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.
The Aultman-Taylor and Frick engines used a frame work to support the boiler; however, the boilers on these engines still supported the crankshaft bearings and cylinders. If one wanted an engine where the boiler was totally independent and supported no engine or gear mountings, this being left to the main frame, the answer would be an Avery undermounted engine.
Tom Terning, his wife, Lois and son, Aaron of Valley Center, Kansas, for several years have operated a real good Steam Show over Labor Day with several engines under fire and powering different equipment, such as sawing lumber, plowing and threshing wheat. It would well be worth anyone's time to visit this show and get an idea of how different engines worked and what they powered 60 or 70 years ago. Aaron Terning is 12 years of age and quite a steam engine man in his own right. He gave a nice performance on the incline ramp at this year's show.
In the early part of 1982, Tom acquired a 40 HP Avery under-mounted engine. He asked me to take charge of it which I was very happy to do. Last year we used it some on the lumber mill, some plowing and pulling the separator threshing wheat. This year again we plowed with it and then spent several hours pulling Quentin Base's restored Avery Separator threshing wheat. We found the engine ran very nicely with plenty of power, a good steamer, and very easy to fire. It has been written that the 30 and 40 HP Avery undermounted engines were one and the same. Again, I must say, (the man making the assertion just hasn't done his homework, because there is a definite difference in the two.) It was also asserted that the Avery Company therefore cheated the buyers. Come now, if at that time I was to buy a 40 HP Case engine, would I be getting something like half that? Or, take the 65 HP, would I be getting one actually rated around 25 HP, and so on down the Case line? So who was cheating who? It would be rather difficult to convince men with the experience of Earl Lucas or Robert Willits they were getting a 30 HP engine instead of a 40 HP. These men certainly had many years of first-hand experience and did know their engines.
At last year's show I was approached with the offer of a bet that a certain engine could outperform the one I was operating. In response, I walked away since at this date this kind of exhibition would at this time in history prove nothing. All engines today are very old and brittle, and cannot operate to capacity. Therefore, to put them into competition would prove nothing and could be disasterous. Just suppose it resulted in a stripped gear or other damaged parts; where would one obtain replacements?
As I see it, engines in existence today supply a certain pleasure to those who own and operate them and those who are interested from a historical standpoint, that just can't be supplied from any other source, and when the present ones are gone there will be no more. Men like Tom Terning and many others should be lauded for their effort, time and considerable cash output for making it possible for those of us interested in this activity to experience many hours of enjoyment.
Let me close by, again, saying, I feel all steam traction engines were good engines.