My Very Own Engine

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80 HP Case owned by Rory and Marcia Esch.
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80 HP Case with the proud owners, Rory and Marcia Esch.
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My 80 horse Case at Fred Reckelberg's just coining off the sawmill.

7050A S. 27th Street Oak Creek, Wisconsin 53154

I guess you could say I’m just a youngster when it comes to
steam engines and old farm machinery. Actually, I have been
involved with this stuff for almost all of my twenty-six years of
existence. My grandfather, Carl Bruss, was a big influence for me
in the hobby. He had quite an extensive collection of gas engines,
as well as tractors. It was with him that I started going to
tractor and engine shows back in the Seventies. I was always
fascinated with the big gas tractors, and especially those big
fire-breathing steam engines. Over the next twenty years our family
became heavily involved in the hobby of collecting old tractors.
With the help of my grandfather, dad, and brother, we have restored
several tractors and engines with names such as Allis, Oliver,
Case, Silver King, Centaur and Haas, just to name a few. There was
only one problem I still had a very strong desire to own a steam
engine.

In 1992 I became good friends with another youngster in the
hobby by the name of Dean Meissner. Dean was much like myself, in
his mid-twenties with a great desire to own a steam engine. Dean
had the one thing that I didn’t have yet and that was the
knowledge of how to handle a steam engine. It was through Dean that
I was able to get to know some of the people involved with the
steam hobby, and had the opportunity to get behind the controls of
some of these monsters.

It was at one of the late summer shows of 1992 that Dean and I
were talking about steam engines, and he suggested that we should
pool our money together and buy an engine. My eyes immediately lit
up, and I said, ‘Sure.’ After all, this would be the
perfect opportunity for me. You can always use an extra set of
hands when running an engine, and best of all, the cost of buying
and restoring the engine would be split in half. As the winter of
1992-93 progressed, we kept our eyes and ears open for any leads on
engines.

Dean had remembered a 50 HP Case near Oshkosh, Wisconsin, that
belonged to a widow. Dean had looked at this engine prior to our
partnership idea, but at that time the lady was not ready to sell.
Both Dean and I had already agreed on the amount of money we would
spend on a steam engine. In February of 1993, we decided to take a
ride to see this engine perhaps she might be ready to sell. If
nothing else, I would have the chance to see another steam engine
that I had not yet seen. We spent a good part of the morning
looking over the engine. We both agreed the engine was in good
shape. It did, however, need some work, but it was nothing that
couldn’t be fixed.

We decided on a fair price for the engine and proceeded to the
house to talk with the owner. At this point we were not even sure
she would sell the engine. After talking with her for some time and
finding out some of the history of the engine, we asked the big
question. Would she be interested in selling it? She thought about
it for a short time and said, to my surprise, ‘I suppose.
It’s not doing anyone any good sitting in the shed.’ Within
a half hour we all agreed on a price and Dean and I became the
proud owners of a 50 Case.

20 HP Advance #14577 previously owned by Rory and Marcia Esch,
now owned by Fred and Paul Reckel berg and Larry Hamm.

We spent the next several months restoring the engine. During
the restoration, I became more familiar with the operation and care
of a steam engine. We finished the restoration just in time for our
local show in June of 1993. Over the next two years, we took the
engine to several shows throughout southeastern Wisconsin. It
seemed like every time we fired it, I would learn a little bit
more. I guess it’s true what they say, ‘You never stop
learning.’ Owning a steam engine gave me a chance to meet
several people involved with the steam engine end of the hobby,
that I would not have had the opportunity to meet previously.

After almost two years of owning a steam engine in a
partnership, I felt I was ready to have my very own engine. In the
fall of 1994, I approached Dean about the possibility of buying out
his half of the 50. He thought about my offer for a couple of weeks
and decided that he wasn’t interested in selling his half. With
that in mind, I made the decision to sell him my half of the engine
and began the search for my very own engine.

During these last two years, I had the opportunity to run a few
different engines. I ran engines with names like Nichols &
Shepard, Advance Rumely, and of course, many different Case
engines. It seemed that I couldn’t go to a steam show without
having a chance to run someone’s engine. I was like a kid in a
candy shop when someone would ask me to run his engine for him. I
can remember at one show I was running Jim Tesch’s 25-85
Nichols & Shepard and Jim Johnson from Dane, Wisconsin, came up
behind the engine and said to me, ‘You must be a pretty good
engineer if Jim Tesch trusts you running his engine.’ I looked
over at Jim Tesch, who at the time was standing next to Jim
Johnson, and he just winked at me and smiled. That will be a day I
will remember for a long time.

During the winter of 1994-95, I began my quest for my own
engine. I had my mind made up that I wanted a 65 Case. I began to
track down every lead given to me. I would get a call almost once a
week from my very good friend Chuck Sindelar. Chuck keeps in touch
with steam people all over the country, and he knew of a few 65s
around for sale. I think Chuck wanted me to have an engine almost
as bad as I did. It seemed like I spent most of my free time on the
phone tracking down these leads that Chuck would give me.

The engine lineup at Fred Reckel berg’s place in Luxemberg,
Wisconsin. Left to right, 20 HP Advance #14577 now owned by the
Reckelbergs and Larry Hamm; Fred’s 1898 13 HP Reeves, and my 80
HP Case and Fred’s 65 Case #35645.

My first taste of owning and restoring a steam engine was this
50 Case #30116 now owned by Dean Meissner.

In May of 1995, I went to a swap meet with a good friend of mine
by the name of Herb Wilke. Herb is another young ‘steam
head’ just like myself. He has the hopes of owning his own
engine someday. But for the time being, he is always around to lend
a hand to anyone who needs one. On our way home from the swap meet
we decided to stop and visit Ralph Hoggle, another steam engine
collector from Slinger, Wisconsin. I was interested in showing Herb
his large collection of steam engines.

While we were visiting with Ralph, he said, ‘I heard you
were looking for an engine? I don’t know of any 65s for sale,
but I do know of an 80 Case for sale in northern Wisconsin.’
This certainly perked my attention. But, I thought I would never be
able to afford an 80 Case. I took the information from Ralph and
headed home. The entire way home I was talking with Herb about the
possibility of owning an 80 Case. The idea seemed unthinkable.

That evening, when we returned home, I decided to give the owner
of the 80 a phone call. Not only did he have the Case for sale, but
he also had a 20 horse Advance for sale. He wanted to sell the two
engines as a pair, because he wanted the money to buy another steam
engine.

A few weeks had passed and I decided to take a ride to see these
two engines. After all, it would be a nice Sunday drive for my wife
Marcia and me. It was only about three hours northwest of where I
live. As it turns out, the engines were stored at the show grounds
in Edgar, Wisconsin. As we visited with the owner of the engines, I
looked them over with a fine tooth comb. He told me both engines
had current state inspections. He also told me the only reason he
was selling the pair was to purchase a different engine.

After a few hours of looking at his engines and all the other
engines stored permanently at the show grounds, he named his price
for the two engines. I tried to talk him into selling me just the
80 Case, but he wouldn’t separate the two engines. We left
Edgar that afternoon with mixed feelings. I sure wanted that Case
but I couldn’t afford both engines, nor did I have the space
for two engines.

About a week had gone by when the phone rang. It was Mr. Sommer
the man with the engines. He told me he would lower his asking
price for the pair. I told him I was only interested in the Case,
and if he didn’t want to separate the two, then I wasn’t
interested. My wife Marcia and I had talked about his lower offer
and thought the price sure didn’t sound bad for two engines. A
few hours later that same night, the phone rang again. It was Mr.
Sommer. This time he lowered his asking price again and was willing
to throw in a large Aultman & Taylor separator. I couldn’t
believe my ears. I told Mr. Sommer I wasn’t interested in the
separator, but if he would lower the price again I might be
interested. I think Marcia could have picked my jaw off the floor
when he agreed to lower the price again. I couldn’t believe it.
Before I would agree on the price, I wanted to see the engines one
more time. I took a day off of work and chased up to see the two
engines again. We agreed on a price and I became the owner of not
one, but two engines.

My next concern was to figure out how to get them both home. I
made a call to the most sought-after steam engine hauler in the
state of Wisconsin, Fred Reckelberg. Fred agreed to haul the
engines home for me. He decided it would be easier for him to haul
both engines to his place and then a few days later he would haul
them home for me. While I was on the phone with Fred discussing
trucking details, I mentioned to him that I really didn’t want
the Advance. I had every intention of selling it as soon as I could
find someone interested. My main interest was just the Case. Fred
quickly questioned what I was going to ask for the Advance. I had
never really thought about it. Fred told me he would call me back
in a couple days to finalize the hauling plans and I should have a
price in mind for the Advance. He knew of a couple of guys that
might be interested in buying it as a group. Marcia and I agreed on
what we thought would be a fair asking price. Fred called back a
few days later and I told him my price. He said he would get back
to me in a few days, but in the meantime, he would haul both
engines back to his place.

Fred called me the following weekend to tell me both engines
were safely hauled to his place. He told me if I wanted to, I could
come up to try out the engines on his sawmill. He didn’t have
to ask me twice. Marcia and I made plans for the following weekend
to go to the Reckelbergs and run our very own engines. We had a
wonderful time! We only fired the 80 because that was the engine I
was mainly interested in. We put it on the sawmill for most of the
afternoon.

While the 80 was on the sawmill, we noticed a major problem. The
governor wasn’t responding like it should. We took the engine
off the sawmill and parked it in line with Fred’s engines. We
spent the rest of the day visiting. Fred told me the group of guys
interested in the Advance agreed on the price. When he delivered
the 80 Case during the week, he would straighten up with me for the
Advance. The group purchasing the Advance was Fred, his son Paul
and Larry Hamm. I couldn’t believe I had sold the Advance
before I hauled it home!

Now I could direct all of my attention towards the Case. I
wanted to have my engine ready for the Sussex show at the end of
August. Before I could take it to a show, I needed to have the
engine inspected, and to get the governor working properly. All of
this work took me right up until show time, but we made it. I took
my very own engine to the Sussex Show. I was like a peacock with a
new set of tail feathers. I ran the engine on the sawmill Saturday
morning, but I still wasn’t happy with the governor. With the
help of Paul and Mike Garity, we figured out that the pulley on the
governor was too small, causing the governor to spin too fast. I
had already made plans to take the engine to Edgerton, Wisconsin,
the following weekend for the Rock River Threshere Paul Garity
offered to make me a new pulley, the right size, at work during the
week and bring it to the show the following weekend. Paul is an
expert machinist whose talent is easy to see in his excellent
working scale model of a 110 Case. Just as Paul said, he showed up
Friday morning with the pulley. After we put the new pulley on the
governor, we proceeded to the sawmill. To my amazement, it was a
night and day difference. The governor responded to the first cut
almost before the log hit the saw. Before putting the engine away
for the winter, we took it to one more show at Union Grove,
Wisconsin.

I have big plans for the 80 this winter. I would like to find
lugs for the rear drivers and to do a complete restoration. I would
really like to find out what year this engine was built.
Unfortunately, the serial number tag is missing and all I have to
work with is the boiler number. Mr. Sommer claims the engine is a
1923 model, but I would like to confirm this somehow. I am told the
later 80s were fitted with a Gould balanced valve, and my engine
does have a Gould valve. If anyone has information on this, I would
really appreciate it.

I would like to thank everyone who helped make this dream of
mine come true. Chuck, Herb, Ralph, Phil, Fred, Dean, the Garitys
my parents, and especially my companion in life, my wife Marcia.
Marcia has been absolutely wonderful through all of this. She was
always willing to go on my wild goose chases to look at engines.
Now, she is always willing to go to the shows with me. She actually
enjoys helping out on the engine. She has even taken on the job of
starting the fire in the morning while I grease and oil everything.
I guess you could say that we are the proud owners of our very own
engine!

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