Hi! My name is Ricky Ritchie. I’m not an old time steam engine man and I wasn’t even born when these fine engines were being used.
My story begins in 1974 when I was 10 years old. My father (Glen) and my uncle David took me and some gas engines to the Bridgewater Steam and Gas Meet which is located in Bridgewater, Virginia. When we got the gas engines unloaded, my father and I walked around to look at the displays. I couldn’t help but notice the huge machines moving slowly around. I was quite afraid of them as their whistles were very loud for my young ears. The first one I saw was an engine with a picture of a cow on the side. I found out many years later it was Earl Rohrer’s Russell.
I must have asked a lot of questions, because my father told me to ask my grandfather (Emmer) about them when we returned home after the show. I asked my grandfather about them a few days later. He told me he had worked around them but that he didn’t fully understand how they worked, and so began my fascination with steam power. As the years went by I would look at them and marvel at the unique sound they made when they were working.
Not much happened until I was 16 and could drive myself to the shows. In the summer of 1980 I took several gas engines to the Bridgewater show. As I was off from school for the summer and having the whole day to myself, I decided to walk down to the steam engines and look around.
I looked the engines over and was just about to walk away, when I heard a voice say, “Would you mind helping me for a minute?” As I turned around an elderly gentleman, Cecil Craun, on a Frick twin cylinder, was talking to me. He needed to back up to the coal pile and was afraid someone would walk behind the engine while he was backing up. I helped him watch for people and offered to shovel his coal. He looked at me for a moment and said OK.
After filling the coal box, Mr. Craun offered me a ride on his engine. I asked him lots of questions and he answered every one and told me to talk to Bill Harper, who had an E-B Peerless at the show, or to talk to Lawson Funkhouser, who had a Frick at the show, if I wanted to know even more about steam traction engines, as these men had been around steam all their lives.
So I got up early the next morning and traveled to the show to watch the engines fire up. After a few hours I introduced myself to these gentlemen and spent the balance of the day listening to old stories and learning a great deal about traction engines, Iron-Men Album, and saw reprints of related literature. At noon I was introduced to steamed corn on the cob and from then on I was hooked!
The following year I spent the entire show with the steam engines, helping out wherever I could and talking to engineers to learn as much as I could about running and maintaining an engine. When the 1982 show season came around I knew I had to have a traction engine. There was only one problem: I didn’t have enough money to buy one. That didn’t stop me from reading and rereading my books. I read the Steam Engine Guide until the pages were falling out. By this time, my mind was completely absorbed with steam.
As a junior in high school I would take the Iron-Men Album to school to read. Many of my classmates were, to say the least, not very understanding, but I didn’t care – you know how it is when you have the steam bug!
Now my father, who is a tool and die maker, seeing how important owning a steam engine was to me, said, “If you can wait a few years, I will build you one.” When the Bridgewater show came around, both of us went to look at engines. We decided to build a Frick, but we didn’t know enough to build one yet. There were problems with what scale, and what about the relationship of parts to one another?
We couldn’t build ones from photographs, so we decided to turn to Tom Terning for scale blueprints and double them to build a scale Case. When we received the package of prints Mr. Terning sent, he had attached a nice note along with them, cautioning us that most things would double, but common sense should prevail.
We applied to the state of Virginia for permission to build a fired pressure vessel. We received, from the state, a list of requirements we had to meet to receive permission to build one. From then on, we were making parts, looking at overall pictures we took of Tom Gingell’s Case, and reading more technical books from Lindsay Publications. As the years passed, I would look forward to the next show season and having my own engine to run.
In the spring of 1985 we received permission to build our boiler. After it was completed, the state inspected it and stamped their number on it. On December 7, 1985, my father and I fired up our engine for the first time. What a feeling to see it run the first time. I’ll never forget it! We had a few minor problems, but considering we made the whole thing, it ran very well. The rest of the winter was spent making bunkers and a canopy.
The 1986 show season finally arrived, and I enjoyed every minute of it, talking steam power and running my engine. My father told me that he had always wanted to build one, but probably wouldn’t have done it if it weren’t for me wanting one so much.
As the years have passed, my interest in steam has stayed, but I think about other things besides. In 1991, I married a wonderful woman, who enjoys antique machinery as much as I do. We even restored a Case VAC for her to run while I play with my steamer. In 1995, I met Paul Leatherman, who told me I should send a picture of the engine and a letter to IMA, so here it is.
One of the most asked questions I get is, “Did you make the whole thing?” The answer is, not quite. The flywheel, bull gears and pinions are out of a Turner hay baler. The differential is a combination of a John Deere B bull gear, and two Model T Ford ring gears and three pinions. My father made the nest to put them together. The intermediate gear is a GMC truck starter ring gear, and I made the center. The cylinder and valve we bought as raw castings from Tom Terning, the governor, globe valves, oil pump and plumbing. Everything else, my father and I fabricated.
We kept a log of our time and we have 3,000 hours in it. Not all of this can be charged as machine work, as we did a lot of learning on this project. If there ever is a next one, we could do it a lot faster.
I would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank the many people who helped me, and in no particular order: my father, Glen; my maternal grandfather, Emmer; Bill Harper and his sons Edgar and George; Lawson Funkhouser and his grandson, Patrick; Howard Hartman and his sons James and Joe; Cecil Craun; Eston Teeter; Tom Gingells; Roger Shirkey; Bob Johns; Bob Butts; Paul Leatherman; Jack True and his son, Benjamin; and my many friends.
These people taught me about steam power, specifically, and living life in general. Which only proves that one of my father’s sayings is true: If you want anything bad enough, all you have to do is work for it. IMA
Ricky Ritchie is from Linville, Virginia.