Farm Collector


Traction Engines and Threshing Machines

American Abell and Port Huron

John. F. Spalding,112 Carriage Place,
Hendersonville, TM 37035, sends along two photos, including one of
an American Abell taken in Winnepeg in 1912, possibly by a Joe
Ritchie (his name is written in pencil on the back). John

‘The photo shows American Abell steam tractor s/n 2117
freshly unloaded at the Winnepeg, Manitoba, Canada CP Railway yard.
The engine is there for the plowing contest at the 1912 Royal
Agricultural Fair in Winnepeg. The American Abell & Thresher
Co. was purchased in 1912 (that same year) and became part of the
Advance Thresher Co. (later Advance-Rumley). ‘Cock of the North
Line’ was their motto and can be seen on the tractor. Winnepeg
is hand-written on the bottom of the photo.

‘This tractor is thought to have inspired several of the
design changes later made by Advance-Rumley. This may be the first
American Abell & Advance Thresher Co. engine built, but there
is no data to support that theory. The 11 gentlemen probably
represent the driving team, mechanic, operator and factory ‘big
wigs.’ I thought it was kind of neat.

Spalding Photo # 1: American Abell traction engine, serial
number 2117, freshly unloaded at the Winnepeg, Manitoba, Canada CP
Railway yard, 1912.

‘I have also included a humorous old photo of a Port Huron
tractor, threshing outfit and crew. The one unusual aspect of it is
the fact that while no one ever seems to smile in 100-year-old
photos, this group is cutting up – note the tray with drinks and
the man in the back ‘chugging’ a bottle of something – very
unusual and comical.’

Steam Birthday

Worth F. Pickard, 4820 Carbonton Road, Sanford,
NC 27330, sends in some photos of his good friend Jay Wilbur Moore
on the occasion of Jay’s 80th birthday. Worth tells us Jay has
been active in the steam community for some years now, especially
in the Ole Gilliam Mill Crank-Up, and he was the driving force
behind starting the Central Carolina Antique Power and Equipment
Club, or C-CAPE as it’s also called.

The club recently held a party for Jay on his 80th birthday,
complete with a Keck-Gonnerman decorated birthday cake. The club
recently voted to sponsor a $500 scholarship in Jay’s name, to
be given to a deserving high school senior. Happy birthday,


Tom Downing, R.R.3, Box 149A, Ellwood City, PA
16117, chimes in on the photo Curtis Cook sent in (see IMA,
January/February 2002, page1):

‘I was pleased to see a letter from my friend Lyle
Hoffmaster on page 1 of the January/ February 2002 issue. He is
actually one of the ‘old timers’ he refers to as not being
around any longer.

‘We have a gentleman locally who was still running a sawmill
when I first met him. A fire in the 1950s ruined the steam engine
(a large S-type Farquhar portable) they had been sawing with last.
I bought the boiler and remains of the engine and put it back
together, and thus cut my ‘steam teeth.’ 1 later sold it,
bought it back, resold it and it is still just a few miles from

‘The main reason for this letter, which is becoming so
wordy, concerns the photo on page 1 of the January/February issue.
I pulled out my copy of Jack Norbeck’s Encyclopedia of
and compared details to pictures there. I do not match
the engine with any Gaar-Scott illustrations in the book, but it
very much resembles the picture on page 85 of Norbeck’s book
for a Buffalo-Pitts for 1893.

‘I hesitate to guess, but the engine looks quite old and the
separator is self-feed and wind stacker, as well as appearing quite
huge, especially judging by the distance between the axles. That
would make it a relatively late style. The engine may not be as old
as I surmise, as they did not change them so often. Best wishes and
good steaming in 2002.’

Info Sought

Noble G. Barker, R.R. 73, Box 173, Drury, MO
65638, writes in seeking information:

‘We have two stationary steam engines that we would like to
learn more about, i.e., when they were built, who they were
originally sold to, etc. One engine is said to be 60 HP, the only
letters or numbers on the engine are, ‘Atlas Engine Works,
Indianapolis, Indiana.’ The other engine is a Freeman of about
10 HP, I would guess.’ If anyone can help Noble, contact him at
the address above.

Montana Snapshots

Loyal contributor Gary Yaeger has moved, and he
asks everyone to note his new address, 1120 Leisha Lane Kalispell,
MT 59901 (e-mail:

But even a house move couldn’t keep Gary from sending along
another fine batch of vintage photos for our enjoyment this month.
This issue Gary writes:

‘The first photo is of a 30 HP double-cylinder Nichols &
Shepard plowing in eastern Montana, and it comes from the Carl
Mehmke postcard collection.

‘Photo # 2 is a copy of an old postcard showing a brand new
Big Forty Gaar-Scott being unloaded from a railroad flatcar at
Floweree, Mont., circa 1910. Floweree was in the Great Falls

‘Photo # 3 shows another engine to excite Richard Rorvig. It
is Joe Bishop’s 80 HP Case pulling a railroad flatcar, and
Howard Richards’ 25 HP Case pulling freight wagons down Main
Street in Lewistown, Mont., near the mill ditch. I have seen this
picture used elsewhere, and it stated that the 80 HP Case was
pulling itself, its load, the 25 HP and its load. It appears to be
so, but I could not verify that. The two men did freighting for a
living with these Case engines.

‘Photos # 4 and # 5 show a couple of pictures that
aren’t what you might expect, but they are technically of a
‘steam traction engine.’ Appearing to be the predecessor of
the Ditch Witch® trencher, this one operated on steam and is shown
digging sewer or water line ditches in Lewistown, Mont. These
photos come from the late Glen Morton’s photo collection.

‘My last picture shows a copy of a print owned by Carl
Mehmke. I was intrigued by this one, as we have all seen the
literature with the tongue and seat on early J.I. Case steam
traction engines, but this one has the horses harnessed and helping
steer the engine. I am not sure whether the picture was taken in
Montana or not, although the mountains look correct. Notice the
original J.I. Case Agitator thresher being pulled behind by horses
(no, Case fans, Lyle Hoffmaster was not the original J.I. Case
Agitator! He came along quite some time later).

‘I really appreciate the pat on the back from Larry Creed,
and who wouldn’t appreciate everything Larry does for the rest
of us. He really works at getting new (old!) photographs for the
readers of Iron-Men Album. If everyone did that, IMA would
be the size of Life Magazine!

‘Larry, may I jump into your Hoosier- J.I. Case quagmire and
vote for the 12 UP model shown in the March-April issue? Dick
Tombrink of Worden, Mont., has a beautifully restored 12 HP Case
tandem-compound, and I think there is another in Oklahoma. They
both lack the canopy, but otherwise are identical to the one in
Larry’s picture.’

Fusible Plug Source

We’ve recently learned of a few more sources for fusible
plugs. Harold Stark, 3215 S. Meridian St.,
Indianapolis, IN 46217-3231, writes that Vierk Industrial Products,
3521 Coleman Ct., P.O. Box 1668, Lafayette, IN 47902, (800)
428-7548 (on the web at: offers services and
parts for the steam community. Harold says they carry Kunkle safety
valves and offer recalibration services for gauges and safety

And while we’re here, apologies to Harold for misspelling
his name ‘Sterk’ on the back cover of the January/February
2002 issue of IMA, where we printed the great picture Harold sent
of Paul Martins on Chaddy Atteberry’s 40 HP Case.

We also heard from Charles Sindelar, S47
W22300, Lawnsdale Rd., Waukesha, WI 53189 who says fusible plugs
are available from Cattail Foundry, 167 W. Cattail Rd.,
Gordenville, PA 17529, and also from Don Whiteacre, who’s
available at (800) 756-8617, or e-mail at:

Thoughts on Medina

Daniel W. Aldrich, 34540 Sherwood Drive, Solon,
OH 44139, writes:

‘First of all I would like to commend Mr. Backus for fairly
reporting and commenting on the Medina County Fair tragedy. He did
so without crucifying Cliff Kovacic, unlike other people and the
press have done.

‘For some reason a great number of people are willing to
‘write off this tragedy as solely operator error and just
forget that it ever happened. This hobby must move beyond blame and
move on to the prevention of a terrible tragedy like this from ever
occurring again.

‘In the January/February issue of the Iron-Men
a letter by Gary Yaeger from Montana was published, who
stated you cannot have a catastrophic crown sheet failure as long
as water covers the crown sheet. ‘It cannot be done,’ he
stated. That statement alone demonstrates a very dangerous
attitude, because for one it disregards the corrosion of the stay
bolts, and the crown sheet. Secondly, if you subject a crown sheet
to operating pressure higher than it was designed for, or which it
is no longer able to safely hold, it does not matter if you have
three inches or 12 inches of water covering it, it can suffer a
catastrophic failure.

‘Mr. Yaeger went on to say that he would rather have a good
engineer on a marginal boiler than a marginal engineer on a brand
new boiler. I would not want to be around either one, because both
are accidents waiting to happen. For a person with a second class
stationary steam engineer license and a Montana steam traction
engineers license to make statements like this is rather

‘Mr. Yaeger went on to criticize the Pennsylvania Chief
Boiler Inspector, John D. Payton, stating, ‘He had another
agenda – namely shutting down engines with weak boilers.’
Excuse me, Mr. Yaeger, that is Mr. Payton’s job, and is it not
the goal of boiler inspection to shut down unsafe boilers before
accidents occur? When a boiler inspector approves a boiler for
operation, he or she is putting ‘their hide’ on the line
each and every time they do so. It seems that you, Mr. Yaeger and
others have the agenda, to ‘write off the Medina County Fair
accident as operator error of water not covering part of the crown
sheet, and that the corrosion of the stay bolts, and corrosion of
the crown sheet did not play a major role in the failure. Isn’t
it possible the distortion of the crown bolt holes could also be
caused by the crown sheet being subjected to pressure it was no
longer able to safely hold?

‘We must focus on preventing an accident like this one from
ever happening again. If we choose to ignore the facts and just
consider this accident as a tragic, isolated incidence, we doom
ourselves to repeat this horrible tragedy again, and it will happen
again if we fail to learn from it. Here in Ohio, they are in the
process of passing laws regarding mandatory antique boiler
inspection and the possible licensing of said operators. It is
unlikely that it will be in place before 2003. Most people have
concerned themselves with who is to blame, but what they should
concern themselves with is: What can I do to stop something like
this from ever happening again? Each one of us needs to investigate
what changes are being made and work with the people involved to
change things for the better.

‘Blame is irrelevant, since it will not change anything. The
insurance companies, state boiler inspectors, fair board members,
etc., are not concerned with who is to blame. They are concerned
with what everyone in this hobby should be, and that is preventing
another accident like this one from ever occurring again. Some of
us will have to demonstrate what extra steps we have taken to
assure that our antique boilers are safe to operate.

‘I have operated steam traction engines, portable steam
engines, and stationary steam engine/boilers for almost 15 years. I
am not afraid of steam, but by the same token I respect its power
and the destructive force it has. Steam is like anything else, when
you lose respect for what you are dealing with that is when it is
the most dangerous. We in this hobby will have to deal with the
aftermath of the Medina County Fair accident for quite some time to

Avery, or Robinson?

Lyle Hoffmaster, 1845 Marion Road, Bucyrus, OH
44820, writes in again this issue:

‘I’m at it again: Larry Creed’s picture on page 2 of
the March/April 2002 issue of Iron-Men Album is my reason for

‘Larry calls the engine a straight-flue Avery, and here I
beg to differ with him. Now, that front tank may be from an Avery,
the engine is not: it’s a Robinson. The general layout of
parts, the canopy with its raised section and governors jutting up
in it, the smokestack and steps up to the engine proper, all
differentiate it, even from a Gaar-Scott.

‘Since most of the 22 HP and 25 HP engines had the trunnions
tying the outer end of the rear axle back to the outer ends of the
drawbar – and this picture does not show them – we can maybe say it
isn’t a 22 HP or a 25 HP. This engine is not mounted on a
heater bedplate; the 18 HP and smaller were mounted on heater
bedplates. I would say the engine is a 20 HP.

‘The 20 HP engine is unique as it didn’t come out until
1908, about three years after the 22 HP and 25 HP engines were
first built. What few details the separator shows it also appears
to be a Robinson. A nice picture, and of a rare outfit.

‘Now Richard, please run another correction for me. In the
March/April 2002 issue the last word in my letter reads
‘engine.’ This should have read ‘dome.’ I’ll
never live that last sentence down if you don’t make a
correction!’ Consider it done, Lyle.

Birdsall Huller

Boyd Silsby, R.R.1, Box 101, Mankato, KS 66956,
writes in for information on a Birdsall Huller. Boyd writes:

‘We have acquired a Birdsall alfalfa or clover huller, a
gift to our museum (the Jewel County Historical Society) by Maxine
Jackson Krier from the Jackson estate. The former owner was Louis
Jackson, who operated Jackson Manufacturing in Simpson, Kan.

‘I am enclosing a picture of the huller, and would
appreciate any information on Birdsall hullers. We are not able to
find a serial number and are wondering where it might be located on
the machine. We would greatly appreciate any information about this

If anybody out there can help, please contact Boyd at the
address above.

More on Avery

Randy Schwerin, 3040 160th St., Sumner, IA
50674 chimes in on the Avery:

‘Richard, I wanted to comment on a couple of things in past
issues of your magazine. First off, I would like to thank you for
keeping the same format that we readers have grown accustomed to. I
have been a full-time subscriber now for right at 30 years and
really treasure the Iron-Men Album. I would like to echo
my friend Jim Russell’s suggestion that you occasionally
reprint article from early IMAs. I feel that these contributors
were the people who really shaped the magazine through the years.
After all, we are all probably second, third or fourth generation
hobbyists and owe it all to our forefathers of the hobby.

‘On the lighter side, I see an interesting photo in the
March/April 2002 issue on page 2. This photo instantly caught my
eye when I read Larry Creed’s labeling of the engine as an
Avery. I apologize, but just can’t resist taking issue with his
call on this one.

‘I really don’t see any Avery traits on this engine.
First off, take a good look at the drive wheels: they have cast
iron rims, and I don’t believe Avery built a cast drive wheel.
Secondly, notice how the bull gear is mounted to the rim of the
wheel, again definitely not an Avery design. Thirdly, the crosshead
guide with its closed end. As far as I can research, Avery always
used an open-ended guide. Next, the crank disc: this one appears to
be open on the opposite side of the counter balance. The 25 HP
Avery used a solid disc. Lastly, this engine is equipped with a dry
pipe that is an internal steam supply line, which exited the boiler
over the firebox, back of the cylinder/steam chest. Avery used an
external steam line to feed the engine. Larry, sorry I had to call
you on this one, however, I think with a little careful
reconsideration you may want to trade this Bulldog in on a

‘Now on to the more serious side of this. I have read with
keen interest all of the dialogue that has come forth since the
July 29 incident at Medina, Ohio. That day was truly a sad day for
our hobby, and I feel that we can all learn something from this
tragedy. There seems to be a lot of negative press as to the
condition of the boiler of the 110 Case, with differing theories on
how much pressure it would have or wouldn’t have held.

‘John D. Payton, chief boiler inspector of the state of
Pennsylvania, makes reference in his questionable report as to the
thickness of the crown sheet after the explosion, coming up with a
maximum allowable working pressure of 47 psi, using some sort of a
ASME equation. He also comes up with the theoretical pressure of 90
psi as to the pressure at which the boiler actually ruptured. Let
me point out that these numbers are obtained through theory, and
there is no way he can be certain of their accuracy. If this boiler
was allowed to run low on water prior to its rupturing, which I
truly believe it was, the pressure within the boiler would have
surely stretched the metal at the point where the crown sheet was
overheated the most. Therefore, the ultrasound readings that Mr.
Payton uses for his equations absolutely cannot be relied upon.

‘I would make a fairly educated guess that 95 percent of all
(catastrophic) crown sheet failures down through the years were
brought on by low water. Either in the situation where the crown
sheet was overheated to the point where it simply pulls away from
the stay bolts or where water is introduced into this same setting
either by injecting of the water as in feed water makeup or by the
remaining boiler water washing up onto the overheated portion of
the firebox due to the movement of the engine. This creates what
Mr. Payton referred to as a BLEVE (boiling liquid expanding vapor
explosion), which he tries to discount.

‘I feel this points out two things about Mr. Payton and his
report. First, his lack of background experience in assessing
boiler failures of this type; that is, locomotive style boilers
with their crown sheets ruptured. I would venture to say this is
likely the first one he has been called into to assess. Secondly,
he quite probably has his own personal agenda to promote through
his findings. By this, I mean greater restrictions through state
legislation, getting insurance companies involved to a greater
degree and making the inspection of these boilers more costly to
get certified for operation in public.

‘Please don’t misunderstand what 1 am saying by all of
this. The incident at Medina was a tragedy, the only one of its
kind that our hobby has ever seen, and the sad part of it is, it
could have been completely avoided. It is just too bad Mr. Payton
cannot open his ASME Code Book and find an equation for calculating
a person’s capacity for common sense and level of respect for
the power of steam. I think the education of antique hobby boiler
owners and operators is a far better approach to this problem than
the policing of the boilers themselves by outside inspecting

‘I have always maintained that you can inspect a boiler as
often as you like but, through negligence and disrespect, still
have a potential accident. Let me point out that this boiler did
hold a state certificate a scant 10 years ago in the state of
Minnesota and was shown numerous times in public with no adverse
affects. Minnesota’s inspection program includes visual
inspections, ultrasound testing and a hydrostatic test of one and
one-half times MAWP and also licensing of its operators.

‘Know your boiler intimately both inside and out and keep
its appliances in good operating condition. Make sure your steam
gauge is calibrated properly, as well as your safety valve. Blow
your water glass out frequently while under steam and make sure its
connections are clean and clear of sediment. Keep your injectors
functioning well and understand their pressure operating ranges,
and take pride in keeping your boiler free of accumulated mud and
scale as well as soot and ashes. We, as owners and operators, hold
the responsibility of making sure our engines are safe for the
public. I don’t feel that we should depend on outside agencies
to do this for us.

‘As to my own personal background in this matter, I have
spent 30 years in the steam engine hobby, owned 10 engines and
restored them from various states of repair and disrepair. I
presently own six traction engines and one stationary engine and

‘I currently hold a director’s position on the board at
our local show, which has a roster of between eight to 10 operating
engines. I have traveled to numerous shows throughout the Midwest
over the years, and have seen literally hundreds of engines under
steam in various operating situations. I have always felt
comfortable around a traction engine’s boiler with a reasonable
amount of steam on the gauge, a good amount of water in the glass
and a competent operator on the platform.

‘In closing, I would like to complement Bruce Babcock on his
articles pertaining to the fusible plug. I thought they were very
well written, researched and presented, and they contain
information we all can benefit from.’

If you have a photo or a comment for Soot in the Flues,
please send it along to Iron-Men Album, 1503 SW 42nd St.,Topeka, KS
66609-1265, or e-mail:

  • Published on May 1, 2002
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