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
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