Letting Off Steam

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The “Republican” Case at the Stewart farm outside of Clay Center, Kan.


The 2005 steam season saw its fair share of steam traction engines brought back into the fold, lovingly repaired, restored or refurbished, and put to running order once again.

In addition to the “usual” engines found at auction were the high-profile engines from the Joe Rynda collection, with at least five put back to working order during the year.

Those engines, by and large, were in a relatively healthy state of arrested decay. Rynda apparently limited his engine purchases to the best of the type he could find, well aware of the pitfalls of trying to restore a played out machine.

Then there’s the Republican Case, as it’s come to be known, fished out of the Republican River in north central Kansas by Forrest Stewart and crew, and now awaiting restoration.

The Republican Case is without question the find of the year. And that’s not because of its rarity (it’s a circa 1922 65 HP Case), but because of the circumstances of its find.

Washed into the river in 1935, the Case was entombed for 70 years, relegated to becoming so much iron oxide.

Forrest had known of the engine for decades, and with his initial rescue mission fulfilled, he now faces the challenge of restoring the Case. And it will be a challenge, make no mistake. It’s going to take a unique combination of money, skill and perseverance to bring the old engine back to life.

But here’s an interesting question. Talking about the engine with Case buff Chady Atteberry, Chady wondered if the engine might be a bigger draw at shows left as it is, at least for a few years. After all, he reasons, you can always see a restored 65 HP Case, but how often will you get to see one that’s just been pulled from the river? Would fresh inductees to the hobby be more drawn to an original, rusty, freshly-rescued engine?

I’m not sure what the answer is, but we might find out this year if the Stewarts decide to exhibit the engine in its present state.

Richard Backus



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