Case 40 and 30 HP Steam Road Rollers: A Tale of Two Engines

Pair highlight role of Case steam engines' role in road building

| Winter 2007

It gets stuck easily. Its parts are not interchangeable with any other steam traction engine. It has limited uses. Yet everywhere the Case steam road roller is shown, it draws a crowd.

“People are used to a steam engine having four wheels,” explains Lynette Briden, Fargo, N.D., who along with her husband, Jim, and Jerry and Claudia Axvig, Hawley, Minn., owns a rare 40 HP Case steam road roller. They show it every year at the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion in Rollag, Minn. “People like it too because it’s a little smaller than the other steam engines – I noticed it first with the interest in the 9 and 18 HP steam engines – although the huge ones do have a certain draw,” she says.

A 35 HP Case steam road roller is also shown at the Midwest Old Threshers Reunion in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, each year, owned by the Duane Coonrod family, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

“It’s a crowd pleaser in the parade,” says Bob Gilchrist, who got involved with the Case road roller through George Bare, a mutual friend of the Coonrod family. “I showed up at Mt. Pleasant in the late 1970s, and George gave me all the dirty jobs to find out if I could come back the next year.” He did, and one of the perks was working with the Case 35 HP steam road roller.

Bob says he figures the Case road rollers are rare because most businesses or the military who had them discarded them when something else came along – like the internal combustion engine machines that did the same work. “Businesses scrapped them quicker because they didn’t have an orchard or fencerow to push them to, and the call for scrap metal during World War II was the demise of most steam engines, including many of those steam rollers.”

A Touch of Case History

The first Case road rollers were produced in 1906 when a 10-ton road roller, serial no. 17093, appeared along with about 40 others. The quantity manufactured increased each year through 1911, when they sold for $2,200. After that, the number of road rollers manufactured fluctuated, until 1921 when the greatest number (the exact number isn’t known, but was probably several hundred) was constructed. None were produced in 1922 and only six in 1923.