Nichols and Shepard Little Engine

Northern Missouri man builds Nichols and Shepard little engine from a blueprint in his head


| November/December 1954



John T. Offutt

The engine John T. Offutt built.

A remarkable little engine that has the folks in northern Missouri from the big ranch farmer down to the barefoot street urchin tagging after it has been built by John T. Offutt, self-taught machinist and inventor. The midget engine can be seen on many festive occasions pulling a string of small wagons filled with squealing youngsters through the streets of some town or the dusty grounds of a county fair.

The sturdy little engine was modeled after the old Nichols and Shepard steam engine. Mr. Offutt chose that particular model because as he put it. "I'd been carrying the blueprint of that engine around in my head for years with the idea that some day I'd build me a little engine. Of course there are no blueprints for that model now."

Mr. Offutt worked for sixteen years in the Nichols and Shepard shop and had an almost photo static image in his mind. He made no patterns of the parts but simply cut them out and welded them together. Strangely enough, they were accurate and in proportion.

As a boy Mr. Offutt had a fear of engines that was something of a phobia. Said he, "Many times as a child I have run home and hid from the big threshing machine engines that I saw coming down the road toward me. To me they were giant dragons belching fire and smoke. It was a terrible fear that I couldn't seem to overcome. A brother-in-law and a friend finally decided that something should be done to help me overcome such a fear. With great patience they taught me to understand the steam engine and how to operate it. Gradually intense fear turned into a deep love that has never left me. I got so I'd listen for the trains as they whistled through our little town. They meant as much to me as the greetings of an old friend."

Truthfully speaking, Mr. Offutt had no tools with which to build a steam engine. He possessed only a "two-bit" pair of pliers to start his work but that was the way he worked. He set out to find material and found most of it in junk heaps or scrap piles of friends willing to share with him. Many farmers in the area brought in odd wheels, gears and rods to give to the well-known inventor. They were certain that at some time or another he would have use for them. In his garage were gears from a mowing machine, wheels from a cider press, old phonograph mechanisms and a half dozen other assorted odds and ends taken from discarded machinery that were brought in just in case they might be needed in making the powerful little engine.

A friend and expert machinist, Robert Hauetter, gave the inventor permission to use a corner of his machine shop to make the engine. And, with that permission went the permission to use any tools he needed also. The inventor traded a repaired watch worth twenty-five dollars for the use of an electric welder that he borrowed from another friend.