Past and Present

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Campbell Photo #1 (right): Fred Schulz of Woodland, Wash., operating a 1906 Case 12-36 HP hooked to the pulling sled at the 41st Annual Cowlitz Prairie Grange Threshing Bee, Aug. 27-28, 2005.
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Yaeger Photo #3 (right): A Reeves automatic firebox door opener, standard on Reeves Canadian Special engines. This one is on a 32 HP Reeves cross-compound Canadian Special, no. 7181, owned by Max Tyler.
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Yaeger Photo #1 (above) and Photo #2 (right): Lon Picket’s Reeves with a 30 HP double-simple engine from a Keck-Gonnerman. The engine was lost in a sawmill fire before World War II, thus it was scrapped.
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Yaeger Photo #4 (below): A friction disc guide used on 20 HP through 32 HP Reeves engines.
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Rigg Photo #1: A line-up at the LaPorte County Historical Steam Society Show, Hesston, Ind., in 2005, from left: Mike Murphy’s Wood Bros. engine, Russell steam engine and the society’s 50 Case.
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Rigg Photo #2 (right): Mike Murphy on his Wood Bros. engine.
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Rigg Photo #3 (below): Mike Murphy plowing with this Wood Bros. engine.


Larry Campbell, 302 Blake Road, Toledo, WA 98591, sends us a photo of a working 1906 12-36 HP Case, 8-1/4-by-10-inch. Larry writes:

Enclosed is a photo of Fred Schulz of Woodland, Wash., hooked to the pulling sled at the 41st Annual Cowlitz Prairie Grange Threshing Bee, Aug. 27-28, 2005. Fred took time from his threshing duties both Saturday and Sunday. What a crowd pleaser this was.


Gary Yaeger, 1120 Leisha Lane, Kalispell, MT 59901 (e-mail: touches on his specialty – Reeves. Gary writes:

Emerson-Brantingham bought out Reeves & Co. and took their plant operations over on Jan. 1, 1912. They rode Reeves & Co.’s popularity as a formidable competitor as a plowing engine manufacturer … for a time. I have discussed the situation of the sale with Lyle Hoffmaster on a couple of occasions. He and I concur regarding a theory in which we believe Marshall Truman Reeves had his finger on the prairie breaking/plowing engine market. We believe he saw, or felt, something coming that young Brantingham didn’t recognize. The prairie was, for all intents and purposes, broke and the need for huge engines doing the work was vanishing.

After all, J.I. Case never built another 110 HP Case after 1913. Nobody knows for sure, but I’d bet Reeves built very few 32 HP and 40 HP engines, if any, after 1913. I believe they had plenty of them in stock to supply the needs of any future sales.

Reeves had some high (8000-plus) serial numbers; including a 40 HP Reeves purportedly sold to Fred Eggelston at Roundup, Mont., with a serial number over 8000. Hoffmaster learned that Reeves (EB) would serial number (some?) engines as they were sold and removed from the shed in the back lot. That may explain a 40 Reeves with a serial number over 8000. Hoffmaster stated other new engines were scrapped when their demand had dropped off.

As a result, I have spent time thinking about some of the non-typical Reeves engines Emerson-Brantingham produced that I have come across. I’ve noticed it especially in their later Reeves production.

I have a 1921 The American Thresherman and it still shows Reeves engines being advertised as available. I don’t think they were still producing any new engines at that time, as their pre-circa 1920 Reeves catalogs only list a small portion of engine size availability compared to what they had earlier produced and sold. I have also noticed the late Reeves catalogs no longer advertised their superior Canadian Special engines. The reason likely being the cost they would have incurred producing a similar size engine being so much more than their U.S. standard engine. They wouldn’t have been competitive, and it seems they likely didn’t produce any post-1920 engines anyway.

Some examples of my thoughts and discoveries are as follows:

Clifford Wright and Alva Stevens of Moore, Mont., went to the Montana “high-line” town of Joplin in 1918, looking for 32 HP Reeves Canadian Special cross-compound engines to buy. The engine Wright found was new, but still qualified as a leftover. It was a 32 HP cross-compound Canadian Special, but it had Z-Z/Z-3 Geiser/Peerless rear water tanks and platform coal compartment in place of the standard Reeves oval rear tank, with mounted bunker and coal chute extending down from the fireman’s side of the bunker. I remember Max Tyler and my dad both remarking that Wright was around 5 feet tall when he bought this engine, as he could finally see the plows he was pulling. Wright kept the 32 HP U.S. cross-compound he had first. Emerson-Brantingham had to have been scraping the bottom of the barrel to mix Geiser and Reeves parts like those. The Tyler brothers “inherited” both of these engines when they bought the Wright farm from an insurance holding company during the Great Depression. The Tylers later scrapped them.

Stevens gave up on finding another new cross-compound, but purchased a 32 HP Canadian Special double simple. This was not such a non-typical engine, but the large 32 double simple wasn’t produced in large numbers. These big double-simple engines weren’t economical on steady jobs, so they never sold in the big numbers that their cross-compound brothers did. Their exhaust sounded much nicer than the cross-compound brother, though. Stevens’ 32 HP double-simple engine had a 40 HP side water tank on the flywheel side. I never understood that thinking. It would have fit the clutch side as well and wouldn’t have interfered with the belt. This engine, however, never spent much, if any time in the belt. It was used for freighting while Stevens owned it, and when the Kolar brothers traded a McCormick-Deering 15-30 to Stevens in the early 1930s for the Reeves, the Kolar brothers only plowed with it. This is the only 32 double-simple Canadian Special in existence today.

I have located photos of two other, later 32 HP Canadian Special cross-compound engines, which also had taller 40 HP side water tanks installed, as on Stevens’ engine.

The story of Lon Picket’s “Reeves” has been written up in Iron-Men Album in the past. I don’t remember the serial number, off the top of my head. It was an 8000-plus engine, near the end of Reeves production, or more likely end of sales. It had always been said his engine was a “40 HP” engine. The engine was actually a 32 HP Canadian Special cross-compound and Picket didn’t want a cross-compound engine, so he had EB change the engine to a double simple before he’d buy it. The Reeves works didn’t have a 32 HP double-simple engine available at this time, so EB got a 30 HP double-simple engine from a Keck-Gonnerman engine and mounted it aboard this Reeves. Picket had been a fan of Keck-Gonnerman engines prior to this, so he likely suggested this change to EB. The engine appears confusing, as Keck-Gonnerman and Reeves both often used the “waffle” style valve cover as shown in the photo. This engine burned in a sawmill fire, circa World War II, and was scrapped.

Hoffmaster told me of a man by the name of Alex Behrends at Lodi, Ill. Behrends purchased a 32 HP cross-compound Canadian Special and a 12-bottom plow in 1911. The big 32 HP cross-compound pulled the 12-bottom plow in heavy “jack wax” soil with no trouble, plowing for sweet corn canneries at Milford and Hoopeston, Ill. – the two largest corn canneries in the world. Most farmers wouldn’t allow an engine this large in their fields, as it packed the ground. When the corn was ready the canneries took it out of the fields, rain or shine. If you disturbed the soil when it was wet, it dried like a brick, ruts and all. The farmers didn’t have equipment to handle the situation, so they got Behrends and his 32 Reeves to do the work. Behrends and the Reeves had problems with the bridges in the area, so Behrends contacted EB about getting a “lighter” High-wheeler.

Behrends went to the Reeves factory to purchase a 20 HP Reeves Highwheeler, but he wanted a cross-compound engine instead of a double simple, the only type engine Reeves then furnished. Behrends chose to have a 20 Highwheeler, but with a 25 HP cross-compound engine atop it, but Reeves’ chief engineer Harry Clay refused to provide such an engine atop a 20 HP Highwheeler. He said the tangential bars that the bull gears drove the driver wheels by wouldn’t deliver the power of a 25 HP cross-compound engine, when simpled. Hoffmaster stated if Marshall Reeves had still been in charge, he’d have likely overruled Clay.

Behrends bought a 25 HP cross-compound engine and a 20 HP Highwheeler and mounted them himself. Hoffmaster believes Reeves took the 20 HP engine back on credit. The engine worked well and would handle the 12-bottom plow well. Behrends was most disappointed in the fact that this 25 HP cross-compound Highwheeler weighed very little less than the 32 HP cross-compound, gaining him very little in weight loss. This engine was junked about 1932 or 1933.

While Behrends’ engine was not produced by Reeves, as such, I know Reeves’ chief engineer, Harry Clay had to have been curious as to how such an engine would work. I would bet he did a follow up on its performance after Behrends started using it.

I had been told from childhood that the Reeves automatic firebox door opener was standard equipment on all Reeves Canadian Special engines. My friend Mark Ohlde in Kansas owns the only remaining 25 HP Reeves double-simple Canadian Special engine. His engine has the firebox door frame for the automatic opener, but has just the standard firebox door on that frame. His 25 HP is newer at no. 7200 than the 40 HP and all of the 32 HP Canadian Special engines, indicating EB ran out of automatic firebox doors, while they still had frames for them.

The photo I have included of the Reeves automatic firebox door opener is on Tyler’s 32 HP Reeves cross-compound Canadian Special no. 7181 at Moore, Mont. Notice that within 19 engine numbers – between Tyler’s and Ohlde’s – this option went away.

I also included a photo of the Reeves “friction disc guide” or power steering. It is a late style unit, as the earlier ones had a shorter operating handle. This style was used on all Reeves engines from 20 HP through 32 HP. The Big Forty used a Dake steam steering motor instead of this friction type. I have noticed many Reeves photos taken elsewhere do not usually have the friction disc guide. Every Reeves I grew up around in Montana’s Judith Basin had them, causing me to one time think they had been standard equipment.

When I ran 40 HP Reeves no. 6867, it also had provisions for the automatic fire door but had been removed when the Puglsley brothers used it as an oil burner, irrigating with it below the Marias River’s Tiber Dam, in eastern Montana. The Smolik brothers likely replaced the fire door with a standard model when replacing the oil burner firebox door.


Clinton B. Rigg, 106 W. 450 S., Kouts, IN 46347, sends us some impressive photos of a Wood Bros. engine. Clinton writes:

These photos were taken at the LaPorte County Historical Steam Society Show, Hesston, Ind., in 2005. Photo #1 is a line-up: Mike Murphy’s Wood Bros. engine, Russell steam engine and the society’s 50 Case. Photo #2 is Mike Murphy on his Wood Bros. engine. Photo #3 is Mike Murphy plowing with this Wood Bros. engine.


When the Rev. G. Bright Hanna, 503 N. Hendricks Ave., Marion, IN 46952, sent in the threshing photo we published in the January/February 2006 issue, he addressed it to Gas Engine Magazine. We thought it was better suited in the pages of Steam Traction, and sent him a copy to see if he agreed. Rev. Hanna writes:

When I picked that large, heavy envelope out of my mailbox I wondered why my Gas Engine Magazine would come in such a package? Imagine my surprise when I saw the contents! I agree heartily about the photo I submitted being more steam-related than gas engine material. It almost brought tears to my eyes to see the photo published in such a widely circulated magazine.

In the article regarding “Business of Threshing,” I can relate to that. I carried the water jug to the machine to give drink to the bundle haulers when they pitched their own loads into the basket racks. I hauled the water to the pitchers in the field by way of a 1924 Model T touring car; then when I was older I hauled bundles. One year I hauled the grain from the separator to the granary. The separator was a large one, which we fed from both sides of the feeders.

I hope to get my 15 Maytag engines lined up and photographed in the spring so I can submit the photo for the readers to see. Words cannot express my appreciation for the publishing of the photo. May God bless.


Jerry Shay, 2303 Highway 169, Algona, IA 50511, reminisces about his threshing days gone by. Jerry writes:

It was Aug. 1, 1947. We had just finished harvesting in southwest Iowa, in Montgomery County. I had gotten out of the Navy the previous winter and was ready to travel again. I was 20 years old, had seen part of the world and was ready to see South Dakota.

On a Saturday night, I arrived in Arlington, S.D., after an all-day bus ride. I checked into the local hotel on the main street. It cost $3, including a community bath. It was a typical Saturday night in a small town. There were farmers talking on the street while their wives shopped and socialized. I approached several farmers to see if they needed a hand to shock grain and haul bundles. One fellow needed help. He offered me $1 per hour plus board, room and washing (or laundry). I also got to stay in his house, which was a nice deal I would soon find out: Later on, at other farmers, there were times when I had to board in a bunkhouse or sleep in a barn’s haymow.

The farmer picked me up on Sunday night and he took me to meet his family. He had two girls and one boy. They were a great family and I still have contact with them today.

In two weeks, I shocked 100 acres of oats, working daily from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. It was hot, dirty work. It seemed the sun magnified the heat as it came up and hit you in the face. I could shock about an acre an hour.

In the evening, my legs were covered in black dirt. The farmer did not have a shower or a bathtub. I had to wash up the best I could in the horse tank. The tank’s warm water was refreshing. Sleep came easily, even if my room was hot and stuffy. There was no air conditioning or fans at that time, of course.

After the grain had all been shocked, it was time to thresh. In a threshing run, generally, there are several positions to fill: the spike pitcher, the bundler hauler and the grain hauler. Even though the bundle hauler loaded his own load, the boss decided he needed help and hired me to be the spike pitcher. I had to help with every single load. It was the hardest work of all the positions, and he offered me $1.10 per hour. In threshing, help was paid “belt time,” the number of hours the machine operated.

Depending on the weather and the dew content, I could easily thresh up to 12 hours a day. There were times when I had to drive the team home in the dark.

A great bonus to threshing was the meals. The farmers’ wives served food three times a day. The 9:30 morning lunch consisted of rolls, juice and coffee. The wives seemed to try and out-do themselves with the dinners at noon. Their favorite meat was pan-fried chicken. Around 4 in the afternoon, the help dined on sandwiches, cake, coffee and lemonade.

In August 1948, I hauled bundles with the same family, which I enjoyed. If I worked quickly enough, I could haul my load into the threshing area and take a quick nap. I liked to lie under the rack, where there always seemed to be a breeze. (Both years, when I loaded bundles of flax, I had to be careful. Flax straw was slippery and part of the load often slid off. But flax was easier to shock than oats.)

On Saturday nights, I drove to town with the family. I paid for a room at the hotel where I looked forward to soaking in the bathtub. I was finally clean after a week. I treasured my Sunday mornings, when I went to church, read the Sunday newspaper, ate a leisurely breakfast, and prepared myself for another week of work.

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;

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