How many people know that America’s first road race was a
contest between two steam tractions engines? Before steam and
tractor historian Jack Alexander alerted me to the fact, I
certainly didn’t. In the course of researching his recently
released book, The First American Farm Tractors, Developments
to 1917, Jack stumbled upon mention of the race and passed
what he had found along to me.
A contest of mechanical will between two steam traction engines
and their designers (each hoping to nab a $10,000 bounty offered by
the state of Wisconsin for the first ‘practical’
self-propelled vehicle), this historic and seemingly unknown event
occurred in 1878. Some corners of the automobile culture tout the
event as the first automobile race, but the contest was clearly
between machines with agricultural intent. Importantly, J.I. Case
may have had a hand in the race’s inspiration.
And while we’re asking questions, how many people knew Case
experimented with a 120 HP engine? Thanks to reader John Davidson,
we now have documents showing a 120 HP engine was contemplated by
Case. Whether any were built for commercial purposes seems
doubtful, but the possibility is certainly intriguing.
On the subject of Case, the J.I. Case Collectors’
Association is in the process of securing a rare straw-burning 12
HP return-flue Case, set to go on permanent display at the new
Racine Heritage Museum currently under construction in Racine,
Wis., Case’s hometown.
Finally, the collection of the legendary ‘Steam Engine
Joe’ Rynda, friend and confidant of men such as Leroy Blaker,
Frank Stebritz, F.J. Wood, T.H. Smith and Iron-Men Album
founder Elmer Ritzman, is to be auctioned in May. Rynda’s
unrivaled passion for steam drove him as he amassed a collection
that, at its height, likely included more than 50 engines.
Pondering the fate of Rynda’s collection, steam historian
and author Robert T. Rhode documented Rynda’s presence in
print. Scouring through the pages of the Iron-Men Album
(and IMA’s predecessor, the Farm Album) for articles
about Rynda and his engines, Rhode found dozens of references for
‘Steam Engine Joe.’
The result is a unique biography of Rynda, a snapshot of the man
and his passion for steam, and a look back at the early days of the
hobby that I’m sure readers will enjoy.