I Was Born in Oklahoma

| May/June 1984

  • Avery pulling  an Avery separator
    A 40 HP Avery pulling an Avery separator.
  • Avery undermounted engine
    Tom Terning and a 40 HP Avery undermounted engine
  • 25 HP Russell
    Harper and son of Sedgwick, Kansas, with their 25 HP Russell restored in 1983 by Joe and Tom Terning.

  • Avery pulling  an Avery separator
  • Avery undermounted engine
  • 25 HP Russell

606 South Broadview Wichita, Kansas 67218

I was born in Oklahoma in April 1905 in what was then known as Indian Territory. During my younger days, my father owned a threshing outfit powered by a Port Huron engine; therefore, I more or less grew up on a steam traction engine. As the years went by, I was exposed to other makes of engines including a Russell and so gained more knowledge of the operation of other engines. It is my contention that all makes of steam engines were good engines. Like cars, some liked certain makes better than others.

During threshing season I spent many nights sleeping on the ground on a bed of straw with a blanket over it, waking up at probably around 4:00 a.m., if I had been asleep at all, to start a fire in the engine to get ready for the day's threshing. We would usually start around 7:00 a.m. and work through the day until 7:00 or 7:30 p.m. During the years there were several threshing outfits at various times in our area powered by different engines, such as Port Huron, Advance, Rumley, Russell, Minneapolis, Avery, Gaar Scott and Reeves. I feel the Russell engine was one of the best belt engines made. It had plenty of smooth, even power and really ran nicely.

One day in March or April of 1914, my father and I were driving into town in a buggy pulled by a team of horses, our only mode of transportation. Down the road ahead of us I saw some smoking object approaching us in the distance. As it got closer, I could see it was a steam engine, and as we became closer it resembled a railroad locomotive and turned out to be a new Avery 40 HP undermounted traction engine. It had been purchased by Earl Lucas and his brothers. They had just unloaded it off a railroad flatcar and were taking it home by way of fording the river. I immediately fell in love with this engine and saw it many times thereafter in operation. They used it in the summer to pull a large sized Avery separator, threshing wheat and other grain for themselves and surrounding neighbors. They then used it to plow their wheat land, and during winter months, when weather permitted, graded roads pulling two road graders behind it. After several years of use, the combines and tractors came into the picture and Mr. Lucas had no further use of the engine. It sat for a few years and was finally purchased by Mr. Robert Willits of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, one of the finest men I have ever known. He replaced the plumbing, flues, boiler jacket, water tanks, gave it a new paint job, and used it for display and parade purposes for several years at the Mt. Pleasant Reunion.. After his death, a few years back, his son Bob sold the engine to the Mt. Pleasant Reunion Association where it still operates. While Mr. Willits was alive and the engine still in his possession, he several times let me operate it which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Recently an item appeared in IMA stating that in its day, the Case was king because there were more Case engines sold than any other make, to which I would definitely agree. The article also went ahead to indicate that more were sold because they were more popular. (I want to think this man was somewhat out of touch with reality.) My first reaction to his statement was that during that time there were also more model T Fords sold than any other car. One might say, well, what is the connection between a Case engine and a model T Ford? I would have to say considerable. The model T was good, dependable transportation and like Case engines, they did not cost as much to produce and therefore could be sold for less money, and a savings in dollars in those days was quite an item.

The wing sheet construction used by Case made a very neat installation, and Case did build a good looking engine. However, it must be noted that sheets were also riveted to the boiler so it would be hard to see where their use eliminated strain on the boiler.


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