Letter to a Steam Buff


| July/August 1986



712 Chaps Road, Rio Rancho, NM 87124

This is a letter which Mr. Kestler wrote to a young steam friend, David Bennett of Prague, Oklahoma, which pertains to steam engines, some early engine shows and to some of the unusual individuals who pioneered this hobby. Mr. Kestler agreed to share this letter with our readers, as it might be of interest to all. Editor

Dear David,
Thanks for your letter of February 9th and the pictures of Kenneth Kelly's 1911 Case 75 and 8 bottom plow. The 75 looks like it has been nicely restored. Kelly's engine has 36' drivers like the Case 25 my father broke sod with at Haxtun, Colorado starting in 1914. I saw another Case 75 with 36' drivers at one of the Saskatoon shows. I am sending you a picture of Dad's engine pulling an 8 bottom sod breaker plow and disc. This was originally a post card picture mailed to my uncle on 6-29-15. He wrote on the card he 'had a little bad luck the other day and got my face scalded pretty bad'. He also wrote 'Here is a picture of the rig. Have plowed 1,000 acres. Have 1,500 to plow yet at $3.50 per acre'.

Even though side mounted engines were used for plowing, the rear mounted type was better built for such heavy draw bar work. The stub axles of the side mounted engines put more strain on the boiler. A few years later Dad replaced the Case with a 25-85 Nichols & Shepard rear mounted double cylinder engine which had heavier gears and draw bar. It was a better plow engine. The last Case 25 was made in 1909. Case made the 75 from 1910 through 1922. The Case 60 and 75 were lighter constructed engines made primarily to meet competition prices and for belt work. The rest of the Case engines had heavier gears, draw bars, etc. Dad's Case 25 draw bar was of light construction and extended at the top of the water tender above the rear step. It is noted that the draw bar on Kelley's Case 75 extends below the water tanks and appears to be much stronger. The Case 25 and 75 were originally rated for 8 plows. Caution should be used in pulling 8 plows with such 75 year old lap seam boilers. It is dangerous to expect the old lap seam and butt strap boilers to carry the same steam pressure and handle the same loads as when new. In this connection, reference is made to the article 'The Good Old Days' on page 10 of the March-April 1986 issue of the Iron-Men Album re: handling and taking care of engine boilers.

You and Dale Wolff as young men are lucky to have such a caring and good teacher conducting your steam school classes as Chady Atteberry. Chady is a real knowledgable steam man. Chady & Lyman Knapp should be able to tell interesting stories about the late E. C. McMillan 'Big Mac' of Hoisington, Kansas and the late Roy Kite of Bird City, Kansas since they knew them real well.

Without a doubt, I think most old timers will agree that Big Mac could handle a steam engine better than anyone. He knew everything in minute detail about a Case engine. To handle an engine on the steep Case incline like he did was an art. Big Mac spent his working years as an engineer on the Missouri Pacific RR. He and I carried on a running correspondence for 15 years before his death. He used to sign some of his letters 'McCase'. It's still a pleasure to go back and read some of his technical advice letters which I needed in rebuilding my engine. In 1953 when I was lucky enough to find a complete set of new gears for my Case 65, Big Mac bought my old bull gears for his engine. He was one of the first instigators in the revival of the steam traction engines. He was always one of the main attractions at any engine show he attended.