One of the South's Great Steam Men Passes the Mantle of Case Allegiance to his Son

Tobacco Plant Bed Steamin' in Old Kentuck

| May/June 1987

  • Steam traction engine

  • Steam traction engine

204 East Melbourne Avenue Silver Spring, Maryland 20901

Thomas G. 'Tommy' Lee and his dad, Stewart W. Lee, flank the boiler of the 65 HP J. I. Case Company steam traction engine # 35635 at the end of a day steaming tobacco plant beds on April 19, 1961.

When Stewart W. Lee died in 1984 at the age of 81, the last word to leave his lips was 'Case.' He was paying final homage to the J. I. Case Company's steam engines, which were one of the great loves of his life and served him well in almost a half-century of work as a custom 'steamer' of tobacco plant beds in northwestern Kentucky.

'Steaming' was a practice started in this region of Kentucky during the early 1900s by tobacco growers who found it an ideal way to rid their plant beds of insects, molds, diseases and weed seeds all bitter enemies of young tobacco plants.

'Plant bed steaming was the last stand for steam engines on the American farm,' Thomas G. 'Tommy' Lee, a farmer in Mc Clean County and Stewart Lee's only son, explained as he discussed the basics of an occupation which kept him working shoulder-to-shoulder with his dad and with Case engines for more than four decades.

'When the hobby of collecting steam engines started, that's why collectors flocked to Kentucky's tobacco country,' Tommy noted. 'Steaming tobacco was the last job on the farm for the steam engine.'