My hobbies in model railroading and live steam traction engines have many similarities. The collection and demonstration of antique farm steam engines and threshers was started after WW II. The steam engine hobby has grown considerably. Many antique shows are put on each year now all over the United States, Canada, England, etc. The paid attendance at some of these shows is well over 100,000.
My father left the Burlington RR as an engineer and started breaking sod and threshing in northeastern Colorado in 1914. Had I started looking for an engine sooner, I might have found one of my father's abandoned engines which was scrapped in 1947 by an unknown person. I bought my Case engine in 1953 for $250.00 plus hauling of $140. It is a 1915 model, #33090, 150 lb. steam pressure and weighs 13 tons in operating condition. The brake or belt horsepower is 65. Drawbar horsepower by most standards is approximately 23. Working level of water in the boiler is 2,260 pounds or 282 gallons. The water tender tank on the engine holds 219 gallons. The 2 fuel bunkers hold 900 pounds of coal. Normal engine speed of travel is 2 4/10 mph. The 40' diameter flywheel normal speed is 250 rpm. The water tank tender and 5 ton $200 thresher were later acquired.
I sold a 3-piece outfit in 1974 for $6,500 to Clarence Young, Great Falls, Montana. Clarence is a farmer-collector with 12 other steamers, etc. According to a Case catalog of that era, the engine sold new for $2,060 FOB Racine, Wisconsin. Today, an engine of like quality will sell for $20,000. This year a Case 110 HP engine sold for $75,000 at public auction. The thresher originally sold for $1,080 FOB Racine.
The Case 65 was purchased from Al Deerk in 1953. Al was a retired farmer-thresherman. We became close personal friends over the next 25 years until his death last year at the age of 80. He taught me how to care for and operate the engine.
It took a steady 5 years of spare time work to rebuild the engine. I had lots of volunteer help and the free use of necessary large equipment. The late John Gauger, an experienced engineman, was the in-charge man with the know-how. It cost several thousand dollars for engine parts and machine shop work which included a complete new set of all gears. The former owner kept the engine well oiled and greased. He always had an oil can in his hand. As a result, after lots of sand blasting, the boiler looked like new. The best thing about the engine is its like-new high pressure butt strap boiler. If an engine does not have a good boiler, it is not worth much.
Case 65 on day of purchase. Note the covered smoke stack. The smoke box and front flue sheet were like new. The tender was in good shape and did not leak. Note 8' extension rims.
John Gauger supervising restoration work on the Case 65. This picture was taken in the fall on the late Roy Kite's farm at Bird City. We fired the boiler and got the water hot after which 5 gallons of steam cylinder oil was added to the water via the filler cap. Then the boiler was drained slowly. This did not work too goodsome of the oilsettled on the bottom of the boiler barrel. At the next show, the Kansas boiler inspector, Claude Stiver, made as clean inside of the boiler.
While we were working on the thresher, which has a cylinder 40' wide, a large cook shack on wheels was used to feed the crew on the rig which consisted of 20 to25 men. The men slept in the haymows or straw stacks. In a 10-hour day, a thresher this size would thresh 2,500 bushels of wheat. A Case 65 HP steam engine whether threshing or plowing would use approximately 2,500 pounds of coal and 3,000 gallons of water. The proper plow size for this engine is an 8-bottom which would plow about 20 acres per day. Coal during the steam engine days cost from $2.50 to $5.00 per ton. A horse drawn 4 wheel water tender would hold 378 gallons.
The hobby group that I was an active member of for 25 years is the Antique Engine & Thresher Association, Bird City, Kansas. Our association started putting on 3-day old time engine shows approximately 30 years ago and are still at it.
J. I. Case Threshing Machine Company was the largest manufacturer of steam engines, threshers and related equipment which was made in many sizes. They made over 35,000 steam engines. Their first engine was made in 1869 and the last in 1924. Old #1 was a portable for belt work pulled by horses. Case and possibly one other company that made steam engines and threshers are still making farm machinery today. The many other old time manufacturers, like the old auto makers, are gone.
The late E.C. 'Big Mac Mc Case' McMillan on the incline. No one could handle a Case Engine like Big Mac. Picture was taken at the 1952 ; AE&TA show held on the Harold Ottaway Amusement Park grounds in I Wichita.
Around 1912 many states and Canada passed strict boiler building laws. After that, the boilers on all steam engines were made considerably stronger and carried higher steam pressures. The engines which bring the highest prices today all have the better made boilers. New expensive code made boilers can now be purchased for these old engines. No doubt, this will be the coming thing in the steam engine hobby. All engines now used at shows have to be inspected and passed by boiler inspectors before they can be operated. Due to this and other causes, some engines are eliminated every year. This runs the prices up on the remaining steam engines with good boilers. The Case steam engine was designed so most all of its weight was on the rear wheels when pulling. Automotive engineer Charles F. Kettering of General Motors fame once stated that the Case 65 steam engine was the best designed piece of equipment he ever had seen.
This article was written by Meluin Kestler of Twin Falls, Idaho, for the 'Flimsy,' magazine of the Magic Valley Model Railroaders Club of Twin Falls. It is reprinted with consent of Budd Phillips, editor of the 'Flimsy.'