Times-News Feature Editor
When you have a hobby that weighs 33,740 lbs., it isn’t easy
to find housing for it or to exhibit in shows in various parts of
Melvin Kestler, 1339 Evergreen Drive, says he does have a few
problems with his hobby, a restored Case steam traction engine of
1915 vintage, and a complete threshing outfit.
The, equipment arrived last week in Twin Falls from northwest
Kansas by rail, consisting of three units, the Case 1915 model 65
horse power steam-tractor, the case threshing machine, size 40′
and a water wagon. It cost approximately $1,300 to ship it to Twin
Falls, which may explain why it travels only occasionally.
Mr. Kestler who Is a local agent for Prudential Life Insurance
Co., moved to Twin Falls in 1985. He first visited this area in
1937 to audit books for grain elevators and flour mills and liked
this part of the country. He said he and Mrs. Kestler promised
themselves they would someday make this their home, and nearly 30
years later made good the promise.
Not until this fall, however, did he move the steam engine and
threshing machine from Bird City, Kans., where it has been on
display by the Antique Engine and Threshers Assn.
Mr. Kestler, a native of Haxtun, Colo., purchased the old steam
engine 17 years ago from Al Deerk, Lexington, Neb., when Mr. Deerk
quit farming. He had used the old engine for many years in his
‘Since then Mr. Deerk and I have become close friends and he
has visited me every year to play with the engine,’ Mr. Kestler
Ones the 13 ton steam engine and the five ton threshing machine
have been restored there isn’t much to do with them except
‘play’, Mr. Kestler explains.
It was unloaded from a flat car at the Twin Falls depot by Doyle
Sligar and his heavy crane equipment, then transported to the Ora
and Oren Jones farm 20 miles south of Twin Falls where it will be
The owner says he plans to ‘fire it up’ now and then for
the interest of old timers and steam engine enthusiasts and may
even display it occasionally in the local area. Otherwise it is
just for his own enjoyment.
‘About 25 years ago,’ he recalls, ‘a friend of mine,
Roy E. Kite, started collecting old steam engines and put on one of
the first antique steam engine shows in the country. Mr. Kite got
several other steam engine fans interested and each purchased his
own steam thresher outfit. This same group formed the Antique
Engine and Threshers Assn. with approximately 20 steam outfits
owned by individual members.’
This association has since been staging an annual three day show
for 16 years at the Roy Kite farm near Bird City, Kans. Mr. Kite
died in 1959 but his widow continued to allow the association use
of farm for show grounds and to show the four steamers and other
equipment her husband had restored.
‘Good home cooked meals are served at the shows and the old
steam traction engines are used to plow and thresh wheat as was
done in the old days.
‘Several thousand people a day attend the shows coming from
throughout the United States. The old steam engines are like
antique cars as a hobby, only bigger,’ Mr. Kestler added.
There are now special publications including several monthly
magazines for the steam engine enthusiasts and shows are staged in
many other states and in England and Canada.
Ed Vogel, Buhl, who puts on his own threshing show each year
attended an antique steam engine show in England last year.
Mr. Kestler, his wife and son attended a show in Saskatoon,
Canada in 1967 with Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip among the
Since coming to Twin Falls Mr. Kestler has delved into some
local steam engine history and has come up with some interesting
incidents. In 1905, he said, the first electricity for Twin Falls
was generated by a steam traction engine which was ‘dug in’
and covered in a location behind the Perrine Hotel.
On April 1, 1934, some 8,000 Twin Falls area residents gathered
at the rim of Snake River Canyon north of Twin Falls to observe
what was supposed to make the passing of the steam engine.
At that time an engine was steamed up and driven off the rim of
the canyon, Mr. Kestler said.
The local steam engine collector comes by his enthusiasm
naturally. His father was an engineer on the Burlington Railroad
and later operated two steam outfits, plowing and threshing wheat
on the eastern plains of Colorado prior to 1920.
‘For several years I tried to find the last Nicholas and
Shepard steam engine my father had. AH kinds of stories were run
down in the area where It was last used, but my search ended when I
learned it had been scrapped,’ he said.
Most of the old steam traction engines were junked as scrap iron
during World War II, Mr. Kestler said. The same has now been the
fate of the old steam driven railroad locomotives.
Mr. Kestler said many old timers and some who are not so old,
will recall the threshing days with the steam driven machines. When
the old steam traction engines were used to plow, four to five men
were needed to run the outfit. Threshing required 15 to 20 men
depending on the amount of grain.
‘One of the most important helpers was the water hauler. The
old steamers required plenty of water. Threshing day was quite the
social event. The farmers enjoyed working together in the large
crews and usually the wives got together to prepare the noon meal
which was something of a feast.
‘Today one man on a modern tractor or combine can accomplish
the same amount of work and in order to survive financially, the
modem farmer uses fast efficient equipment,’ Mr. Kestler
When not restoring old steam engines, Mr. Kastler builds scale
model railroad cars and engines.
He is currently completing a locomotive, an ‘o’ gauge
scale model of the New York Central steam locomotive, 4-6-4 wheel
This is also time consuming and expensive since the kit
including parts for the locomotive alone costs about $250, but it
doesn’t take up the space the old steam threshing outfits
As to whether he would like to have an old steam locomotive to
restore and play with, Mr. Kestler says, ‘Of course, who
Many people would probably turn down the opportunity, but not
steam engine enthusiasts such as Mr. Kestler.
An old steam whistle which Mr. Kestler is mounting on his steam
traction engine weighs 85 lbs. It was given him by the Union
Pacific Railroad from a late model Union Pacific steam locomotive
with 4-8-4 wheel arrangement.
The 65 horse power unit Mr. Kestler now owns sold new for about
$2,060 and would bring considerably more today if offered for
The 1914 catalogue that tells about the Case equipment lists Mr.
Kestler’s steam engine as ‘a general purpose tractor, a
machine for a thousand and one uses.’
Among specifications are the 40-inch diameter fly wheel, front
wheels of 48 inches in diameter and the traction wheels of six
Because of the steam pressure, Mr. Kestter said, the old engines
had a certain amount of danger and often ‘blew up’
scattering a threshing party and causing injuries. In the antique
engine shows, no steam engine can be started until the boiler has
been inspected by a qualified authority, he said.