Behemoth Engine Adds to Cachet at Old Threshers Reunion
When Lennis Moore came to Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, as administrator of the Midwest Old Threshers Reunion in 1978, he only wanted to stay about five years. But he fell in love with Mt. Pleasant and Old Threshers, and his wife enjoyed her teaching job, so they stayed. One of his delights at Old Threshers has been the 1910 Case 110 HP steam traction engine, which had been on the grounds for about six years when he arrived.
"It was originally purchased by the association in 1972 from the Justin Hingtgen estate, because they decided they wanted to have a representative 110 here at the show, and apparently felt they had enough money in their coffers," the 57-year-old CEO of Midwest Old Threshers Reunion says.
At one point, the Case 110 HP, serial no. 24150, was used by a Canadian service station as a fuel oil tank. Lennis notes that the fuel oil doubtlessly helped protect the boiler.
After its use at the service station, Hingtgen, a well-known collector of old iron bought it, dismantled it, and over several trips back and forth to Canada to get the pieces, brought it down to his farm in LaMotte, Iowa, to operate a sawmill he owned. When Old Threshers bought it in August 1972, it was partially dismantled because it was too wide and too heavy to move in one piece.
In the late 1980s, the Case 110 HP was starting to look pretty shabby, Lennis says, so the decision was made to restore it. Time went on, the restoration process was slow, so Lennis decided not to show it at the annual Midwest Old Threshers Reunion.
"We were not progressing the way we had hoped on the restoration," Lennis says, "so I made the call to put her in storage for a year. That was a big, controversial thing as far as the older steam guys were concerned, but I just held my ground." He wanted to show people how good it looked after it was restored.
"It needed to be painted, and we decided to take the existing cab off and replicate a more correct factory-type cab that would have been on it," Lennis says. "We also just went over the engine and did little stuff that you normally don't do. Once that was all finished, we had the steam guys go over it and make sure it was sound. When they said it was ready to go we put the cab on, painted it, detailed the lettering on the cab and put the decals on her."
That year it was stored in the south building of the Richard Oetken Heritage Museum, which is used for the winter storage of engines, tractors and steam power. "After the reunion is complete each year," Lennis says, "the engines that are staying are put in there. The boilers are washed and the steam traction engines are pulled into the building in a way that they can be seen as people walk through the museum."
During the Case 110 HP restoration, the factory-installed extender wheels were taken off and stored between the museum buildings. "We had several offers to buy them," Lennis says. "People are desirous of having factory extender rims."
He remembers the board meeting where the sale of the extenders was being debated. "At the time it seemed like a sizable amount of money," Lennis says, "and one of the members, Bill Satter, just sat there in silence for a while looking at the other members. Then he said, 'If you sell the rims, you get the money and once you spend it, you won't have the money or the extender rims." That quieted the debate, and, as Lennis points out, those extender rims are on the Case 110 HP to this very day.
Lennis says he was fortunate to be around a number of men who grew up on the platforms of steam engines. "In the old days, an engine man had to provide and pay for the fuel himself, so they learned how to fire it very efficiently. They ran the engines with a clean stack most of the time. If they saw how the young people show how much smoke they can make at steam shows now, they would have laughed. The guys who grew up on the platform had no smoky stack. They watched and opened the door, and looked in and tossed the fuel in right on top of the dark spots. They had a bed of coal and an efficient fire, and I'm willing to say they would use half the fuel, or less, than what is used today. It's one thing to fire an engine that's working hard and another to just keep firing it. Just like any other machine, there's a difference between running it and knowing how to run it efficiently. But those guys had grown up on it. If you're on an engine every day, it gives you a lot better understanding of that machine," Lennis says.
The average farmer could not afford a big engine like the Case 110 HP. "Historically," Lennis says, "these were big, heavy plowing engines used to either break or maintain large wheat fields from Texas all the way up into Canada. Their primary use was agriculturally in the field."
In addition, they provided good belt power for harvesting and threshing processes. "During the offseason when they weren't in the field or doing harvesting work, if they were independently owned, one would assume they would have a semi, be a wildcat trucker, because every day the engine sat idle you lost money," Lennis says.
Thus, it was important that the owner would get out and find as many other jobs for his engine as he could; roadwork, house moving, hedge pulling, anything that needed a big heavy engine to perform. "Just like Hingtgen brought this Case 110 back to run a big sawmill," Lennis says. "That way the engine could stay in one place during the winter and provide a steady source of income during the not-so-busy cycle. Then, it could get back to agricultural work if it needed to."
He adds that Case touted the 110s as big, heavy haulers in the cartage industry, particularly in manufacturing, or a mine, where it could pull several cars of manufacturing goods or several cars of ore, hauling from place to place on a site or mine area.
In the January/February 2000 issue of Iron-Men Album, Charles Stannard of Williston, N.D., was quoted talking about a typical day of plowing with a big Case 110 HP steam traction engine, serial no. 28053. "We had her hot at four o'clock in the morning and shut her off at 10 o'clock at night, and we had 40 acres plowed."
He added that he got the behemoth stuck in a slough one time and had to tie telephone poles to the rear wheels with chains. "The front end came off the ground several feet before she made it out. Don't worry about that gearing - it's been tried!" Stannard said.
Lennis says big engines like the 110 HP are rare, but not hard to come by. "If you look through any of the old Case company catalogs, you'll see the small versatile ones to the big ones," he says. "The smaller ones were more popular, and by the time you're up to the 110 you're talking about the biggest, heaviest engine made. There wasn't as much demand for such a big machine as there was for the smaller ones." Thus, the rareness.
He says the big engines like the 110 HP are always attention getters just because of their sheer size. "When you fill the boiler with water, it weighs 32,000 pounds, 16 tons. Young people who see it, but don't have any remembrance of steam engines working in the fields, think it's cool. They might even ask, 'What is this machine?' As they learn about it and talk about it, their nostalgia goes on to the next year when they come and they say, 'I remember that big steam engine. Let's go see it,'" Lennis says.
It's a totally different crowd at the shows now than it used to be. "Most of the people who started these shows are gone, and with them has died the knowledge and expertise of what life was like. With them died the nostalgia trigger for these big old machines like the Case 110. Each year the nostalgia trigger is moved ahead. Most people have nostalgia for the tractors of their youth," Lennis says.
One little-known item about these big Case 110 HP engines is that they have power-assisted steering. "When it's under steam and sitting, you can still move the wheels all the way left and all the way right with the steam assisted-power-steering. And there is no steering wheel. It's driven with levers, and a lot of times the average new visitor will look up and say, 'How are they steering that? There's no steering wheel,'" Lennis says.
He says if you talk to a Case man, he'll say the Case 110 HP is the best that was ever invented in the world. "But talk to a Reeves man or an Avery man, they'll say it was an average to poor engine. These big engines were built at a time in our history when the Midwest was just developing. So when you see these big engines, it's good to try to come away with some understanding of what they did, why they were important and why so many steam engines in general were built," Lennis says.
He adds that in the great scheme of things, steam engines weren't built or used that long. "By the 1870s they were being looked at for applications in agriculture and by the time their use was full-blown, it was pushing 1900. Then by 1920, you see pretty invasive ads in the agricultural magazines for tractors, and by the 1920s tractor ads overtook steam engine ads, and by 1925, steam just disappeared from the picture. The Depression ended a lot of them, because people couldn't afford them any more. World War II took a lot of them into the scrap movement."
Lennis says Midwest Old Threshers Reunion Assn. owns seven steam engines of the dozens that are shown every year. "That Case 110, we always try to keep in pretty nice shape," he says. "She remains our flagship."
Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and author of several books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact him at Box 372, 400 Caroline Lane, Rockville, MN 56369; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org