Wichita, Kan., park’s engine a unique find
I'm going to tell you the story of a lifetime, of a celebrated Case 65 HP steam engine that emerged from hiding on the grounds of the Joyland Amusement Park in Wichita, Kan., after 43 years. Before I do, though, I feel the most important thing I can do is pay tribute to the gentlemen who have provided the lifeblood of our great hobby over the last 65-plus years, since the early days of such greats as Blaker, Monk, Cook, Abel, Woodmansee, McMillan and Rynda.
One such man is the legendary W.C. “Chady” Atteberry, who for almost 77 years has had steam cylinder oil in his blood and a hot coal fire in his eyes. It is solely because of him that this story is possible. Without his watchful eye and keen, watchdog sense of hearing, the engine of many men’s dreams would probably still be in mothballs, waiting patiently for her resurrection. I want to dedicate this story as a living memorial to a man who continues today to keep the passion of the great history of steam in our country alive and well.
If you’ve ever known what it feels like to discover something you knew for sure few, if any, people on the planet knew about, you can begin to understand what it was like back in 2003 when I received a phone call from my good friend and steam engine mentor, Chady Atteberry, concerning a Case 65 HP engine.
Backing up a bit further, when I purchased my first steam engine in 1999, a 19 HP Keck-Gonnerman side-mounted single, I had many discussions with Chady about my desire to someday have a good plowing engine, as I had spent many an afternoon at the Pawnee show riding the 8-bottom plow that his 65 Case no. 32724 pulled like a hot knife through butter. I was always amazed at how Chady had kept his engine in top-notch condition for all of the 55-plus years he had owned it. I thought it would be great to own an engine like his, and told him just that.
Though my first love was the little Keck-Gonnerman that could saw huge logs all day long and never get tired, I knew that she would never be a plowing engine, and the prize-winning Winnipeg engines that the J.I. Case Threshing Machine Co. built were no doubt some of the best pulling engines ever manufactured. So I secretly set my sights on adding a Case engine to my collection, not to betray my allegiance to all of the Keck-Gonnerman aficionados I had befriended since that cool fall day at Ivan Burns’ estate sale when the Keck came home to Pawnee.
Back to Chady’s phone call. In the fall of 2003 the steam hobby lost a great historian and collector in the late Harold Ottaway of Wichita, Kan. While at his funeral, Chady happened to recognize a man by the name of Stan Nelson, whom he had remembered seeing with Harold years ago at Joyland Park. The two men struck up a conversation that left them at the cemetery for two hours after the graveside service. Chady just off-hand inquired if Stan happened to know anything about an old 65 that had been a main attraction at the legendary Antique Engine and Threshing shows at Joyland Park in the 1950s. Chady had heard that the engine had been sold with the park, and in fact it had, and Stan was the owner of the park! Stan told Chady that the old 65 – a Case steam engine – was still parked in the round-top barn, sitting quietly among years of accumulation of retired amusement park rides. Chady told me that night he had found an engine very few living people knew about, and it just might be available.
You can imagine my growing excitement as Chady unfolded the story of the most famous engine of Joyland Amusement Park history. What brought the story to a full head of steam for me was when Chady told me where the engine had been originally delivered back in 1920: a little town called Kildare, Okla. What was being crafted before my eyes was a story that had its roots in my very own state. What steam engine purist could ask for more?
Over the course of the next few weeks, I began to learn that this particular Case engine wasn’t your typical traction engine of the period. This engine had been purchased by the Buesing (pronounced bee-zing) brothers of Blackwell, Okla., in the spring of 1920. The Buesing brothers operated a threshing ring around Blackwell and this engine, 65 HP Case no. 34844, was to be their newest addition, and came delivered on the same flatcar as a 36-58 Case steel separator to the mainline Santa Fe railway station in Kildare. Chady knew the gentleman who drove the engine and separator off the flatcar, a man by the name of Harv Guston, of Kildare.
For the next few years, the Buesings used the 65 in their threshing runs around the county, but the days of steam on the countryside were quickly becoming numbered, and as we all sadly know, the gas tractor became the power source for most threshing in many parts of the country by the middle Twenties.
As could be expected of most retired iron on the farm, you would have thought this particular steam engine would have been relegated to fence row duty, keeping watch over the countless implements and machines that found themselves outdated, obsolete and unwanted. Much to Chady’s and my amazement, this was not to be the fate of the hardworking Case 65 HP engine.
Chady remembers with vivid clarity the first time he laid eyes on what was to become the Joyland 65. It was on a journey with his father, A.E. Atteberry, to the Buesing farm northeast of Blackwell in 1938. What they found was a pristine and little-used 65 Case and 36-58 Case separator, sitting under shed! For all of its 13 or so years of retirement, the engine had been stored under shed, protected from the elements that condemned many a traction engine to a slow, agonizing death.
From this point, the Joyland 65 ended up as a trade- in for a new Allis-Chalmers tractor from the Weber Implement Co. in Newkirk, Okla., just after World War II. A gentleman by the name of Kenny Reynolds purchased the engine and moved it to his machine shop in Wichita, Kan., in 1945. Chady again had a chance encounter with the Joyland 65 when he paid a visit to Kenny in 1947 to view his collection of steam engines. He immediately recognized the engine as the Buesing 65 from Blackwell: The engine was still in pristine condition, and not for sale – much to Chady’s disappointment. Chady did, however, purchase another fine 65 Case in 1947, engine no. 32724, for the grand sum of $250.
In 1950, the Joyland 65 came to the place it would call home for the next 55 years. Harold and Herb Ottaway, owners of Joyland Amusement Park in Wichita, Kan., purchased the Case 65 HP steam engine with an idea to create an antique engine association, and they did just that. In 1951, the Antique Engine and Thresher Assn. was formed, with Kenny Reynolds, Lyman Knapp, Chady Atteberry, E.C. “Big Mac” McMillan, R.G. Langenwalter and the Ottaway brothers as its founding members.
As many of you may remember from Chady’s story in the January/February 2004 issue of Steam Traction about Joyland Park, the shows were a huge success, with Big Mac resurrecting the Case Incline demonstration, as well as having many of the early steam legends in attendance. It was at the 1953 show that the Joyland 65 made its indelible mark on the landscape of steam traction engines.
To hear Chady tell the story of that fateful year is to hear of a great rivalry between gentlemen who had blood in their eyes and and a steam throttle in their hand. A prony brake was built in time for the show, and such steam greats as Justin Hingten, Louis David and Uncle Jake Yoder made pulls on their engines that would make even the oldest threshermen green. It was here that Chady’s able hand at firing and preparing an engine for a big pull was made obvious to all. In one afternoon, with the steam world watching, Chady fired the Joyland 65 to a record-setting pull of 112 HP on 150 pounds of steam at 250 RPM. Now you may be saying that this is simply impossible, but with a factory Baker valve and a roaring inferno in the firebox, I would imagine anything was possible back then. Chady still gets a glimmer in his eye when he tells the story.
To grow the legend of the Joyland 65 even more, and to provide an attraction for the masses, an exhibition of Steam versus Diesel was created by the Ottaways – a great tug of war, to be held between the Joyland 65 and an IHC TD-14 crawler tractor. Thousands gathered to see this feat take place, and the two machines put on an incredible show.
Year after year until 1960, the Joyland 65 and the rest of Harold’s collection of nine Case engines put on memorable shows. But just as fast as the show had grown, so too did the show fade into memory and legend after the Ottaways sold the park to Stan in 1961.
Since the Joyland 65 was such a staple of the Joyland Park experience, Harold sold the engine with the park. From 1961 until a cool fall day in 2003, the engine sat. For 42 years, she lay sleeping, in and amongst 50 years of retired and obsolete amusement park rides, keeping watch over a graveyard of sorts inside the old round-top barn. Year by year, the Joyland 65 faded further into mystery, and as time takes us all closer to the great reunion in the sky, many of the men who had known and witnessed this engine in its heyday were slowly passing on. But Chady Atteberry remembered. And when the time came he asked the right question of the right man, and we were granted a chance to view the engine, up close and personal.
The death of one steam legend had led to the resurrection of another. The date: Oct. 26, 2003.
If you could have seen the look in Chady’s eyes as we opened the barn doors and slowly crawled over piles of amusement park rides to reach a dark and dusty old hulk of a machine, you would have known that this was a man who truly loved his steam engines, and for him it was like meeting a long lost friend. All we could do was stand there in amazement in the presence of an engine that hadn’t seen the light of day for more than 40 years. If only the old engine could have talked. What dark and dreary days spent in isolation, now to be poked and prodded and examined with a microscope and ultrasonic tester.
What we found was more than we could have ever imagined – a near perfect engine with a near perfect boiler. I could hardly contain my excitement, as I knew this was the engine I had waited years to find. This was the engine I would set my sights on owning. No river too wide, no mountain too steep. I would find a way to have this dream engine. Chady and I left Joyland Park that day like school kids who had just been let out for summer.
We inquired of Stan about whether he might be willing to sell the engine. He wasn’t ready at the time, so we pulled our hats down over our ears and settled in for a long winter of waiting. And more waiting. I wrote several letters to Stan over the next months seeking to make him aware of just how important this engine was to the steam community, and how I would be honored to be the one to bring the Joyland 65 back to life and bring her home to Oklahoma, where she would be well cared for over the next 100 years of her life. Several times I phoned Stan to check in on the old girl, and asked sincerely that I might have the first crack at her when and if the time finally came for him to let her go.
The winter of 2003 passed. Then the spring of 2004. Then the summer and fall. No news out of Wichita on the fate of the Joyland 65. Trying to read Stan was like trying to read Latin. I had all but buried the dream of owning this little piece of history. After months of keeping the secret between Chady and myself, we were, to put it mildly, in the dumps about the engine. Then the fateful call came.
It was Nov. 14, 2004, and I recognized a number ringing in with a Kansas area code. Stan’s voice was on the other end of the line: “Jeff, we’ve decided to sell the steam tractor. However, there has been another offer made … ”
My heart sank, as I thought for sure the engine of my dreams was going to go somewhere to somebody with deeper pockets and nowhere near the appreciation for the engine that Chady and I had. All the hopes and dreams for the engine Chady and I had talked about almost weekly over the preceding 12 months were quickly fading to black. Then came the words I will never forget: “We’ve also decided to let you match the offer.”
Instantly my heart was wrenched from the trenches and hope was rekindled. I was going to own the Joyland 65! Mortgage the house, rent out the kids, sell all the mules, peddle vacuum cleaners, whatever it took, I was prepared to make the sacrifice that only we passionate steam men are willing to make to own a piece of history. The icing on the cake was that it was my birthday. Not a bad present for 37 years on this planet.
Nov. 18, 2004, the Joyland 65 saw the sun for the first time in 43 years. The drive to Wichita was wet and rainy, but as the minutes drew nearer to the moment the Case engine would roll out of her hiding place and into the world, the sky seemed to realize that one of its children was about to make its way back into reality, and graciously offered up a ray of sunlight as she came out of the round-top barn and shook off a half century of dust as she was guided up onto the deck of the lowboy.
There the steam engine sat, with the faded memories of Joyland Park fresh on her mind, and the towering silhouette of the famous Joyland wooden roller coaster as her backdrop. It was indeed a mountaintop moment, to stand there and witness what no man had seen for almost 50 years. I can only compare it to finding a long lost love, or maybe the thrill of finding a 1957 Corvette that had sat in grandma’s barn for 40 years.
A day later, the Case 65 was sitting in the shop of my good friend Shane Fry of Newalla, Okla., and thus began the long arduous task of bringing her back to life.
As many of you know, word travels fast and far in the steam community, and soon we were getting calls from all over the United States: “Does the Joyland 65 really exist?” “Do you really own the Joyland 65?” We got calls from Michigan to Florida, Pennsylvania to Georgia. We were proud to be bringing this legend back from the shrouds of mystery. Locals came to see the old girl, some who, like Chady, had seen this engine in full steam back in the 1950s.
Patiently, a team of gents consisting of myself, my dad, Paul, Chady, Shane Fry, Dale Wolff, Steve Dunn and Mike Waggoner spent the next several months in the overhaul mode, first pulling the old jacket off the engine and removing all the piping. The pre-heater was chock full of dried mud. We pulled the cylinder head and piston and sent it out to have the rod chromed, and we ordered all new brass valves and fittings from Powell Valves. The injector was sent off to be gone through by the able and spunky Harold Stark of Indianapolis.
The gearing on all the drives was next to new, and very little wear was noticeable anywhere on the engine. It was as though the engine had been rolled off the flatcar in 1920 and into a barn, to be born again 84 years later.
I spent the better part of a full day in the firebox with a cup brush and angle grinder, and when I was done you could’ve eaten your dinner off the firebox sheets. I’ve never in my life been as filthy as I was that day. It was worth the filth though to be able to ultrasound around every single staybolt in the firebox. We recorded over a thousand thickness readings in the firebox, and we were amazed at just how little deterioration had occurred over the years.
We knew we would need all the ammunition we could gather when the time came to present the engine to the Oklahoma boiler inspectors for their evaluation. Bringing an engine out of mothballs and getting it inspected in Oklahoma is one thing when the engine resides in Oklahoma and has been previously inspected at some point in its life. It’s another thing when the engine comes from another state and has never been inspected. There was certainly some risk in bringing the old girl back to life. We had faith however that this engine was good enough to pass muster. So on we pressed.
I made contact with Dean Jagger, chief boiler inspector in Ohio, to inquire if there were still Ohio Standard records available for this boiler, as it was code stamped with a National Board number and an Ohio Standard number. I guess I had somehow been living right, because Dean put me in touch with a very gracious gentlemen named J.D. Miller of Baltic, Ohio, who just so happened to rescue hundreds and hundreds of original boiler build sheets from the incinerators of the Ohio Department of Commerce, and he just so happened to have a boiler build order on a certain 65 HP Case engine.
What I received in the mail from him exceeded my wildest expectations. In one piece of paper, we had the original build specifications for every piece of steel plate used in the boiler, its thickness and tensile strength, staybolt data and rivet info, and best of all, the original calculation for the maximum working pressure assigned: 175 pounds at a safety factor of 5.5. All signed and sealed by a Hartford steam boiler inspector. Our ammunition cache was growing by the minute.
We were working on a deadline to be ready for the annual Oklahoma Steam Threshing & Gas Engine Show in Pawnee, Okla., the first weekend of May 2005. We had started this expedition in December of 2004. While it seemed like we had forever to get the job done, the pace turned somewhat feverish around April 1. Dad and I spent many 14-hour days cleaning, fitting, piping, assembling, dismantling and assembling again.
Around April 15, it started to look like we would never be ready for the show, much less the eyes of the Oklahoma Boiler Inspectors. We hadn’t even lit a fire yet. Many a heartfelt discussion was held with my dad on the road trip back and forth from Oklahoma City to Shane’s shop, discussing the possibilities of “what if” we couldn’t be ready. What then? Dozens of folks knew of our plan to be ready for Pawnee, yet in the back of my head I realized it would take a monumental effort to be finished. Dad and I didn’t want to do things just half way, so we decided that if we didn’t have the engine ready three days before the show, we would postpone her coming out party.
As fate and stubbornness would have it, Dad and I found ourselves still working on the engine the day before the show, with the intentions of hauling her up there on the Friday of the show for an inspection and first fire. We were both pretty delirious by then and our decision-making skills were obviously impaired by our blood-in-the-eye desire to have the engine at Pawnee.
It was then that the Good Lord stepped in and got my attention. It was Thursday afternoon, the day before the show. I got a call from good friend Dale Wolff, who told me that Kenneth Kelly, long time and 86-year-old Oklahoma Steam Thresher, had passed away that very morning. I told him that simply couldn’t be possible. Just four days before, I had had a two-hour bull session with Kenneth until after midnight at his ranch in Pawnee, on my way back from retrieving a re-certified pop valve for the 65 from a shop in Tulsa. How could I have known that Sunday night would be my last to speak with another steam legend? I will never forget our spirited and humorous discussion.
As I hung up the phone with Dale, I had to sit down, as I was simply in stunned disbelief. Then it came over me in a wave of grief. I told my dad and we both sat down together, and I had a good cry. Suddenly the steam world had changed. Suddenly the wind had just left the sails of our project, and all the mayhem and madness to finish the Case 65 steam engine made me realize that we had lost something else very critical to any project of this magnitude: It had lost its fun.
It called for a re-thinking of what was truly important about pursuing these old steam relics. It had to be fun or it just wasn’t worth doing. I also realized that no one was going to shoot us if we didn’t have the engine at Pawnee. We gathered up our tools and headed for Pawnee, sans one Joyland 65.
Thank goodness for the little Keck-Gonnerman that was waiting in the barn to restore my faith in all things steam. We buried Kenneth in a full thresherman’s ceremony, with his 65 Case pulling his casket on a hay wagon to the pavilion at the center of the Pawnee show grounds for the funeral. We fed hundreds, and paid tribute to a man who had changed the face of the Pawnee show for over four decades. A final whistle was blown atop the stack of the old Kewanee boiler at the Corliss building and, just as Kenneth would have wanted it, the show went on.
I couldn’t even visit the Joyland 65 after the show. It was just too much to deal with. I didn’t know if I was burned out, or still grieving over Kenneth’s passing and the timing of it all. It was almost six months before Dad and I struck up a conversation about the 65, and over the course of a burger and fries we decided that it was time to finish the project, that it would be perfect if we could have a little fall steam up on the day after Thanksgiving, and it would indeed be fitting to be giving our thanks for a successful project completion.
We figured we had about two and a half days of work left before we could build a fire, and sure enough, the day before Thanksgiving we lit the first match in the old girl since 1960. On Friday, Nov. 26, 2005, we gathered with about a dozen of our steam friends, all of whom had followed the Joyland 65’s progress. Of course Chady had the honorary chief engineer’s hat, and he was the first to pull the throttle, something he hadn’t done on that engine in over 50 years. You didn’t have to ask him how he felt about running the Case engine that he had made famous in 1953, you could see it in his eyes. His “cracker-jack” engine of Joyland Park fame was running like a well-oiled sewing machine once again. We enjoyed a great meal courtesy of the Fry’s, and spent the afternoon running the engine and listening to the mellow sounds of a “new” 5-inch Crosby whistle that would make even legendary Case man Tommy Lee jealous.
In December the Joyland 65 made the trip to Pawnee and took up her new residence in the engine shed with 12 of her brothers and sisters. After much input from steam friends and Joyland Park fans, it was decided to leave the engine in its work clothes, with the faded graphics from the amusement park to be left on her bunkers as a tribute to a place where steam was definitely king, and as Chady so aptly puts it, Case was too.
As luck would have it, and again another lesson in patience, it rained for most of the Pawnee show this year, and the big plans to plow with Chady’s 65, Carl Tuttle’s 110 and the Joyland 65 had to be put on hold for another year. The Joyland 65 did, however, power the sawmill for most of Saturday afternoon, and became the first steam traction engine in history to pull a skier in the soaking rains that invaded the show grounds. It was at best a sloppy ski ride, but the watchful shutter of Mark Corson captured the moment on film, and another accolade was placed on the shelf of the Joyland 65. We had also passed a rigorous Oklahoma boiler inspection team that spent two days going over every aspect of the engine. When it was all said and done, we had a certificate for 150 pounds, exactly what we had hoped for.
There is more to the story of the Joyland 65 since Pawnee 2006, but I think that will have the makings of another tale to be told somewhere down the road. It is indeed amazing how a steam engine can teach us so much about life, history, patience and perserverance through tragedy. I would have never believed that one engine could have such an impact on so many peoples' lives, especially my own. It brought a father and son closer together, it rekindled a passion in a legendary steam man’s heart, and it turned the steam community on its ear, to know there really are still some hidden jewels out there, if only you keep your ears open and your heart in the right place. My sincerest thanks go out to all who played a part, either big or small, in the resurrection of this fine example of Case workmanship, the Joyland 65.