1 / 12
2 / 12
Yaeger Photo #4: 32 HP Reeves, moldboard plow and water wagon
3 / 12
Yaeger Photo #5: 80 HP Case and threshing machine
4 / 12
Yaeger Photo #6
5 / 12
Mix Photo #1: Bernie Woodmansee's sawmill
6 / 12
7 / 12
Hoffmaster Photo #1: An early catalog illustration of a 30 HP Advance
8 / 12
Mix Photo #3: Larry Mix on Bernie Woodmansee's 20 HP Farquhar.
9 / 12
Yaeger Photo #1: A 25 HP Reeves cross-compound
10 / 12
Mix Photo #2: Raymond Woodmansee on Bob Woodmansee's 40 HP Case
11 / 12
12 / 12
Yaeger Photo #3: Nichols & Shepard 30 HP double-cylinder.

Traction Engines and Threshing Machines

Curtis Cook, 3500 Martin Johnson Rd.,
Chesapeake, VA 23323-1210, (757) 485-1711 (e-mail:

‘Please find enclosed a picture of a steam engine and
thrasher that was taken a long time ago. The picture is believed to
be my great grandfather, Adelbert Rowley (1854-1928).

‘Adelbert lived in the vicinity of Clayton, Hudson Township,
Lenawee County, Mich., his entire life. In the Rowley family
history it states, ‘Adelbert at one time owned a thrashing
machine and steam engine with which he thrashed wheat for other
area farmers in return for a share of the crop. The thrashing
venture was not a financial success and was eventually

‘The date and location of the picture is unknown to me. I
believe the steam engine to be a Gaar Scott, but I am not sure. I
have no idea on the thrasher. If anyone out there in steam land can
shed any light on this picture, I would like to know.’

Lyle Hoffmaster, 1845 Marion Rd., Bucyrus, OH
44820, writes:

‘Richard Backus: Thank you for keeping the format the same.
That means something to we 50-plus year subscribers. You have a job
that is not as easy as any of the former publishers had; you do not
have the ‘old timers’ to turn to. These were the men who
had been there, and could really write the good articles. Sadly,
they are all gone.

‘Now for some comments on the pictures (see Iron-Men
, November/December 2001): Picture #1 on page 1 by Larry
Creed, who says he could just picture me on that front wagon and
says he could count my teeth! Well now, he would have to forewarn
me so as to give me a chance to put my dentures in.

‘Now for three pictures Gary Yaeger sent in. Picture #1
(page 15) is of a center crank Case, probably about a 10 or 12 HP,
and it is a compound but not a tandem compound, but a trunk
compound. I have seen one of these engines, a 16 HP, and was lucky
enough to see it run. I will say right here it was easily and by
far the roughest running engine I have ever seen! This rough
running was in no small part caused by the short connecting rod
used on all but the very last of the center crank engines (about

Curtis Cook’s great-grandfather Adelbert Rowley and what
Curtis believes to be a Gaar Scott. Does anyone know

‘Now to explain the trunk compound: The cylinder casting was
large enough in diameter to bore it out for intended bore of the
low pressure cylinder. The length of the cylinder had to be double
the stroke plus the thickness of two pistons plus the center

‘The ‘trunk’ was very nearly (not quite) 70 percent
in diameter of the bore of the cylinder, and of a length of twice
the stroke plus the thickness of the center head. These parts were
all cast iron and tied to the throw of the crankshaft. This trunk
plus the two pistons weighed nearly 150 pounds. The high pressure
steam went in at the center head, while the exhausted steam went
into the end sections. The thermal efficiency was very low on such
an arrangement, plus so much reciprocating weight made the whole
arrangement a near disaster. If you will note, the man sitting on
the engine seems to be smiling. I couldn’t understand this for
several days until it occurred to me he had just been fired and was
waiting for the new engineer to show up!

‘Gary’s picture #2 is what he calls a 25 HP simple
engine. The fact that he called it a simple just didn’t look or
seem right to me. I doubt if more than 10 percent of Reeves double
engines were used for plowing – most were cross-compound. Secondly,
the boiler and stack looked too small for a 25 HP

‘ I went back several times to again look at that picture
before I finished the magazine, and then I got under a good strong
light with a magnifying glass and discovered a positive, telltale
feature. Just to the right of the man’s head (the man sitting
on the water tank, and looking to his right – Ed) are the two
parallel levers that shift the intercepting valve. It is in
‘simple’ position when they are ready to start the plows
again after taking on water. These parallel double levers were used
on compound engines only. Since the 20 HP double-simple and the 25
HP cross-compound used the same boiler and stack, I went out and
measured my 20 HP double-simple. I picked up the scale to use from
the front wheels, measuring the width (12 inches) of the engine in
the picture, and it checks very close to being a 25 HP
cross-compound engine.

‘Picture #3, Gary labels the engine as a 25 HP Advance. Now,
the old Advance Company never made a 25 HP. This is a 30 HP simple.
The next smaller simple is a 22 HP, and it’s obvious the engine
shown is much larger than a 22 HP. This 30 HP simple had a compound
cylinder added and the drivers made six inches wider, and then it
was called the 35 HP. I have seen the 35 HP compound but never the
30 HP simple.

‘I am also enclosing the specification sheet for Advance
engines for the year 1910, and also a picture of a 30 HP engine for
the same year.

‘Now Gary, I haven’t heard from you for a couple of
years, and I hope this will get you stirred up just enough to write
me a letter. The best to all and to our new publisher.’ Lyle
(Reeves) Hoff master.

Larry Mix, 2075 Coburn Rd., Hastings,MI 49058-9 173, (616)
948-8497, writes:

‘It has been awhile since I wrote to the Iron Men, so I
thought I had better do so. I just got these pictures back and I
thought that I would share them with other readers. ‘Picture
#1: Bernie Woodmansee, Hastings, Mich., built this sawmill, but
there was definitely something wrong. This dyed-in-the-wool steam
engine man, I thought he had turned to the dark side, was using a
tractor instead of a steam engine. I thought that this must be a
dark day for steam men everywhere, and I hung my head down. But at
last, we finally got this problem resolved.

‘Bernie and a few of his family and friends had a sawmill
day on Nov. 4, 2000. It was a nice day with the temperature in the
mid 50s and not a John Deere tractor in sight anywhere. In picture
#2 you will also see Raymond Woodmansee of Dowling, Mich., on Bob
Woodmansee’s 40 HP Case. This is the engine that Harry
Woodmansee used to climb the wooden high ramp with. Raymond looks a
lot like old Pink Woodmansee of years past. I had to do a double
take to make sure I wasn’t seeing things.

‘In Picture #1, Bernie Woodmansee and Ken Lewis of Jackson,
Mich., look over the sawmill. Steve Woodmansee is also looking on.
Steve did most of the sawing this day.

‘Picture #3: Here I am on Bernie’s 20 HP Farquhar. It is
a fairly good engine, but it is not an Advance Rumely (just
kidding, Bernie). When we where done sawing we were treated to a
real steam engine man’s meal of pizza and beer, but of course
we also had pop for the kids.’

William J. Stewart, 308 S. 12th St., Independence, KS
67301-3632, writes: ‘I just received the November-December 2001
Iron-Men Album. Read the reports on the engine explosion in

‘In 1947-49 I worked for the Frisco railroad as a telegraph
operator. Frisco operated steam engines on all their freights and
most passenger trains. Those engines worked hard day in and day
out. Of course they had a good inspection and maintenance program.
I don’t know of any railroad engine having a boiler explosion.
1 don’t know the service life expectancy of those engines – I
can only guess at least 30 years. There is much to maintain on a
steam railroad engine. The freight engines on our division were
coal fired, passenger engines were oil fired. Steam engines are

Gary Yaeger, 146 Reimer Lane, Whitefish, MT 59937 (e-mail:, sends some more great pictures this issue,
along with an open letter, which follows his explanation of the

‘Richard, I am finally getting around to sending you some
pictures for the Iron-Men Album. I am really busy, but didn’t
want to disappoint my steam cheering squad by being derelict of my
photo duty.

Yaeger Photo #1:An early Under mounted Avery near Lewistown
Mont. It is unknown if the glass in the windows of the cab was a
factory accessory or installed by the owner

‘Picture #4 is a postcard photo of a homesteader’s 32 HP
Reeves, moldboard plow and water wagon near Great Falls, Mont.

‘Picture #5 is from Dean Alling’s postcard collection.
It shows a brand new, early 80 HP Case engine and threshing machine
in front of the Fergus County Courthouse. The courthouse is partway
up Lewistown’s Main Street hill between 7th and 8th Avenue
north. The Judith Mountains are visible in the background.

‘Picture #6, my last this issue, shows an old wooden
threshing machine loaded on a barge and being shipped to the road
less Crane Brother’s ranch on the inlet of Whitefish Lake. The
mountain at right has become The Big Mountain Ski Resorts’

An Open Letter from Gary Yaeger

‘I would like to take this opportunity to compliment you on
the first ‘Kansas issue’ of the Iron-Men Album. I commend
you for your acceptance of such a difficult task and the fine
manner in which you performed that task. Complicating your
assignment was the inclusion of having to report on the largest
steam traction engine tragedy in most living steam engineers’

‘I would like to take this opportunity to express my deepest
sympathy to the families of the men killed in the tragedy at
Medina, Ohio, on July 29. During the past 48 seasons in which 1
have run steam traction engines, I had hoped that I would never
hear, or read, of such a horrible accident ever happening, as
happened in Medina.

‘Some of you may think I am writing this for selfish
reasons, and I guess I could say that is so. I have enjoyed
engineering traction engines for public display since the first
time I did it in 1956, for Montana’s late Governor J. Hugo
Aronson at the 50th anniversary of the Montana Agricultural
Experimental Station near Moccasin, Mont. I couldn’t count the
many times I have been operating an engine for public display and
had the opportunity to watch young children, and adults alike, who
have never witnessed the operation of a traction engine – to see
the excitement in their eyes.

‘Selfish reasons: 1 hate to see what this incident will do
to insurance rates for our shows or, worse yet, what the liability
implications will have in barring steam traction engines being
operated for public enjoyment for future generations.

‘I, like so many of my cyber space steam friends, followed
the unfolding tragedy at Medina on a daily basis and searched the
Internet for the unfolding story. It upset me enough that I never
slept well for about a week after that explosion. 1 personally know
a couple of the investigators who assisted the Medina County
Sheriff’s office. I also have 35mm photographs taken of many
angles necessary in that investigation.

‘I am able to observe from these photos that the stay bolt
holes in the front portion of the crown sheet were stretched into
an oval configuration. There were also very thin ultrasound
readings in that portion of the crown sheet. I am also able to
observe that there was deterioration in the crown sheet and the
stay bolts of that area.

I was very disappointed in Pennsylvania boiler chief John D.
Payton’s assessment of the situation. He seems to have another
agenda to promote – namely, shutting down engines he feels have
weak boilers. Mr. Payton: I will take a marginal boiler and a good
engineer any day over a brand new Canadian Special butt-strap
boiler operated by a marginal engineer.

‘I would also like him to show me an example of one crown
sheet explosion incident, involving a locomotive type boiler, where
it blew out while remaining covered with water. It can’t be
done. You touched too lightly on that subject, Mr. Payton. A
red-hot crown sheet will thin out like pie dough, licorice, or
taffy. It is trying to stretch and expand like blowing a bubble
with bubble gum. No wonder the stay bolt holes went oval shaped in
that area. When a crown sheet expands, that is when they lose
contact with the stay bolts. If you stretch out any thickness of
red-hot metal, it always gets thinner -but crown sheets don’t
get red hot, nor do they blow up, as long as water remains on

‘An ever so slight nose-up would allow water to remain on
the fusible plug and still have a bare front portion of the crown
sheet. As long as there is any water touching the brass of the
fusible plug, that tin alloy is not going to melt. If you have ever
tried to solder a copper pipe with the least bit of water remaining
inside, you aren’t going to get the copper hot enough to melt
solder. It is the same principle.

‘I have filled my 1909 Case 15 HP on level ground until the
water starts to appear in the sight glass. It has three inches of
water over the crown sheet, as measured through the rear hand hole.
That 1908 or 1909 Case 32 HP traction engine had to have been
drastically low on water before it ever stopped at that tragic
location on the Medina Fairgrounds. Three inches is a huge amount
of water to lose in a few minutes, with no outward visible signs,
while stopped.

‘Mr. Payton, you also omitted the fact that the
injector’s valves were still in the open position at the time
of this explosion. When makeup water hits a red-hot crown sheet,
the pressure would instantaneously flash to probably four or five
hundred pounds, at the millisecond it exploded.

‘Watch a blacksmith sometime as he heats a large piece of
iron to red hot in a forge, hammers on it until it has lost
it’s red color, then drops it into a bucket of cold water. That
tumultuous rumble is a tiny example of what transpires upon a
red-hot crown sheet.

‘In this day and age, when operating in a public setting, it
is just easier to keep a half glass of water in the gauge. There is
no ingredient of steam engine operation that is more important than
keeping a keen eye on the engine’s water glass. Do I sound like
I prefer weak boilers? No, I believe in boiler inspections.
Probably there should be more emphasis put on engineer inspections?
I believe the various schools available for traction engineering
are doing a commendable thing for beginning, as well as seasoned,
engineers. If you fear not being able to pass a test on traction
engines, perhaps you shouldn’t be operating them? After all,
buying a piano does not make one a musician – and buying a traction
engine does not make one an engineer.

‘I think we all need to do everything we can to prevent
another incident from ever happening again, as happened in

‘I am quite concerned for Medina County Sheriff Mr. Neil F.
Hassinger and Lt. John Detchon regarding their health, due to Mr.
Payton’s public report. If they swallowed the hook and line,
they may be okay. If they swallowed hook, line and sinker, they
could possibly contract lead poisoning.’

Sincerely, Gary Yaeger

Montana Steam Traction Engineer’s License # 3082-B5 Montana
Second Class (high pressure stationary) License #4699-B2

Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment