Steam Engines & Threshing Machines
James R. Vouk, 703 County Road 2 S., St. Stephen, MN 56375, sends in some stunning period photos from steam's glory days. James writes:
I thought readers would enjoy these historic photos I acquired during the past year. The first three came from a friend who acquired them from my great aunt, Clara Vouk, before she died, and the fourth one my dad, Bill Vouk, had for many years. They all feature my grandfather Frank Vouk's first steamer, a 20 HP Case.
On the back of the original of Photo #1 is written, 'Frank Vouk's new steam engine.' I believe the year to be 1899, and I also believe that is my grandpa sitting on the tongue of the separator. Photo #2 shows this same rig in action, with grandpa standing by the front of the engine. The year and location are unknown. Photo #3 shows this engine running a sawmill, along with another engine of unknown make. Again, the year and location are unknown. Photo #4 shows the same engine in 1906 with a different, 36-inch Minneapolis separator, with grandpa again standing by the front wheel. Grandpa used this engine until 1917 when he bought an 80 HP Case. The Case was featured in Iron-Men Album in the November/ December 1997 issue in an article entitled '80 Years with an 80 Case,' by yours truly. In that article, however, I mistakenly referred to the engine in these photos as a 60 HP.
Gary G. Bahre, P.O. Box 40, Sparta, IL 62286 (email@example.com), writes in with some information on a Harrison Jumbo. Gary writes:
The photo shows a 1913 20 HP Jumbo, serial no. 2150, built by Harrison Machine Works, Belleville, Ill. Harrison built a full line of steam engines, separators, balers and other equipment. The Jumbo belongs to Larry Gaertner and family of Walsh, Ill, and Larry shows the Jumbo every year at the American Thresherman Association Show in Pinckneyville, Ill. Larry is the association chaplain and quite involved with the ATA.
Jumbo engines came from the factory with a two-speed device. Slow speed gave about 2- miles per hour and fast speed gave 4 to 5 miles per hour. The engine has a bore and stroke of 8- inches by 11- inches, with rated power at 235 rpm. The rear wheels are 78 inches high.
Alan New, 5389 W. 900 S., Pendleton, IN 46064, admits to a break through, writing in for the first time after a life of reading Iron-Men Album and now Steam Traction. Alan writes:
This is the first time I've written in, though I've been reading this magazine all my life. Those of you who know me are probably surprised that I'm writing. For those of you who don't, I'll make a quick introduction.
My dad started collecting traction engines in 1948. I was running them with his help by 1960 and 1961, and I bought my first engine around 1969. Over the years, between my dad, Al, myself, my brother, Jim, my son, Andy, and my cousin, Mark, we've owned around 46 steam farm engines, most of them traction engines but some portable and skid engines. We have seven on the place right now. We've also had around 100 antique tractors and about 500 gas engines.
I love looking at, and identifying, the pictures that are sent in. I'm not an expert, but I've been around a lot of engines and read about a lot more. My son and I usually have a contest as to who can first identify engine pictures correctly. We've both misidentified engines and been corrected by the other. I felt bad for my friend Larry Creed when he sent in his last batch of pictures and misidentified one, himself. A friend of mine tentatively identified it correctly in the next issue. I don't recall anyone identifying the other picture Larry sent in that time (Iron-Men Album, March/April 2002, page 3), at least not correctly. So here goes, Larry; both pictures were of Robinson's. One was a nearly new, late model engine, the other was an 1880s era engine. Keep sending your pictures in, Larry I like them.
As to John Spalding's pictures in the January 2003 Steam Traction, I didn't write in then because dad was in contact with Mr. Spalding. I told dad what the engines were (he knew most of them, too), and he told John. I actually misidentified one of them at first, and immediately had dad call Mr. Spalding back with correct identification. Anyway, from that set of pictures, Photo #1 one was a center crank, tandem-compound Case of about 1895. I won't presume to tell what size, because even though I've run a center crank, return flue Case, I haven't been around that many center cranks, and pictures can be deceiving. If you look close though, there are two separators in the picture. Photo #2 is a brand new McNamar at the factory, ready for a coat of paint. Again, it looks like about an 8 HP, but I won't say for sure. Photo #3 is an A.W. Stevens. As to Photo #4,1 must refer to Thomas Stebritz's letter in the May/June 2003 issue.
I'm very flattered he thinks it's a jewel of a picture, because it's one of my favorite engines, but it is no mystery. It is a 16 HP undermounted Star built (probably) in 1905, with 5-foot 3-inch drive wheels, not the 6-foot wheels indicated by Mr. Stebritz. The men standing beside the engine would be big men if the wheels were that size. The mystery to me is the existence of a 1908 Aultman catalog showing a 35 HP engine of the dimensions described. I do know that not all information about the Aultman Co. is correct. Lorin Bixler, in his history of Cornelius Aultman, stated he did not think any engines were built after mid-1905, and was told by surviving relatives that no catalogs were issued by the reorganized Aultman Engine & Thresher Co., yet I have a 1906 Aultman Engine & Thresher Co. catalog.
I've yet to talk to Dan Gregor, owner of one of the three known surviving undermounted Stars about this. He's done a lot more research than I have, but as far as I know the largest Double Star was 22 HP, and the largest Double Mogul was 25 HP.
As to the mysterious smoke box seam, it's not. I looked at my own 20 HP undermounted Star, one of the three known survivors, and it has the same thing. Many lap seam engines have the seam reduced to one row of rivets in the smoke box depending on where the pedestal is mounted. My 16 HP Heilman has the pedestal at the back of the smoke box. Its smoke box is reduced to one row of rivets, and even they are reduced to double spacing ahead of the pedestal where there is no stress. My Double Star's smoke box hangs out in mid-air and supports nothing but the stack, so it only has one row of rivets. If Mr. Stebritz really has a 1908 Aultman catalog showing a 35 HP engine, I apologize for questioning him and would love to see it.
As to the last issue's pictures (July/August 2003), the first one is not a Case. As I said, I've run a return flue, center crank Case. My son Andy correctly identified it as a return flue Ames. The second picture is a return flue, tandem-compound Gaar-Scott. The third picture is an Aultman Phoenix.
Regular steamer Thomas Downing, R.R. 3, Box 149A, Ellwood City, PA 16117, has some thoughts on Dwight Seman's article on making steamed apple butter [Steam Traction, July/August 2003, page 22). Thomas writes:
I was just reading over some of the material in the last issue and thought I'd reply concerning the apple butter article. Several groups here in western Pennsylvania have done lot of steam cooked apple butter, and several churches, granges and others still do it over open fires in copper kettles. I would take some exception to Dwight's comment that copper kettles are hard to find. They are a lot like steam engines you just have to know where to look. There are four in the back cellar at our local church.
In answer to another comment, it is very possible to eliminate the coil and make apple butter in a jacketed steam kettle. Stainless steel kettles are best, but a bit pricey unless you have good connections. Several are in captivity here in the area and serving well. We have also used an aluminum kettle, but the acidity of the apples and cider roughens the inside surface a good deal and we need to quit using it.
The first stainless kettle I knew of was owned and used by Charlie McMurray, his wife, Clare, and family. I think I heard it said that their eldest son, Gail, acquired it in the Ashtabula, Ohio, area where he was a teacher, probably when a school cafeteria kitchen was redone. They made apple butter most every year and had enough for all the helpers and the family. That kettle is still in service with their son, Irvin, and Harold Blair up at Petrolia, Pa. Harold's half-scale Case has provided the steam lately. They also used the kettle to make a batch of beef stew at least once. The crop of wheat planted for the threshing did extra well and we only used about half for our show. Monday morning everyone was invited to Schott's place to do the rest. I was helping load bundles in the field on a hot and cloudless August day and don't think I was ever so thirsty in my life. I still have a picture of 15 or so of us eating stew for lunch off the smooth bed of a hay wagon with a big vase of gladiolas in the middle.
As far as recipes go, we have quite a difference of opinion in different places. The only article I have seen in print previously was from Canada, where they used all cider with pumpkin flesh as filler, and they sweetened it with soda. Yes, bicarbonate or baking soda. That would kill the acid and so do some sweetening, but the sodium content would be horrendous by modern standards.
Locally, we always made it with just snits of apples and cooked them down like applesauce and then kept cooking. We used some cider to get started, but normally only a couple gallons in a 20-gallon kettle. Some sugar or cinnamon can be used depending on the individual taste. At our show we always make some for diabetics, taking it off before the sugar is added.
My grandma (who was born in 1890) and her mother were considered local experts when I was young, and always preferred Baldwin apples for theirs. They also considered boiled-down cider a staple material in the pantry or fruit cellar. I'm pretty sure they reduced it more than half, as it looked a lot like molasses, but not as sweet tasting. Grandma always added some of this, maybe a quart, to the kettle once it was cooked down a bit. The Saegertown folks use this and call it 'apple gel.' It is always made ahead of time, as far as I know. I'm certain grandma's was. I'm not sure what all she used it in as far as cooking goes, but I always saw it in her fruit cellar in pint jars. In Dwight's article they apparently used it just when cooked.
My aunt, Grace, had a Great Northern Spy apple tree in the yard and used them for apple butter and for pies. She often made hers in a granite roast pan in the oven. She said it wasn't quite as good, but better than none and less work.
One apple you must stay away from is Red Delicious, which some of us do not consider a real apple at all. The reason for staying away from Red Delicious is they will not cook up and your apple butter will be lumpy. We have even pressed the lumps through a sieve, and you still get a stringy residue.
I was wondering about Dwight's comment that they ground the apple snits. At our church the last few years they have just taken the cores and stems off and cooked the snits to sauce and put them through a food processor and started outside the next morning with sauce. They get more material that way and less waste, I suppose. The bottom of the core must be removed first because the remains of the blossoms will go through the screen of the processor and make black specks in the sauce.
We have for some years peeled and prepared for three evenings before our fall show. We also used the hand mechanical peelers for some time, and then someone came up with a commercial machine. It does two at once and will do a bushel in 10 minutes or less. It really saves time. It also takes out the cores and all we have to do is trim irregulars and cut up the pieces.
By the way, talking of steam cookery, how many folks have a 'Conservo' steam coldpacker canner? I have two of them, a single and a double, and there were two doubles at our spring show flea market. By double I mean that it can hold two layers of quart mason jars one above the other. Grandma always liked it because it would do 18 quarts on one stove burner.
Warwick and Lincoln Sell, P.O. Box 1448, Winmalee, NSW 2777, Australia, send in a picture of their Buffalo-Pitts and some questions. Warwick writes:
As a subscriber, I noticed that you asked for articles for your magazine. My son and I live in the Blue Mountains near Sydney in Australia. We own two Buffalo-Pitts traction engines and one portable, keeping them on our farm in the Capertee Valley, which is on the western side of the Blue Mountains. We steam both traction engines regularly, and they draw a great deal of attention from passers-by who stop to watch these unusual machines. The local school buses pause to show the kids these beauties in action.
The two-cylinder 14 HP (no. 10440) came to Melbourne in 1912, then spent its working life (until the early 1960s) in country Victoria, at one stage spending some time pumping water from the Murray River for irrigation. The engine was restored in the late 1970s and then passed through two owners before we bought it at auction in 1996. The other engine is a single-cylinder 13 HP (no. 7077) made in 1908. This engine spent its working life in country New South Wales and Victoria and had at least eight owners one being the Kelly family (related to the notorious 'bushranger' Ned Kelly, Australia's version of Billy the Kid). The single-cylinder was restored in the early 1990s and we purchased it in 2000.
The photo shows the two-cylinder steaming in the Capertee Valley. This photo was featured on the cover of the Australian Steam Power magazine in December 1999.
Something puzzles me, however. Why do you hardly ever see articles or information published about Buffalo-Pitts engines? Perhaps you could give us an explanation? Also, is there an association for Buffalo-Pitts owners in the U.S.? Regards to you and your excellent magazine.
Geoffrey Stein, senior historian at the New York State Museum, 3021 Cultural Education Center, Albany, NY 12230 (firstname.lastname@example.org), writes in with comments on Steve Davis' article on Birdsall steamers, adding a little more information to the pool. Geoffrey writes:
Thanks for the fine Birdsall article in the latest Steam Traction. I was pleased to see, as well, all the interesting illustrations. The 1895 photo is fascinating, and the bus in the 1995 photo looks familiar.
To add to your database: Checking the file for the engine here at the New York State Museum, I see an auction advertisement for the dispersal of the Sigmon Museum in Newton, N.C., in February of this year. Among the items was a Birdsall portable engine. The photograph is too fuzzy for me to read whether the smoke box door is labeled Auburn or Newark.
In October 2002, I received a picture from Paul Lee in Poway, Calif. He said a Birdsall traction engine 'has been seen operating at the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion in Rollag, Minn., ... many times.' The photo shows an engine with 'Auburn' painted on the side of a box on the platform. There is a headlight.
In November of 2002, I had a phone call from a man in Indiana who told me he had photographed a Birdsall engine along a 'side road' in Bradford, Pa., in 1999.
Also, in November 2002, Harold Jensen of Penn Yan, N.Y., sent me a photocopy of an engraving showing the Birdsall Machine Works in Penn Yan. I would guess the image comes from a county history of the type that proliferated in the 1880s. A note on the back of the photocopy lists the successive occupants of the corner of Main Street and North Avenue in Penn Yan. The compilation, perhaps done by Paul A. Birmingham, says, 'Birdsall & Co. operated for about five years (1876-1881) ... they went from wagons to threshing machines manufacturing. Birdsall & Co. moved operation to Auburn, N.Y., on Sept. 15, 1881 ... about 75 Penn Yan employees moved to Auburn.'
In a letter to Mr. Jensen, I told him I had checked a few Auburn city directories available in the State Library. In 1902, the '(New) Birdsall' company was at the foot of McMaster Street. Through 1916, the 'Birdsall Engine Co.' was at 48-52 Washington Street. For 1917, the Birdsall Engine Co. had 'removed to Newark' and the property at 48-52 Washington, owned by the J.C. Weeks estate, was vacant. Perhaps this will help slake your thirst for Birdsall drink (data).
As it happens Harold Jensen, 35 North Flat St., Penn Yan, NY 14527, also read Steve Davis' article, and Harold sent us a copy of the engraving Geoffrey Stein mentions in the preceding article, along with some information collected by the Yates County Genealogical and Historical Society (YCGHS) in Penn Yan, N.Y. Penn Yan was the site of Birdsall's first manufacturing plant.
The YCGHS information largely corroborates what Jack C. Norbeck wrote in his Encyclopedia of American Steam Traction Engines, with the exception of noting 1861, not 1860, as the date of Birdsall's founding. Interestingly, the YCGHS says the Birdsall family is still in business, running a foundry in Penn Yan.
Last issue we showed readers a copy of an advertisement reader Jerry Kitten came across last year (Steam Traction, July/August 2003, page 17). The 1892 ad, for an 'Improved Traction Engine' built by F. Kitten's Machine Works in Ferdinand, Ind., showed a Kitten steamer unlike any we'd ever seen, and we asked if anyone out there knew any more about this intriguing piece of equipment. To our surprise, we got a response almost as soon as the issue hit the mail stream.
Steam historian and author Robert T. Rhode, 990 W. Lower Springboro Road, Springboro, OH 45066 (case65@earthlink), was aware of Jerry's ad, but he hadn't seen the cut before the July/August issue came out. As soon as he saw it, he wrote in to let us know he had a photograph proving that at least one of these curious Kittens was built. Bob writes:
The July/August 2003 issue of Steam Traction is magnificent. The well-written stories and the great photographs combine to create a memorable magazine.
The section entitled 'Curious Kitten' includes this statement: 'We have yet to find any confirmation that this engine was ever built, and it's possible that this was a one-off that failed to attract any prospective buyers.' A photograph I bought from a seller in Owensboro, Ky., five years ago proves that at least one of these 'Curious Kittens' was manufactured and was purchased for a sawmill operation.
My photograph is not the best, but its importance as an historical artifact may compensate for what it lacks in perfection. When the shutter opened, the engine was popping off and the steam partially obscured the smokestack. The illustrations in Jerry Kitten's advertisement will help viewers to discern the machine in my picture more clearly.
The Internet and e-mail have certainly changed things, clearly evidenced by the quick responses we received from readers on the subject of John Spalding's mystery engine (Steam Traction, July/August, page 21).
Regular contributor Gary Yaeger, 1120 Leisha Lane, Kalispell, MT 59901 (email@example.com), was the first to identify John's mystery engine. As such, Gary gets a copy of Steam Engine Guide by Prof. PS. Rose, a historical and technically rich guide to owning and operating steam equipment. Gary writes:
I got my new Steam Traction yesterday and had a great time with it after mowing our lawn last night. Has anyone guessed the Spaulding mystery engine yet as an 18 HP Colean side-mounted double-cylinder? If I am first, I wanted you to know I can always use more steam traction engine literature!
The side-mounted and double-cylinder assets were the only way Colean engines were ever built. I have always kind of liked the short-lived Colean. I purchased a postcard recently one Bay of a huge Colean pulling four sections of six-disk Emerson plows in Texas. Jack Norbeck's encyclopedia shows 18, 25, 30 and 40 HP Colean engines, with many attributes in common. The 25 HP shown has an extra outboard main bearing bolting to the boiler barrel behind the intermediate gear. The 30 HP doesn't show an outboard extra main bearing, but the 40 HP engine has the bearing, however this one is bolted to the barrel ahead of the intermediate gear. The reason I thought this could possibly be a 40 HP Colean on my postcard, the rear deck has some tall tanks and bunkers on it, compared to the ones shown in Norbeck's book.
Bob Carlson was the second reader to take a shot at John's mystery engine (firstname.lastname@example.org), e-mailing us his take on the Colean and also supplying additional information on the Morgan steamer we featured on page 8 of the July/August issue. Bob writes:
I don't see any clues, however it looks like a Colean engine. In regards to the Morgan truck, Old-time Steam Cars by John Bently (1953) mentions this machine. The book says the Morgan was made in 1903-1904. It had a two-cylinder compound engine, 3-inch-by-6-inch-by-5-inch with a water tube boiler, not a flash type. Note the water glass in one photo. Also, note there are no lights in the photo on page 8.
And one hour later, Herschel Hall, 34173 Prairie Dell Road, Piasa, IL 62079 (email@example.com), e-mailed his correct guess on the Colean. Herschel writes:
Just received the July/August issue this afternoon, another fine issue. On page 21 in Spalding's Corner the engine is a Colean, probably an 18 HP. These engines were made in Peoria, Ill. Larry Nelson, of Muscatine, Iowa, has an 18 HP and a 25 or 30 HP (it is quite a brute). The 18 HP was formerly owned by Milo Matthews (now deceased) of Mt. Union, Iowa, and was shown at Midwest Old Threshers for many years. As far as I know, all Coleans were double-cylinder with lap seam boilers.
I do not have any more information at this time, but wanted to answer this one quickly. Keep up the good work with the magazine.
A few days later, John Spalding himself wrote in to let us know he had received a response to his mystery engine. John writes:
A gentleman by the name of G.J.Le Clair, 117 South St., #3, Waukesha, WI 53186, identified this issue's steam tractor as an 18 HP Colean. I wasn't sure if anyone had responded to you already. In the last four weeks, I have purchased at least three rare steam tractor photos that readers are going to love. And I've got a guy in Canada who's getting me a scan of one he says nobody's going to know ... so good stuff ahead, take care. John Spaulding, 112 Carriage Place, Hendersonville, TN 37035.
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, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
'I was helping load bundles in the field on a hot and cloudless August day and don't think I was ever so thirsty in my life.'