RELIVING THE DAYS OF STEAM

By Staff
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Stanton behind the wheel of Bob Ruedy's 1912 Case touring car.
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A scene from the Oklahoma Steam Threshing Association's1950 show.

We thank Ronald L. Scott for permission to reprint the
following article which he wrote for the fourth quarter, 1980
edition of ‘Case Mark,’ a quarterly publication for the JI
Case Company. The photographs are his also. Ron is manager of
Employee Communication for the company, and editor of ‘Case
Mark.’

It was late morning on a hot, sunny July day, when Gaylord
Stanton and his wife Laverta arrived at the Pawnee, Oklahoma
fairgrounds. The temperature was already in the 90s and moving
toward 100. Stanton is a 14-year Case employee and a CE Service
Representative, whose territory covers most of Oklahoma, Arkansas,
and West Texas. He was making his annual pilgrimage to Pawnee
because it was the last weekend in July, and that’s when the
Oklahoma Steam Threshing Association holds its steam and gas engine
show.

As the owner of some 30 antique gas tractors, Stanton usually
brings to the show one or two machines from his collection, perhaps
a 1915 Case 10-20 or an unusual articulated 1917 Moline-Universal.
But this year, the press of work and travel around his territory
kept him from getting the units in shape and loaded on a flatbed
trailer in time to move them from his home in Okemah, 150 miles
from Pawnee.

But whether they have equipment on display at the show or not,
the Stantons wouldn’t miss this event. It’s not the largest
old-time equipment show in the United States, but few are staged
with more enthusiasm or love of the past than the one in
Pawnee.

Entering the fairgrounds, Gaylord and Laverta greet other
members of the steam threshing association and their families.
Although the association has 75 members from all over Oklahoma and
surrounding states, there is a genuine warmth and interest in each
other’s activities since the last meeting.

Of special importance to Gaylord is any news of Case automobiles
or parts for sale. In a large steel building at home he has a pile
of body parts, frames, and engines for three 1915 Case touring
cars, but not yet enough to put any one of them together.

‘One of these days,’ he says, ‘I’ll get one or
two of them restored.’

He also has his eye out for a Case steam engine to add to his
tractor collection, and the word goes out over the members’
grapevine. Everyone, it seems, is looking for something some
machine or part and they help each other by spreading the word, by
searching old farms, by trading something they don’t need in
order to get something that someone else will trade for something
they do want.

The collecting and restoration of antique equipment is most
often a family project. Gaylord’s interest in the hobby has
spread to Laverta and their sons, Keith, 20, and Royce, 17. Family
vacations are usually spent tracking down more equipment in various
parts of the country, and many evenings or weekends go into the
refurbishing of engines or tractor bodies that seem beyond hope to
the uninitiated.

While Gaylord Stanton’s work days are devoted to Case
construction equipment, conducting service schools for dealer
personnel or troubleshooting problems on a customer’s machine,
his free time is wrapped up with old-time agricultural equipment
and events like the steam engine show in Pawnee, where that morning
in July, the small fairground was slowly filling with people who
came from great distances to relive a part of American agriculture
that is no more.

Aligned in ragged rows to one side of the grounds are a
collection of old gas tractors, painted in cheery reds, dull grays,
deep greens and bright yellows. A few, still wearing a mantle of
rust, bear signs, ‘For Sale’ or ‘Will trade.’

Several men in boots and straw western hats wander among the
tractors, then drift past the huge wooden or steel-sided threshing
machines standing nearby, but the majority of the adults and the
small, darting children move across the field, past a cluster of
buildings and grandstands and shelters to where the sound is coming
from. They are drawn by that sound a low, rhythmic throbbing, mixed
with a whirring of many flywheels, the soft purring of well-oiled
pistons sliding along cylinder rods, the hiss of escaping steam,
and the clanking of metal wheels and steering chains as one more
mightly traction engine maneuvers into place among the trees at the
edge of the field.

The engines claim that choice spot under the trees because they
are the masters, the most powerful machines, the honored ‘kings
of the field.’ They sit there with their engines idling huffing
and puffing, building pressure in their boilers getting ready to
again do the work they were so well-designed to do when they were
built 60 or 70 years ago. The huge black machines, belching clouds
of sooty smoke as they wait, look like a herd of placid elephants
resting in a grove of trees to escape the sun.

The people approach the huge forms, sniffing the air now heavy
with the smoke of coal, wood or straw, and they stand beside the
huge beasts filled with a mixture of emotions awe if they are
young, nostalgia if they are old enough to have known the days when
steam power was supreme on the farm.

In either case, the visitors walk among the machines, assailed
by invisible waves of heat radiating off the sides of the steam
boilers and adding to the heat of the day, which has now reached
100 degrees. They watch the laboring men in dirty coveralls
shoveling coal into the fiery bellies of the engines or adding
water to the thirsty boilers.

As the hour approaches high noon, an announcer on a public
address system counts off the seconds. Right on cue, every engineer
tugs on his engine’s whistle cord, and the air is rent with the
shrill blast of 30 steam whistles. People cover their ears as
crying babies and barking dogs add to the din. But everyone smiles,
most of all the men sitting in the cabs or standing on the
platforms of the open-backed engines.

For this is why they have gatheredto look at steam engines, to
talk about steam engines, to operate steam engines, and especially
to show off steam enginesto revel in the power and maneuver-ability
of these great old machines.

Each day of the three-day rally is filled with a schedule of
events to demonstrate the ability of the machines or the skill of
the operators. There are plowing and threshing, slow races and
parades, steam engines climbing inclines or balancing or
teeter-totters. Everywhere one looks, smaller steam and gas engines
are powering saw mills, making shingles, grinding corn meal and
whipping up tubs of old-fashioned ice cream heaven for 50 cents a
cup on a blistering hot Oklahoma afternoon.

Each activity draws its participants and crowds of spectators,
while other older fairgoers sit in the shade of trees or shelters
to talk about what it was like in times past on America’s farms
or to argue the merits of the Minneapolis-Moline steam engine, the
Avery gas tractor, the Yellow Fellow thresher. Universally,
however, it is conceded that the Case equipment, whether steam
engines or threshing machines, was the ultimate a young man on the
farm could aspire to owning.

Each day of the show at 2 p.m. all of the proud old machines
parade around the grounds and past the reviewing stand. As they
lumber by, clanking, and chugging, dark smoke filling the air, the
dominance of the Case name becomes apparent as the announcer reads
off the roll call of the passing machines: ‘A 1911 Case 75
horsepower … a 1920 Case 50 horsepower . . . driving a 1913 Case
110 horsepower … in his newly acquired 1912 45 horsepower Case
… riding a one-quarter scale model Case engine.’ And the list
goes on.

‘Yep, a lot of our members own Case engines,’ says
Kenneth Kelley, treasurer of the Oklahoma Steam Threshing
Association. ‘Some of them engines been in their families the
whole time since they were new. But then some of us buy ’em up
as basket cases and restore them. I’ve got a few Case engines
myself.’

‘A few Case engines’ turn out to be 11 from 30 to 110
horsepower, including a ten-ton road roller. Several of
Kelley’s engines are on display at the show that day. The
others, all in gleaming, factory-new condition, stand quietly in
immaculately clean metal buildings on the Kelley farm a few miles
away on the outskirts of Pawnee. In a nearby shed are two more
‘basket cases’ waiting to be restored to their former
glory. Kelley’s long, curved driveway is flanked by two
five-foot, cast-iron Case eagles. Quite a tribute to the Case
Company from a man who is a retired John Deere dealer.

Back at the fairgrounds, the hill-climbing demonstration by a
1920 Case 50 horsepower engine is over, and the last event of the
day is beginning, the old-time threshing. This time, surprisingly,
it’s not a Case steam engine providing the power, but a 1920 20
horsepower

Keck-Gonnerman, owned by Ivan Burns, president of the Steam
Threshing Association. The engine is belted, however, to a Case
separator, and as the engineer signals with two sharp toots of his
whistle, the crowd of spectators knows that ‘thrashin’ is
about to begin.

With pressure up in the boiler, the 8-inch wide drive belt
begins to turn the array of gears and cylinders in the separator.
Men pitch bundles of grain onto the clanking conveyor which carries
them to the whirling knives inside the Case separator. From a pipe
on one side of the machine flows a stream of golden kernels of
wheat rapidly filling a wagon box below. From the upright spout of
the wind-stacker blows a shower of chaff, forming a pyramid on the
ground.

‘That’s what it’s all about,’ says Gaylord
Stanton to a city fellow who had never seen the operation before.
‘When Jerome Increase Case developed a machine that could do
that easily and quickly, he revolutionized agriculture.’

A single toot signals the end of threshing for the day, and the
fairgoers begin to drift away to buy souvenirs or head for a hearty
supper or get ready for the evening’s dance and country music
celebration.

On the way out of the fairgrounds, Gaylord Stanton stops by to
chat with Bob Ruedy of Oklahoma City, who has a 1912 Case touring
car on display that Gaylord helped him restore. After a few minutes
conversation, Gaylord gets behind the wheel and starts up the old
car. It rattles a bit, but the engine purrs, and as he eases off
the brake and begins a quick trip around the fairgrounds, a smile
of delight widens on Gaylord Stanton’s face.

Editor’s Note: Since the Steam Engine Show in Pawnee,
Gaylord Stanton has acquired a 1915 40 horsepower Case steam engine
and a 1914 Case touring car. ‘Guess what’ll be on display
at next year’s show?’ he says.

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