More than 80 years ago in 1902 and at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904 the J. I. Case Threshing Machine Co. started running its steam engines up an incline to demonstrate the machines' ability.
'Case engines are the only real hill climbers,' proclaimed a banner in a postal card view of such a stunt printed in this magazine in Jan/Feb 1985.
Now the incline demonstration has been revived as a real crowd pleaser at the Oklahoma Steam & Gas Engine Show held the first week end in May in Pawnee, Oklahoma.
At the controls of the 40 HP Case was Chady Atteberry of Blackwell, Oklahoma.
"The late E.C. 'Big Mac' McMillian started climbing the incline at Wichita in 1952 with the same engine I used at Pawnee," said Atteberry. At that time, Big Mac owned it.
"Big Mac was the very best of engineers," Atteberry continued. "He started training me in 1952. I now own the engine, a 40 HP Case No. 31393 built in 1914. Big Mac always referred to this engine as his 'Elgin Watch' 40.
"Until this year, I hadn't been on an incline with this engine since May 30, 1955, almost 30 years ago. The incline is a 50 percent grade which was the standard incline the Case Co. used for many years."
But something happened at the Pawnee show that wouldn't have been heard of in 1904.
A woman was aboard the steam engine on the incline, risking life and limb right along with Atteberry.
But it wasn't just any woman. It was Helen Case Brigham, great-granddaughter of J. I. Case himself.
"She wants to ride up to the top of the incline with me next year,'"Atteberry said. "If she is game, I'll take her up."
It wasn't until just recently that Mrs. Brigham discovered such shows were presented. She lamented that she and her husband had "neglected our sons' educations when they were younger. We certainly would have exposed them years ago if we had been informed of the shows' existence."
The family is beginning to attend steam shows across the nation. Helen's eldest son was with her at Pawnee and her 29-year-old planned to attend the Denton, North Carolina, show in July.
"Once this has been done, I will feel the men have really gotten a proper education," Mrs. Brigham said.
"All of the steam engine and the gas tractor people, too, have been very kind to me."
Atteberry said it was through the efforts of Prof. V.H. Stroud of Hutchinson, Kansas, and Harold Ottaway at Wichita that he got the first chance to purchase the Elgin Watch 40. "They knew Big Mac wanted me to have the engine," he said.
There's a plaque on the back of the tractor in Big Mac's memory, a project by Stroud, Ottaway and Lyman Knapp of Blackwell.
Prof. Stroud was a close friend to Big Mac. He attended the Pawnee show and enjoyed pulling the throttle on the Case. John Hall from Missouri attended, stopping over on his trip to help Ottaway.
Lyman Knapp was there with his 10 HP vertical boiler, chain-driven Canton Monitor traction engine built around 1890 at Canton, Ohio, by Cornelius Aultman Co., later to become part of the Aultman & Taylor Co.
Everything runs A popular daily event at the Pawnee show is the parade. Just about everything on the grounds is cranked or started and driven past the viewing stand.. .everything from the 110 Case to Rumely Oil Pulls to John Deeres and assorted Caterpillars. At other times during the day the equipment is kept busy putting around Steam Engine Park.
There is shingle mill operation, Baker fan testing, corn grinding, saw milling, threshing, slow races, plowing and plenty of gabbing.
Helen Case Brigham, great-granddaughter of J. I. Case himself, hangs on while Chady Atteberry jockeys the 40 HP Case on the 50 percent incline, a stunt used by the Case Co. in 1900-1920 to promote their machines and revived this year at the annual Pawnee Steam & Gas Engine Show.
Helping Lyman was Lyle Hoffmaster from Bucyrus, Ohio. Each man owns a Canton Monitor, the only two left in the U.S.
"On August 15 I will have owned this one 35 years and no more have turned up in the hobby," Lyman said.
Show officials said they enjoyed having a lot of collectors from other states at the show.
Mentioning a few, they cited Don and Gary Bradley from Montana, Herb Beckemeyer and Ray DeMent from Illinois, Junior Christian, Lyle Hoffmaster and Francis Young from Ohio.
M.B. Martinson from Minnesota was seen running the 30-98 N & S while Vern Ganter from Indiana helped on the double Keck. Big John Beanland and LeRoy Reiman from Illinois have helped Ivan Burns (club president) with his engines for years.
Frank VanCleve and Frank Jr. from Pennsylvania again amazed spectators with their hot air engines. Roy Larson, Eddie Mittelsladt, Dean Shellhouse, and Wayne Kennedy were on hand from Iowa. Roy was all charged up because he had just purchased a double rear mounted Keck, Atteberry said.
Ron and Francis Sevart from Girard, Kansas, were again a big help running the 20-40 Oil Pull and Don Messing from Nebraska helped Atteberry with the Elgin Watch 40.
The small gasoline engine show is fast becoming a major segment of the Pawnee event. Hundreds of the units were spread out through the shade trees all three days and trading activities and tip sharing were fast and furious.
Show organizers moved the dates to May from Oklahoma's summer and attendance reflected the wisdom of the change. Showers on the grounds are still a welcome sight.
Club members from all over Oklahoma begin months in advance preparing for the show. Along with them come their women because work weekends mean hearty appetites. The women folk whip up some good vittles for noontime dinner meals any thresher would enjoy.
Money from the gate is put back into the show. This year new permanent restroom facilities were added and the small engine crowd is completing a loading ramp for their units.
As a sidelight to this, the club has begun an instructional program on the steam engine. First classes have already been held where operators like Chady Atteberry detail the workings of the engines and boilers on paper. Before too long, the operators-to-be will move into the field for hands-on training.