It Was Destined To Happen: A Higher Power Was At Work

| January/February 1990

Int. J.I. Case Heritage Foundation 204 East Melbourne Avenue Silver Spring, Maryland 20901

A wonderful power was at work one Friday afternoon in Wauseon, Ohio, early this summer when the 'Little Engine That Could,' chaperoned by its proud caretaker Mahlon Detter, paid a surprise visit to the 45th reunion of what's believed to be the oldest continuously scheduled annual ag heritage show in North America, the National Threshers. This great steam engine and tractor exhibition happens every June, but this year was special the J.I. Case line of vintage machinery was featured and the Little Engine kind of upstaged the big boys.

The weather was steamy high humidity, 90-plus in the shade and I was taking pictures of a big Case engine pulsating with power on the belt of the National Threshers' sawmill before a large, appreciative crowd. I was wiping a drop of sweat or maybe a bit of sawdust out of the camera's viewfinder when, voila!! Out of the corner of my eye, at a distance, I saw Case engine No. 1. That little historic rascal was supposed to be bolted down and locked up tight in the Smithsonian's Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., but right there in northwestern Ohio, 50 or 70 yards away from me and many hundreds of miles from the Smithsonian, I was seeing '#1'. At least, at a distance, I thought I was!

Forgetting the big Case engine, deserting the sawmill, I rushed to the Little Engine and, while its obviously proud and friendly escort was occupied chatting with another excited spectator, I circled what I now knew was a #1 clone, because I had discovered immediately at close range that this was not Case No. 1. The number of the Little Engine was there, as clearly visible as the day it was put there almost 120 years ago. It said 'No. 25.' And, I said out loud, 'Wow!' Click-zip, click-zip, click-zip, click-zipa whole roll of 35mm film was shot in no time in honor of the arrival of #l's slightly younger sister. The family resemblance was remarkable.

Soon, I was chatting away with Mahlon Detter, who I discovered is the restoration engineer for the Sauder Farm and Craft Village at Archbold, Ohio, no more than a dozen miles south and west of the National Threshers' show grounds. I learned that Case engine #25 used to belong to the city of Angola, Indiana, slightly west of the Ohio border, and for many years had powered a pumping operation for the community's public water supply. This made my inquiry even more urgent, since, in addition to being involved with J.I. Case Heritage, I spent more than a quarter-century of my professional career in the service of water utilities.

Immediately, I made a connection. Here was a rare and wonderful little Case engine 8 HP portable, reportedly built in 1870 within a year of #1 and probably inspected daily by J.I. Case himself as it was being assembled. I shared some wishful thinking with Mahlon: 'On October 20-22, 1989 at Bonner Springs, Kansas, people from all over America will be gathering to celebrate the induction of J.I. Case by the National Agricultural Hall of Fame. Since #1 is bolted down and locked up at the Smithsonian and #25 has some freedom, what can be done to convince #25's owner, Sauder Farm, that the little beauty should be allowed to travel from Ohio some hundreds of miles to serve as the star of the great Case Celebration at the Ag Hall of Fame?'