug Greenwood, who had shown the engine extensively at local shows, fairs and festivals near his home in LaRue, Ohio.

The Pence steam engines are a good fit for Tim’s collection, which focuses on the period when farming transitioned from horsepower to tractor power. He has an extensive collection of gas tractors and machinery, both horse-drawn and tractor-drawn. Ottawa Bota Farms exhibits and demonstrates vintage equipment (mostly horse-powered) at several shows every year.

The farms also host two annual shows: one in the spring, when horse-drawn equipment works alongside gas-powered tractors and equipment to demonstrate tillage and planting, and one in the fall, when a combination of horses, gas tractors and all kinds of antique equipment is used to harvest crops.
Tim’s family shares his enthusiasm for old iron events. His wife, Reneé, drives the team on the power unit; his father, Walter, lends a hand with the baler and thresher; and his son, Carl, works on the fanning mill and other pieces of equipment.

Tim often takes his Pence Bull Dog to local shows and festivals. At smaller shows, it generally blends in with other steam engines. At larger shows, it’s typically classified as a model, even though it’s as big as a Huber 16 hp tractor. No matter where it’s parked or what it’s called, it draws a crowd of people interested in a unique steam engine.

Starting with the Bull Dog

Harold Fleisch, builder of the Pence engines, was raised on a farm near Eaton, Ohio. He began working at the Pence Machine Shop in West Alexandria (just west of Dayton) in 1929 and eventually bought the business. An accomplished machinist, he built model steam traction engines in his spare time. He completed three: two large engines he named Bull Dogs, and a third smaller engine was dubbed Bull Pup.

The first of the three, a model of an under-mounted Avery 2-cylinder steam engine, was completed in 1955. Harold used a 1925 15 hp Frick-style stationary boiler mounted on an Avery chassis with an under-mounted Kelly industrial 2-cylinder engine that Tim believes to have come from a piece of excavating equipment. The model has a box mechanical oiler and two water injectors to feed water into the boiler.