Photos by Tim Myers. Reprinted from the Dubois County, Indiana
Sent to us by Jerry Kitten, R.R. 2, Box 6, Slaton, Texas
It takes Francis ‘Franz’ Lindauer the better part of
five family farm buildings to store a priceless collection of
primitive steam engines, rare tractors and poplar-wood
The 66-year-old retired Ferdinand farmer enlists his family to
help preserve and demonstrate dozens of hand-built relics of
yesteryear. The Lindauers are one of several area farm families who
belong to the Early Day Antique Club, an organization dedicated to
preserving old farming methods.
Ten farm families, scattered in three counties, bring mule and
draft horse teams to club demonstrations. ‘They’ve all got
the strongest horses and this and that,’ Francis says.
Tending draft horses and restoring steam-powered monsters create
a peck of trouble, Francis says. So the Lindauers, though they
enjoy horses and horse-drawn equipment, stick with steam, wood and
iron rather than hooved mammals.
Retired farmer Francis ‘Franz’ Lindauer of Ferdinand has
been collecting antique farm machinery for 10 years. He and his
sons are part of the Early Days Antique Club that restores and
demonstrates farming relics.
‘We’ve got enough trouble keeping enough hay for our
cows, much less feeding horses,’ says Phil, one of Francis’
two sons who help restore tractors and threshers when they’re
not milking dairy cows.
The family spends many hot days demonstrating their gargantuan
toys at area events and fests. Their next full-blown threshing
demonstration is planned for Fulda’s birthday celebration in
‘To me, this is something that should be carried on,’
says Mike, Francis’ other son.
Foremost among Francis’ collection of shredders, clover
hullers and antique tractors are two Kitten traction tractors and a
Kitten thresher, all rare and all made in Ferdinand.
An ingenious Ferdinand resident named Florenz Kitten founded a
large foundry and machine works in Ferdinand during the late 1800s.
He began making horse-drawn steam engines not long after the Civil
War on the second floor of his house. When his steam engines and
grain separators gained popularity, he built a two-story factory
and foundry adjoining his home, near where the Ferdinand Library is
Soon he perfected steam-powered tractors traction engines that
could chug from farm to farm pulling threshers along with them.
They featured a stocky horizontal boiler custom-made for the steep,
hilly fields of southern Indiana. When a Kitten traction engine
went up a hill, its design would not allow one end of the short
boiler to run dry of water and blow up.
‘They’ve got just tremendous lugging power,’ Francis
Two hundred and twenty-four Kitten engines were hand built
between 1880 and 1940. Twenty still exist, six within 25 miles of
‘Most of this heavy equipment was destroyed during World War
II when they were looking for scrap iron,’ Francis says.
‘These engines were just hauled to the scrap yards, cut up
and melted down.’
Francis owns Kittens No. 176 (circa 1912) and No. 214 (circa
1924). He keeps track of the other Kitten engines’
John and Ed Weyer, uncles of Francis’ wife, Juliana (Weyer)
Lindauer, bought No. 176 when it was a brand new Kitten. Francis
bought it from the sixth owner near Cadiz, Kentucky.
Francis traveled to Pennsylvania to buy No. 214 from the Rough
and Tumble Engineers Historical Association. Frank Arnold, Mariah
Hill, originally bought the traction engine. His son, Walter, who
is alive today, helped drive the tractor home when it was new. It
takes two people to drive a Kitten, one steering the chain actuated
tractor and the other working its controls.
Walter Arnold saw the restored No. 214 at the Lindauer farm and
said, in German, that he never thought he would see the machine
again, let alone totally restored. ‘He was overjoyed,’
One Kitten devotee, owner of traction engine No. 217, parked it
above his last resting place as a graveyard marker at Adieville,
Children from area elementary schools were treated to a steam
demonstration at the Lindauer farm last month. Later, they sent
stacks of thank-you letters. Children drew and colored Francis in
his striped overalls as well as the flowers and other designs
painted on the canopies, flywheels and boilers of the Kittens.
Francis’ daughter, Joan, paints the engines, which look as if
they just rolled out the Ferdinand foundry’s door.
‘Most kids mentioned the ice cream donated by Holland
Dairy,’ Mike says. ‘They liked that the best.’
Kitten charged $100 per horsepower, so the 24 HP traction
engines Francis owns listed for $2400 each when new.
Sometimes farmers would chip in to purchase them. Then co-owners
would rent their services to farmers, as well as to the county for
Mike says the county would dump coal at its bridges. Steam
tractors could then make a single stop to fuel up on coal from the
stockpile and water from the creek. ‘Years ago these things
were used rough and hard,’ Mike says. One owner flipped No. 176
and had to replace its boiler.
The Lindauers operate a large farming operation on
Ferdinand’s northeast side. They keep 100 dairy cows on an
89-acre core operation. They farm on 600 acres of local ground, 300
that they own and 300 that they rent.
Mike, 43, and Phil, 41, leave restoration work to their father,
but pitch in when asked. ‘He’s retired,’ Phil says.
‘We’re not. We milk and take care of the cattle about eight
hours a day.’
Mike and Phil are interested in the hobby, but ‘there’s
so much doodling around involved,’ Phil says. ‘You could
work on the littlest things for hours and hours just to get an
boiler to work.’
‘And it’s not like working on a new piece of
equipment,’ Mike says. Many parts have to be machined from
scratch in the Lindauers’ shop.
‘As long as I had a debt to pay I didn’t spend my money
on this either,’ says Francis, who immersed himself in
collecting after retirement.
Francis’ grandfather owned a Kitten engine and thresher,
which Francis helped operate. ‘We were pretty late around here
to go to modern equipment on this land,’ Francis says. Combines
made threshers obsolete by the 1940s.
Francis’ most fond and exciting memories revolve around
‘When we were little kids, we didn’t hardly get to town
very often. You didn’t get anyplace, except to church,’
Francis says. ‘Whenever the threshing machine came down the
lane, it was the biggest event of the whole year.
‘There were about 10 farmers in the neighborhood who formed
a threshing ring, working together to help each other,’ Francis
A half-dozen of a farmer’s closest neighbors were also known
as ‘butcher neighbors,’ Francis says. Butcher-neighbor
wives would fry freshly butchered chickens and bake pies on
‘What the women prepared for eating was just the best,’
Francis says. ‘You’d eat like kings.’
Francis talks with children who took a school field trip to the
Lindauer farm recently for a demonstration of steam-powered
machinery. In the rear is Francis’ son Mike.
‘. . . .and work like mules,’ Mike adds.
Mule teams pulled wagons used to gather cured wheat shocks from
the fields and to haul the grain to the barnyard.
Long belts, 80-feet long or more, connected a thresher to a
steam engine. ‘A long belt gave you more traction and a
smoother-running machine,’ Francis says. ‘Another reason
for the long belt was due to a danger of the steam engine blowing
chips out and starting a fire. You always had your engine as far
away from the straw stack as possible. Whenever an engine was
workin’ hard, the exhaust blew cinders out.’
Farmers fired their engines with coal instead of wood at
threshing time to cut down on cinders. Raising steam took about an
‘There were lots of little coal mines around and we’d
take our horses and box wagons and get the coal that had been dug
by hand,’ Francis says.
‘Over two dozen men and boys served as off-bearers, bundle
pitchers and water fetchers. The engine used about 1,000 gallons of
water for a days threshing.
A man assigned to a horse-drawn water wagon stayed busy on
threshing day. ‘When we were kids, before we were big enough to
help thresh, us boys would fight to get on the water wagon and
drive out with him,’ Francis says.
The youths took turns at the lever of a hand pump that filled
the wagon. ‘The fella that operated the wagon was real happy. I
thought about that many times years later. That guy probably
thought, ‘Boy, this is great.”
Back at the farm, two-bushel sacks of grain weighing about 120
pounds each were toted to the grainery. ‘A lot of places it was
100 or 200 feet away and then up a set of steps,’ Francis
Threshers blew straw from the threshings onto stacks behind the
farmers’ barns. ‘Everybody had a big straw stack in back of
their barn, which you used for bedding,’ Francis says.
When the rattling pulleys and hissing pop-off valves quieted,
crews would move to the next farm down the road.
Those were the days when men plowing with teams of mules and
horses would stop mid-round and spend hours talking to each other
over a fencerow. ‘Today, without tractors and things, we hardly
have time to wave,’ Francis says. ‘It was harder work then,
but you were together more. The older guys say it was a good
experience to have gone through, but you really wouldn’t want
to go back to it.’
Francis feels a kinship with the equipment he worked with as a
child. And he harbors great admiration for the men who designed the
equipment and built it without the aid of welders and other modern
Kitten and his machinists whittled wooden patterns of the things
they wanted to cast. The patterns were used to make molds from
which the castings were made. Most parts were made in two halves
and then fitted together to make one large part, such as a
A wise man would do well to restore just one steam tractor, the
better to learn about its design and operation, Francis says. He,
however, can’t stop at just one.
His collecting ‘is kind of a sickness,’ he jokes.
Pieces currently in working order include 10 stationary, antique
gas engines; assorted, steam-powered tug boat whistles, pumps,
dynos, and turbines; 10 antique tractors (they run on kerosene);
four large steam tractors; 10 smaller steam engines; and assorted
shredders and separators. And that doesn’t count the equipment
that’s dismantled and stored in cleaning solvent.
‘When we get something, it gets fixed up,’ Francis