Farm Collector

Letter to a Steam Buff

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.

Roy Kite was a successful Case dealer and wheat farmer. Starting
in the late 40’s, he was one of the first to put on an engine
show which he did for several years before it became the Antique
Engine and Thresher Association at Bird City, Kansas. He was
responsible for getting many of us interested in owning steam
engines. His farm was steam engine headquarters and many engines
started from there. The engine shows held on his farm for many
years were hard to beat in a natural farm setting. When Saskatoon,
Canada and Mt. Pleasant, Iowa were starting their engine shows they
asked Roy to help them get started. I kept my Case 65, 40′
separator and water tank at Roy’s farm for 16 years before
shipping the outfit to Twin Falls, Idaho in 1969. It sure was an
ideal place to restore my equipment with all the large machinery
and expert help available. One year I visited Roy during wheat
harvest. He had 8 combines going. He had a regular modern
restaurant in the middle of a hot wheat field stubble. He gutted a
large travel trailer, installed a counter with stools, electric
lights and fans, refrigerator, gas range, running water, two cooks,
etc. A gas engine light plant, water tank with pump and propane gas
bottles were installed on a flat bed truck to make it all
possible.

I purchased my engine from the late Al Deerk who used to have a
2,200 acre wheat farm at Chappell, Nebraska. Al used the engine for
custom threshing, plowing and road grading. One fall when his
tractor broke down, Al drilled wheat with the Case 65. He was an
expert engineman. After his farm sale, Al worked for Roy Kite for
several years. He taught me how to run and take care of the engine
as well as restore it. Al advised in draining a boiler to dry it
out so the insides would not rust. This could be done by removing
all of the hand hole plates and covering them with screen wire to
keep out mice. Some fellows just open the drain valve and the
boiler will bleed afterwards for a month. One fall I filled my
boiler to the top and heated the water until it was hot. Then I
poured in 5 gallons of steam cylinder oil thinking it would coat
the boiler insides as it drained. Most of the oil settled in the
bottom of the boiler barrel. Before approving my boiler for the
next engine show, Claude Shriver, Kansas Boiler Inspector, had me
clean the boiler out with sal soda several times and scrape the
barrel bottom through the lower front hand hole. I thought I never
would get the oil out. On the other hand, the second owner of my
uncle’s 25-85 Nichols and Shepard, Andy Hazen, stored the
engine for 15 years with the boiler filled with used motor oil
which later caused no problems.

After one of Kite’s shows, shortly after I bought the
engine, there were enough wheat bundles left over for a one-half
day’s threshing. Roy and Al thought that would be good
experience for me to belt the Case 65 to the 36′ separator and
finish the threshing. I did not have much of a fire when we
started. The pitchers really slugged the feeder with bundles. The
first thing I knew I was almost out of steam. I shoveled coal into
the firebox like mad. It seemed like it took all afternoon to get
the steam pressure up to where it belonged. The rig was returned to
Roy’s farm yard after we finished and I went home. Al had to
get up several times during the night and add water to the
popping-off boiler. Al reprimanded me for creating such a bed of
coals. Through the years Al and I became great friends spent many
happy days together. He was a regular visitor to our home.

Roy Kite was fortunate in having the nucleus in the area of many
old time threshermen to help start the engine shows; Fred and
Seward Brubaker, Ed Nelson, Jerry Horneck, Chet Sawyer, Christy,
Sam and John Gauger all of whom have left this world except
Christy. The mechanical knowledge of these men was extra ordinary.
John Gauger spent many a day helping re-build my engine.

Harold Ottaway of Wichita, Kansas is another steam engine show
pioneer. He started putting on shows in the very early 50’s at
his big amusement park in Wichita. From the very beginning Harold
has had a large collection of steam engines and gas tractors some
of which were processed through Kite’s farm. Harold has spent a
lot of time during the last 35 years as an antique engine hobbiest
during which he has helped many of us find needed parts for our
engines. His has been an ideal life style if you could only afford
it.

Another pioneer engineman that’s generous with his steam
engines is Joe Richardson of Orofino, Idaho. Joe owned and operated
a large lumber mill in Orofino for many years. For pictures and a
story about his perfectly restored late Case engines see page 17 of
the July/August 1972 Iron-Men Album ‘Weekend With 110
Case’. Since the 1972 article, Joe has added other things to
his collection including two beautiful restored Case automobiles.
One is a 1914 right hand drive 5 passenger touring and the other is
a 1916 left hand drive 7 passenger. Joe puts on his more or less
private engine shows. My wife and I sure enjoyed his threshing bee
we attended. It was the local high light social event of the year.
The Richard sons hosted a lovely social steak dinner dance party.
Twenty-one musicians provided the music. Joe paid the entire bill
for his 172 Saturday evening guests. He also hosted another dinner
at his expense Sunday evening.

You asked for information about my father’s 25-85 rear
mounted double cylinder Nichols & Shepard engine. Enclosed is a
picture of his new N&S Red River Special rig threshing wheat
near Haxtun Colorado in 1919. For a story about his N&S outfit,
refer to page 5 of the July/August 1972 issue of the Iron-Men Album
‘Threshing Wheat 50 Years Ago.’ He did custom threshing
from 1914 to 1930 when the combines took over. Prior to that he was
an engineer on the Burlington RR. It is interesting to note that
you worked on a custom combine crew in the Haxtun area. Dad was not
around to share my steam engine activities as he died in 1941.

Enclosed is a picture of my uncle’s 25-85 Nichols &
Shepard single cylinder side mounted engine with my father as
engineer. See page 3 of the Iron-Men Album, November/December 1976
issue, for a story and pictures of uncle’s outfit. The engine
is now owned by N.B. Martinson. He keeps it at the Dalton,
Minnesota show along with his 32 Reeves, 36 rear mounted Rumely and
35-120 double cylinder side mounted Nichols & Shepard.

A story ‘Shipping A Case or A Case of Shipping?’ with
pictures of my Case rig was published in the May/June 1971 issue of
the Iron-Men Album. I sold my outfit to Clarence Young of Great
Falls, Montana in 1974. Clarence is a large wheat farmer. He has
about a dozen other steam engines including a Case 80 and 110. He
has many other collectibles stored in two large steel buildings
along with an excellent machine shop.

I have never been associated in anything where I have met so
many nice sincere friendly individuals as in this steam engine
hobby business. The social life in connection with it is
wonderful.

  • Published on Jul 1, 1986
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