Saved from the Republican River

After 70 years, a 65 HP Case is pulled from its muddy grave

| March/April 2006

An old, fading photograph tells the tale.

Taken in 1935, just a few miles from the north-central Kansas farming town of Clay Center, the photo shows an old Case steam traction engine with its nose angled down, its smokebox just touching the water that’s rising up around it.

Clearly visible just beyond the Case are two bridges, sitting side-by-side, straddling the swollen Republican River. On the left is the old Airline Bridge, while to its right sits its replacement, the “new” Airline Bridge, still under construction when the photo was taken.

It was the engine’s misfortune to be at the site when the Republican River rose out of its banks following days of pounding ran and, some think, the failure of at least one dam on a small lake upstream. Sometime about June 4, the river’s destructive movements took their toll on the Case, which had been working the site supplying steam for a riveter.

The river’s unchecked run pushed the old Airline Bridge off its foundation, washing it under the new bridge. At the same time it gouged out a large hole in front of the Case, and as the rushing water pushed against it the Case fell in, landing on its right side, breaking off its smokestack and fracturing the hub of its right rear driver.

The Republican River wasn’t done. Heavy rains brought a second, smaller crest June 17, and a final crest June 28. By then the Case was gone, just one of many victims of the Flood of 1935.

The Flood of 1993

Years rolled by, and the Case became something of a local legend. Old timers talked about it, telling the younger residents about the great Flood of 1935 and the old engine that surely was still buried somewhere out there. Clay Center resident Forrest Stewart grew up hearing those stories: “My dad would tell me about the Case, I’ve been hearing stories about it all my life.”

Forrest shared those stories with his own kids, and as time went by he grew more and more interested in finding the engine. Unfortunately, nobody knew exactly where the engine was. “We probed for it in 1989 or 1990, but were long off. All the old timers said it was farther away,” Forrest says. It seemed unlikely Forrest, or anyone else, would ever find it. But that was before the flood of 1993.

The Republican River gave a reprise of its 1935 performance, and as the floodwaters receded part of the Case was exposed. It happened to be Roland Milligan’s good luck to stumble across the engine while checking phone lines for damage. “Roland saw the engine; he’d heard the stories, so he knew what it was. He measured and took photos, and after that we knew exactly where it was,” Forrest says.

2/26/2018 7:16:57 PM

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