CENTURY OF PROGRESS
Regular contributor Larry Mix, 2075 Coburn
Road, Hastings, MI 49058 (firstname.lastname@example.org) chimes in again
this issue, sending along some great photos. Larry writes:
Several people have asked me to send in more pictures for
Steam Traction, so here you go.
Photo #1 is a picture of my dad, Lynn Mix, who passed away in
1993. This was taken at the Michigan Steam Engine and Thresher Club
Show in 1965. The engine is our 19 HP Port Huron, engine no. 7991,
belted up to our Perkins shingle mill. I’m running the engine;
I have no idea who the man at the left is. I still have the shingle
mill, but I don’t know who owns the Port Huron now.
Photo #2 is my dad on our 19 HP Baker, engine no. 1520. The
photo was taken in the late 1970s, and the Baker is now owned by
The next two photos were taken at the Century of Progress
exhibit at Michigan State University in Lansing, Mich., in 1955. I
was there, but at four years of age I don’t remember much about
it. I asked several people to help me identify the engines and
people in the pictures, but I haven’t had much luck. However,
Dick Watson has helped me with some information.
Photo #3 is Case engine no. 1 from the Smithsonian
Institution’s collection. Hard to believe that Case no. 1 was
there, but my good friend Dick Watson was at the exhibit and he
says it was indeed Case no. 1.
Photo #4 is an Avery under mount. I don’t know whose engine
it is or who is running it, but maybe somebody can identify it.
Photo #5 is an old post card that was in my dad’s
collection, and when he passed away my mother gave it to me. It is
an Advance engine, but I have no other information.
Photo #6 is a picture of an Advance compound engine, most likely
a 16 HP. I have no information on this picture, either.
I don’t have any information on Photo #7, either. The first
engine is an Advance, but I don’t know what the second engine
is. I’ll leave that up to the experts.
I was told the engines for the Century of Progress exhibit in
Lansing, Mich., in 1955 were hauled in from out of state. Ken Lewis
of Jackson, Mich., said there were some very unusual and different
engines there, and Dick Watson told me that Big Mac McMillan from
Kansas was there and climbed the high ramp. If anyone out there was
at the event or has pictures of the Century of Progress exhibit,
send them into Steam Traction magazine and share them with
the rest of us.
Jim Hinterweger, 364 N. 4th St., New Strawn,
KS, 66839; (620) 364-5485 (e-mail: email@example.com), writes in with
comments on the September/October issue. Jim writes:
Very nice back cover article on the Turning 1/4-scale Case
engine. I wonder how many of these little engines are out there?
Aaron Terning once told me he thought they had built over 100 of
the 1/4- and 1/2-scale engines. I would be interested in hearing
from 1/4-scale engine owners. It would be fun to share experiences
and operating tips.
John Brewington, 5613 Highway 6167, Imperial,
MO 63052, was the first person to correctly identify John
Spalding’s ‘mystery’ engine in the September/October
issue. John phoned in as soon as he got his issue in the mail, and
the engine was of course a Birdsall steam traction engine, most
likely an 18 HP as that was the company’s most popular
Nobody, however, correctly identified either the automobile or
the thresher in the photograph. To be fair, we don’t know what
the thresher is, and we were hoping a sharp-eyed reader would solve
that part of the mystery. The car we’re sure about; it’s a
1910 Buick Model F Touring. As the first person to identify the
Birdsall, John gets a copy of Steam Engine Guide by
Professor P.S. Rose.
Bob Carlson’s e-mail answer to the mystery
photo arrived just minutes after John’s phone call. Bob
didn’t have any information on the auto or the thresher, but he
did have some thoughts on the picture. Bob writes:
I just got my magazine today, and I hope I am first and not
second this time. The engine is a Birdsall. I am not sure of the
horsepower, but all of the ones I have seen have shaft drive, as in
the picture. However, this Birdsall has solid drive wheels, while
the few I have seen had open wheels. Which was more common? I
don’t know the make of the thresher. The car has New York
plates on it, so the picture was probably taken near where Birdsall
was made. I think the car dates from 1907 to 1912 – note the gas
lights, right hand drive and costly leather seats.
Regular contributor Thomas Stebritz, 1516 E.
Commercial St., Algona, CA 50511, writes in this issue, continuing
the discussion on the undermounted Aultman engines. Thomas
I am offering this letter in response to Alan New’s letter
in the September/October issue and his views about the undermounted
Mr. New’s method of judging the proportions of the engine in
the picture is in serious error. The under-mounted Star pictured in
the January/February 2003 issue of SteamTraction
could in no way be a 16 HP; the 16 HP was 95 inches wide while the
35 HP was 135 inches wide. The 16 HP had a 30-inch boiler shell
while the 35 HP had a 40-inch diameter shell (and other
specifications larger in proportions). Mr. New makes the remarks
that the 22 HP was perhaps the largest Star undermounted made; that
was just a guess – his.
The Aultman Co. also built a monstrosity called the Double
Mogul. It was a 25 HP undermounted double cylinder, firebox
return-flue engine. A real doosey. I gave a picture like the one
I’ve included to Gary Yaeger. I don’t have the specs on
this one, but it still wouldn’t be larger than the 35 HP
Actually, I take the last line back. Rechecking, I found the
specs for the Double Mogul return flue and the shell was 36 inches
in diameter. For some reason the spec sheet doesn’t give the
cylinder diameters for the Double Mogul. All of this of course
simmers back to the largest engine, which was the 35 HP
undermounted Double Star. Mr. New should compare the 63-inch by
18-inch drivers of the 16 HP to the 72-inch by 24-inch drivers on
the 35 HP.
Stebritz Photo #1: ‘Table of Dimensions of Single and Double
Engines’ from a 1907 C. Aultman catalog.
TABLE OF DIMENSIONS OF SINGLE AND DOUBLE ENGINES
Rated Horse Power
Name of engine
STYLE OF ENGINE
Revolutions per Minute
Heating surface, square Feet
Diameter of Shell
Distance Between Axles, Inches
Extreme Width of Engine Inches
Grate Area, Square Feet
Editor’s note: This past summer, while attending a
family reunion in upstate New York, I was showing my father’s
cousin, Dick Backus, 244 Woods Hole Road,
Falmouth, MA 02540, a copy of Steam Traction. The magazine’s
subject matter brought back some great memories for Dick, one of
which he sent to me upon my return to Kansas.
It was a surprise for me to learn of Dick’s experiences in
the field, as I had never heard him mention them before. Given the
era of his youth, the 1920s, I shouldn’t have been surprised,
and it was with great interest that I read his reminiscences of
threshing, reminiscences I believe readers will enjoy, as well. For
the record, I was named after Dick, whose full name is Richard
Haven Backus. Dick writes:
The 1860 edition of the Historical and Statistical Gazetteer
of New York State, a copy of which was a Christmas present
from my father about a century later, says that in Monroe County,
‘Until within a few years past, wheat has been the great
staple.’ Amiel Miller’s field that I saw harvested about
1927 when I was 5 or 6 must have been one of the last in our part
of the county.
The field was a flat one, just on the edge of the steep oak and
hickory-clad ridges and gullies that stood above Iron dequoit Bay.
Indeed, to get to it one had to drive team and wagon right along
the fence at the south edge of the farm where the ancient stream
bed to be crossed incised the land the least. I went to the sunny
field with Mr. Miller’s hired man, Martin, where we loaded the
wagon with sheaves and hauled them back to the barn.
Then one day not long after, the great high-stacked,
high-wheeled steam tractor crept down Bay Road pulling the
irregular, intricate, wheeled box that was the threshing machine.
This dragon, which brought mix photo #7: Yet another post card
photo, with yet another Advance. The second engine is unidentified.
the threshing rig and turned the mechanism once there, was set up
at a safe distance in the pasture south of the barn. I went over
with my grand-father Haven.
The high wagon doors of the barn had been rolled back and the
threshing machine pushed in onto the threshing floor. The opposing
door, between threshing floor and barnyard, was also open, and the
flue that was to discharge chaff and straw extended. The belt
between tractor and thresher pulleys was a 10-inch wide, 50-foot
loop that sagged in the middle to within a few inches of the
ground. It had a wonderful vivacity when everything was set in
I can’t seem to hear the clatter nor picture very well our
neighbors up in the loft throwing the unthreshed wheat into the
machine’s frightening mouth, but down where I was on the floor
at the side of the rig George Vosburgh was nicely sliding the
cylindrical, wooden peck-measure into a certain cavity just as he
took out its grain-filled twin, not letting a kernel escape. He
dumped the vessel into a bin in the granary and added a mark with
the stub of a pencil on the casing of the granary door. He was
older than the others, and the favored job even let him dress a
little nattily. Was that the reason for his smug look, or was he,
like I, simply delighted with the beautiful stuff that was heaping
up slowly in the bin? Croesus-like, I ran my arms into it up to the
elbows again and again and let the stuff fall back in golden
In the meantime, my friend Martin was out in the barnyard atop
the straw heap with a pitchfork keeping things even. He stood just
to one side of the dirty blizzard that was the other product of the
operation, a red bandanna tied over his nose and mouth. He was
KITTEN TOW-PASS BOILER
Last issue we were amazed to receive a photograph of a Kitten
steam traction engine with a two-pass boiler from steam historian
and author Robert T. Rhode. Regular readers will
remember that we first discussed the odd engine in the July/August
2003 issue after receiving a copy of an 1892 ad for an
‘Improved Traction Engine’ sent in by reader
JerryKitten. The 1892 ad, which
showed a Kitten unlike any we’d ever seen, discussed the
engine’s mechanical attributes, including the engine’s
We weren’t sure if F. Kitten’s Machine Works, Ferdinand,
Ind., had ever actually built any of these engines, and we noted as
much in the original article. Then along came Bob’s photograph,
proving without doubt that at least one of these engines was made
and put to work and it doesn’t end there.
After seeing Bob’s photo last issue, contributor
John Spalding sent in yet another picture of this
curious Kitten, and amazingly it’s the exact engine as shown in
Bob’s photo, but caught in the clear (in Bob’s photo the
Kitten was popping off, obscuring the engine slightly). Comparing
the two photos shows the same engineer, the same engine and at the
BAKER HIGH-PRESSURE STEAMER
Jim Mead,4868 Route 38, Oswego, NY 1387, sends
in a really interesting reprint of an A.D. Baker promotional piece
showing Baker’s high-pressure steam tractor as built in the
mid-1920s. Jim writes:
I found an original of this on eBay a few years back and had
some good copies made; I thought you might like one.
Good job with the magazine. I think New York needs to look at
what Ohio is doing, but I don’t dare say much – good boilers
sitting, bad boilers in service; government at its worst.
THE FIRST STEAM TRACTION ENGINE?
Regular contributor Steve Davis, 654 Route 20,
West Winfield, NY 13491 (sdavis9953I@aol.com) recently came across
an interesting article in an old issue of The American
Thresherman, prompting him to write in with a question. Steve
I was just now looking through some old issues of The
American Thresherman, and a short blurb in the June 1923 issue
caught my eye. It was titled ‘The First Traction Engine,’
and it contained the following information:
‘Levi Palmer, a former thresher man who now lives in West
Madison, intends to write several letters for our readers on the
first steam traction engine, invented by James Baker of Madison
some 60 odd years ago. Mr. Baker was a son-in-law of Dexter Curtis,
famous in the early days as a horse pad manufacturer. After working
out his own designs Mr. Baker went to the old Pitts company and
developed that firm’s first engine.’
Does anyone have more information or know more about Mr.
Ed Gladkowski, 1128 W. Gardner St., Houston, TX
77009, writes in with some information on steam traction engines
used in the circus. Ed writes:
In the May/June 2003 issue of SteamTraction
you were kind enough to publish my letter in which I mentioned
being curious about the use of traction engines in circuses. I
recently come across some references that might interest readers
who are also curious about the subject.
First, according to ACentury of Traction
Engines, by W. J. Hughes (printed by Percival Marshall &
Co. Ltd. in England, 1959), Jim Myer’s Great American Circus
used a Bray’s traction engine (an early English engine) to pull
its bandwagon when it toured Folkstone, England, in 1859. Mr.
Hughes stated that this became the world’s first showman’s
Second, an article in the June 1900 issue of AmericanElectrician tells of two ‘complete portable electric
lighting plants’ built for Barnum & Bailey’s circus.
Wagon-mounted, they are interesting even if they weren’t
self-propelled. The boiler was apparently nickel-plated and could
raise 100 pounds of pressure in six minutes from cold. I suspect it
was adapted from a fire engine boiler.
The other intriguing point is the engine driving the dynamo. It
looks to be an enclosed upright, about 20 HP, driving a 15 kilowatt
generator. The article says the unit is ‘in some respects
similar to the Buffalo Bill plants which are now so well-known,
especially in the matter of the prime movers, which are the
familiar Case engines, built by the New Britain Machine Co., New
Britain, Conn.’ Now, that’s got me scratching my head!
It’s interesting to note the different way steam was used in
England and the U.S. Our ‘showmen’ used standalone light
plants while theirs usually had a dynamo mounted on the traction
engine smoke box itself (see Steam Traction, July/August
2003, page 7), and we usually, though not always, plowed by direct
traction while the English used cable-drawn plows (see Steam
Traction, July/August 2003, page 5). Just goes to show
different conditions give rise to different solutions, I guess.
‘American Steam Wagon’ in the July/August 2003 issue
sure was interesting. It is good to know the history of small and
relatively unknown companies is being recorded. As always, many
thanks to you and all the contributors who make Steam
Traction such a great magazine.
If you have a comment, question or reminiscence for Past
and Present, please send it along to: Steam Traction, 1503 S.W.
42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609-1265