'Old Nancy' is a 1905 Case steam traction engine which has hosts of admirers on the campus of Auburn University in Alabama.
Her story is rather remarkable for an engine that started working 76 years ago, was retired, and then became a beloved fixture in the life of an institution of higher learning.
She is Case engine #15035, rated at 12 HP, an 8 x 10' cylinder simple traction engine that has been completely restored by Auburn engineering students. She gets deluxe treatment that makes Auburn seem like 'engine heaven'.
'Old Nancy' was purchased by J. W. Dupree in 1906 for use in his sawmill in Lee County, Georgia. Dupree had seen a Case on display at the St. Louis Exposition in 1905 and felt it would make a good stationary power source. The engine arrived in Opelika by train and was driven to the Dupree home, south of Beauregard.
She got her name fast. Dupree named her in honor of the steam railway locomotive, 'Nancy Hanks' which operated on the line between Atlanta and Columbus, Ga.
She served two generations, providing power for the sawmill. In 1954, the engine was driven in the Opelika Centennial parade. On July 4 in 1956 and 1957, 'Nancy' was operated as part of the Independence Day celebrations.
After that it was parked on the lawn of the Whatley farm, which was now operated by Mr. and Mrs. Jimmy L. Whatley. Mrs. Whatley was Dupree's daughter.
On May 23, 1973, Dr. Eugene W. Rochester, a member of the Auburn Agricultural Engineering Department, wrote a letter to family members, suggesting that 'Nancy' be placed at the university. The family was agreeable. On January 3, 1974, an agreement was signed between Auburn and the engine's owners, Mrs. A. C. Whatley, and her children, J. Arthur Whatley, Lillie B. Gowder and Oleta W. Parker.
The agreement specified that the engine was to remain on loan to Auburn and the Lee County Historical Society at least 25 years, and that its exterior appearance was to be restored. But then the move started to restore the 'innards' as well. The boiler was in urgent need of repair; it was necessary to find pressure gauges to fit the engine.
Students from Auburn University in Alabama are shown with their beloved project, 'Old Nancy', a 1905 Case steam traction engine. 'Old Nancy' now has the distinction of being designated a significant landmark by the Alabama Historical Commission.
Students went at it with vigor, under Dr. Rochester's direction. The boiler was repaired by a Birmingham boiler works, and the boiler came back to Auburn in January, 1976. J. Arthur Whatley acquired a working pressure gauge from an old steam locomotive in Oregon.
After the major repairs were accomplished, 'Nancy' was given a new coat of paint and the engine was put in working order. She officially came out of retirement in February, 1978, when the first public demonstration was given at Auburn University's annual Engineering Day activities.
She has one addition that enables her to be fully mobile without tearing up turf or roads a set of tank cleats donated by the National Guard. Most engineering students have taken part in the restoration, and the luckiest ones are the ones who serve as crew or are given a free ride.
Working with Dr. Rochester in guidance of the restorers have been Dr. Roy Young and Prof. Walter Clement. Financial assistance for the project has been received from J. I. Case, Kelley Manufacturing Co., the Auburn engineering faculty and staff, and students.
The photo was taken in 1944 and shows original owner, J. W. Dupree with his engine in Lee County. The above pictures of 'Old Nancy' at different stages of her life.
'Old Nancy' has a further distinction. She was designated a significant landmark, and placed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage, by the Alabama Historical Commission in 1978. Not many engines get an honor like that.
The Alabama Section of the American Society of Agricultural Engineers has also cooperated in the restoration enterprise. The student branch of the ASAE was awarded first runner-up award for its program, highlighted by the restoration, at the annual Farm and Industrial Equipment Institute's Trophies Competition in Logan, Utah, in 1978.
We are indebted to David O. Whitten, managing editor of the Wall Street Review of Books, for telling us about 'Nancy', and Prof. Rochester for furnishing further information and photos.