Old Bet

A 10 HP 1897 Geiser Peerless Model Q is Back in the Fold After Decades Spent in Static Display

| March/April 2004

My grandfather, Paul Burch, introduced me to steam engines as soon as I was old enough to walk. Grandfather Burch had a great love for steam, and before I was even old enough to read I was paging through his copies of Iron-Men Album and other steam magazines. Whenever I visited him in the summer, he and I'd go to the local steam shows. We always showed up early in the morning as the engineers were getting up steam, and our greeting was always the same the sweet smells of coal and wood smoke, grease, oil and steam. We had arrived in heaven.

As we walked around the shows, my grandfather would explain the individual parts of the engines to me, and we'd watch the sawmills, shingle mills, balers, separators and Baker fans for hours. They were all powered by steam engines, and for a child of 6 the spectacle was amazing. At one of those steam shows a kind engineer, Larry Schunke, agreed to give me a ride on his engine. Wow! A ride on a real steam engine.

On one of my birthdays, my grandparents gave me a Jensen model steam engine. What a beauty. To this day, it is hotly debated who got to run the engine more that day my grandfather or me. Either way, I was a proud steam engine owner, and I cleaned the engine after every use. I felt I was a member of the steam community, and I was certain that one day I would own a real steam traction engine. Experiences like those burned steam into my memory and firmly planted the steam bug in my soul.

Geiser history buff Mike Rohrer dug up this shipping receipt for Old Bet. According to the sheet, engine no. 5588 was part of shipment of engines and threshers shipped to W.R. Fagg (a Geiser branch agent) on Feb. 9, 1898. The list price was $1,290. Note that the top of the page has F.F. Landis' name on it. F.F. Landis and his brother, A.B. Landis, designed Geiser's engines, and Geiser used these sheets to determine royalties paid to Landis at the end of each year.


Grandfather Burch owned a Russell steam traction engine. He was the John Deere dealer in Hillsboro, Ohio, and he ran his Russell in local parades, using it as a rolling advertisement for his store. Concerned about the liability involved in owning and operating the Russell, he decided it was better to sell it than have a child get hurt on it. He sold it in the late 1950s, and I'm not sure if his engine ever made it to any of the steam shows. He passed away in 1992, and unfortunately he never wrote down the Russell's serial number and if he knew it he never told me. His Russell wouldn't be too hard to spot, however, as it was equipped with a Case smoke stack.

'Old Bet' as she looked when acquired by the Henry Ford Museum in the early 1920s. This picture was taken on the museum grounds, presumably after Old Bet's restoration.