Auction Sale Sends Steam Engine Home


| January/February 2001



Kitten steam engine

The following story is a reprint of one written by Toni Rae Mayo for the June 12, 2000, edition of Huntington Herald-Press, Huntington, Indiana. Some corrections and additional information have either been incorporated into the story or are noted in footnotes, token from a letter written by Mike Theis to Jerry Kitten, of RR 2, Box 6, Slaton, Texas 79364. Jerry sent everything to us. The story is reprinted with permission. 

"We're happy to see the engine come back home," explained Herman Theis of the 1927 Kitten Model #219 steam engine. Theis, 70, and his older brother Charles, 75, of Tell City, owned the engine over 40 years ago when their family operated the Theis Saw Mill.1 

Only 224 Kitten steam engines were built in Ferdinand, a small town near the most southern tip of Indiana. Model #219 has survived the rigors of rust and time, but the fact that this steam engine is fully operational made the sale historic.

Bob Plasterer kept the steam engine sheltered in a barn. A few days before the auction, Plasterer decided to fire up the steam engine. Two wheelbarrows full of wood were used to fuel the firebox. Tony Daniel said of the afternoon, "Bob built up 85 pounds of steam in the boiler before the gears moved the wheels. It was moving pretty good once the steam built up."

After Plasterer drove the engine around the field a couple of times, he jumped off the back of the iron beast and yelled, "Grandpa, I know you're proud of me. I can feel you inside of me everyday!" Obviously, Eiffel Plasterer handed down the tenacity it takes to maintain and operate a steam engine to his grandson. Eiffel Plasterer who used the steam engine to run a sorghum mill.

On the day of the auction, the Theis family drove from Tell City to Plasterer's property on Division Road. The Theis clan did not take the sale of "their" steam engine lightly. They came to Huntington with serious intent to purchase the steam engine at any cost, which they did.