Steam Engine People: Past and Present

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A 30 HP Case traction engine with a butt-strap boiler, serial no. 33523, built in 1916. Randy Schwerin, Sumner, Iowa, sund us this great shot of his steam engine.
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E.C. "Big Mac" McMillan's world famous Elgin Watch 40 HP Case provides a perch for McMillan and Charlie Stark (left) in 1952, at Joyland Park in Wichita, Kan. Charlie is now the president of the Springfield, Mo., show.
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William Beseler, the owner and operator of the Reeves steam engine. The photo was taken around 1912 by Carl Beseler, William's brother.
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Big Mac on Old Abe thrshing in Cottonwood River bottoms near Emporia, Kan. Big Mac was very high on Case compounds, as was his friend LeRoy Blacker on Port Huron compound engines.
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A 40 HP Case stops for a pose with Big Mac at Bird City, Kan., in the early 1950s.
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A 30 HP Case on the high block at the Michigan State Fair in 1955. Big Mac was performing with the steam engine.

Old Hedtke Case 

Paul Weber dug through his files after seeing an auction ad listed on page 29 of the January/ February 2006 issue. We liked the photo so much, we decided to put it on the cover. Paul writes:
This photo is of the Case 110 HP sold at the Hedtke estate auction in October 2005, which brought $155,000.
The photo was taken at the George Hedtke show about 35 years ago using a 4-by-5-inch view camera – does anyone use cut film anymore? The weather had been rainy and the day was overcast and hazy, which accounts for the rather “flat” look of the photo. Harry Woodmansee is the man on the throttle, but unfortunately I did not get the names of the other people  in the photo.

30 HP Case 

Randy Schwerin, 3040 160th, Sumner, IA 50674, sends us a photo of his latest engine. Randy writes:
I thought it was high time to furnish the good readers of Steam Traction a photo of my latest engine in my collection here on the farm.

This is a late-style 30 HP Case traction engine with a butt-strap boiler, serial no. 33523, built in 1916. This little gem was located thanks to my good friend Ed Gladkowski, a Steam Traction reader who lives in Houston, Texas. Ed happened to be on a road trip in south Texas and came across this little Case, took a couple of photos, sent them to me, and as they say, the rest is history. I wanted to take an opportunity to thank Ed for his help with this. Without good friends our hobby sure wouldn’t be as meaningful.
As I mentioned, the Case was built in 1916, one out of a litter of 50 built with consecutive serial numbers. It’s unclear to me how many of these late 30 HPs were actually built through the years. Perhaps some of the “Case experts” can respond to this? I have been able to learn there are about 10 left in the states. Colin Beamish wrote me some time ago and furnished me with a list. Thanks Colin!

I’ve been having a great time tinkering on the Case this winter, working on everything from the drawbar to the smokestack and a few things in between, too. Keep up the good work on Steam Traction. I enjoy it a lot.

Wedding Celebration 

Beverly A. Atteberry, P.O. Box 420, Tulsa, OK 74101; (918) 605-1913, sends along some wonderful news. Beverly is the daughter of well-known Case steam engine expert Chady Atteberry. Beverly Ann Atteberry and Brian Raymond Tracy will be exchanging their wedding vows on May 6, 2006. A reception will be held on Saturday, 7 p.m. at the Sawmill area of the Pawnee Steam Park, Pawnee, Okla. Congratulations Beverly and Brian!

Steam Engine Story 

David Wolfe, N. 30101 Church Hill Road, Arcadia, WI 54612-8298; (608) 323-3087, sends a story he has taken from his self-published book Plows and Plowing, which can be ordered from him. The story goes:

While I was visiting my friend Brian Becker, I told him I was working on this plow book. Brian had something to show me. He brought me a picture of a steam engine pulling an 8-bottom plow. The
picture had come from his grandmother.

I went and visited Brian’s grandmother Gladys Becker, age 95, in Cochrane, Wis. For the next hour or so Gladys told me the story of her father, William Beseler, the owner and operator of the Reeves steam engine in the picture. The photo was taken around 1912 by Carl Beseler, William’s brother.

William Beseler came to the U.S. from Germany with his parents when he was 9 months old. They settled in Cochrane, Wis., in 1902. When William was 21 years old, he decided to move to North Dakota with $18 in his pocket and a team of horses. He homesteaded a 1/4-section of land in Emmons County, 10 miles south of Braddock, N.D. William farmed over 2,000 acres at times.

The Reeves steam engine was driven 65 miles from Braddock, N.D., to Mobridge, S.D., where it then crossed the Missouri River and traveled another 50 miles north and plowed on the north side of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

William married Martha Newman in 1906. They lived in a three-room house for about 10 years. Gladys was born in 1910, the second of eight children. A few years later, they moved into a much larger two-story home.

In the early summer of 1930, Gladys and her family came back to Cochrane to visit her family. At a dance she met Clarence Becker. In November of that same year, they were married in Bismarck, N.D. Clarence and Gladys returned to Cochrane to begin their own farm. They had three children. Their son Bill (Boyd) Becker took over the family farm until he retired. Now Bill’s oldest son, Bruce, farms that same farm with his family. Bill’s other son, Brian, runs a sawmill and lumber drying operation on part of the farm that he has purchased.

Forrest Stewart, 896 14th Road, Clay Center, KS 67432, who rescued the 65 HP Case featured in the March/April 2006 issue, sends us a change to his e-mail address. The new address:

Big Mac 

Chady Atteberry, P.O. Box 420, Tulsa, OK 74101; (918) 605-1913, sends along a letter saved from the George Hedtke auction. The letter was from the legendary “Big Mac” McMillan, who was known for his knowledge of Case engines. Chady writes:
I have enclosed a letter dated Dec. 28, 1961, to George Hedtke from E.C. “Big Mac” McMillan. It may be of interest to readers and the folks who purchased the 110 and 50 HP Case engines at the Hedtke sale.

Of course I was a very close friend of Big Mac. Mac and Joe May, who owned the Hedtke 50 HP Case, came to Oklahoma and visited Lyman Knapp and myself in the 1940s after World War II. Joe was a very strong Case man and a locomotive engineer, the same as Big Mac. I had a nice visit with Joe at the Wichita, Kan., show in 1952. There were pictures of Joe’s 50 HP Case plowing in the early Iron-Men Album. Warren Bellinger from Denver, Iowa, was able to save this letter from the sale. Thanks to Warren for sending me the typed letter.

Dec. 28, 1961
Mr. G.W. Hedtke, Davis Jct. Ill.
Dear Mr. Hedtke:

Just received your letter of the 26th and will answer now before I lay it aside and forget it. Am getting old and forgetful and sometimes I put things away and forget about them.

The above engine was a 15 H.P. Compounded Case engine # 16899 of 1906 vintage I run it for over 20 years, my father having bought it new. The boiler played out many years ago as we used the engine lots in those days and had a lot of bad water and it was hard on the boilers. We put the long smokebox on it in 1919 and removed the heater. Put the tank and coal bunker on it in 1918. It originally had the Case 8 bbl. two wheeled tender. So much for that.

So you are the “Boy” who bought Joe May’s Case 50 34529 and the Case 110 from Mr. Thieszen of Henderson, Neb. I didn’t suppose he would sell it, anyway this soon, as he seemed to think it was the “Hot Stuff” and I saw a pic of him on it in a Lincoln newspaper a while back. Well, one never knows what these “Steam Fiends” will do. It looks like a good engine and I am glad to hear that the boiler is in such good shape. I have eight Case engines and wish all their boilers were as good as you say this one is.
As near as I can make out, this engine is either of 1911 vintage or early 1912, prior to #27319. It has the “Butt-Strap” boiler and that makes it at least as late as 1911. After 24277. And as it has the small crank-pin and the square front axle, that makes it prior to #27319. The axle was supposed to have been changed at #27319 while the crank-pin etc. was not changed until #27646.
However, sometimes, the repair catalog is a little “off” on some of the changes but usually not very far and I think in this instance that it is probably about correct. Harold Ottaway’s Case 110 has all the latest stuff on it, (nearly anyway), and it is in the 28000s, #28654, it seems to me without looking it up, and I don’t know whether I have the record of its number or not anyway. Emil Kudlacek’s Case 110 is #28065 and it also has about all the latest “stuff” on it. But neither of these engines have the steering worm and gear enclosed like a few of the last ones were supposed to have. I don’t think I ever saw one of them that did either, but they showed it that way in the catalogs and I presume at least a few of them did. That is about the only change or difference I know of between H.I.O.’s 110 and the latest ones.

After #27646, they had the 3 3/4” crankpin and the 33” crank disc and there were a lot of other changes too but you have just about as good an engine as the later ones were and I think the condition of the individual engine is more important than the lateness of it, especially as it is late enough to have the late “Butt-Strap” boiler. That is the main thing. The older engines were good, and they had good boilers too, but not quite as good as like yours. And some of the inspectors, sorta “shy away” from the lap joints. They are alright too and I never knew of any Case 110 boiler ever exploding, but the newer boilers are slightly heavier in some places and the “Butt-Strap” joint is a little better and especially for “inspection.”

Now, as I understand it, you live in Northern Illinois and perhaps not too far from Rockford. I an unable to find your town on my Ill. road map but I found a Davis. I don’t know whether this would be the same place or not. It is a rather old map anyway. But, I would suggest that you go to the Case Branch House in Rockford, if you happen to be there sometime, and give them the boiler number of your engine and ask them to write to the factory in Racine and ask them to give them and you the “dope” on this engine. Or you can write to them yourself if you would rather or it is unhandy for you to go to Rockford.

Tell them that you have recently purchased this engine and that the number plate is missing from it but that you think you have the correct boiler number. And that you would like to have the correct engine number and the date built and any other pertinent information concerning it that they have handy.

I used to send in these boiler numbers and get the engine numbers from the Company, but lately, they don’t seem to want to do this for me but they have done it in several instances for individuals that have recently bought an engine and not so very long ago either. I don’t know whether they still have the “Big Books” that they used to have or not, but if not, I think they do have some record that they can get the engine number from if they have the boiler number, and feel like doing it. Things have changed a lot there at Racine the past few years and it is harder to get anything out of them than it used to be, but I would strongly advise you to try it, either direct or thru the Rockford Branch House.

Now, these numbers you have given me are neither the engine number nor the boiler number I don’t know just what they are but most of them pertain to the steel plates in the boiler. The Case Co. never put the engine numbers on very many of the steam engines except on the number plate. I have seen a very few that did have the engine number steel stamped in the side of the smokebox just below the number plate. Not over two or three of these have I seen tho. Of course there were others, not doubt. And these few were on real late engines, in the 34 or 35000s that I have seen. I have heard lots of different stories about the engine numbers being stamped in various places on the boilers, but except for the few that I have seen stamped as I said, they have all proved to be “false alarms” and were some other number.

Now, on the older boilers, prior to about 1910, I don’t remember about the 1910s, will look at one the next time I have a chance and think of it, I guess. The older boilers have the boiler number stamped in the boiler head above the back handhole in about the location you mention, but I do not think a boiler as late as yours is stamped in that location. It might be possible for some of the 110s to be thus stamped but I know the others that new are stamped in a different location. Anyway, this number is too high for your boiler as it is probably in the 13000 to 15000 series of numbers as the boiler numbers run between 11000 and 12000 below the engine numbers. This is on account that the Case Co. did not build their boilers until the engine numbers were up in the 11000s so the boiler numbers are behind.

And furthermore, the boiler numbers and engine numbers sometimes vary considerably, as some engines of higher numbers have boilers of lower numbers due to the fact that the boilers were built and stored sometimes for quite a little while before being used. Often they were brought out and assembled into engines in the reverse order to their numbers, while the engines were numbered in rotation or “series” as near as they could do it. So sometimes there is a variation of several hundred numbers difference between some boiler numbers and others on engines of nearly the same numbers. 

Now, on the later boilers the boiler number is usually near the top of the back head on the right side along the curve and right up near or sometimes partly under (hidden by) the lever shelf.

On Emil Kudlacek’s engine, we had to loosen the bolts that held the lever shelf (quadrant shelf Case calls it) to the right-hand wingsheet and jack the shelf up a little to get so we could see the numbers. However, I guess your engine doesn’t have a lever shelf but has the shaft across the rear of the wingsheets and the levers are mounted on it. However, I expect that the boiler number is in about the same position as I have shown. However, as I never noticed the location of the boiler number on an engine of about the vintage of yours, I can’t say for sure about it. Possibly the number above the back handhole is the one, but I would advise you to look in the above described location for it if there is no number there or it does not come along in the 12000 to 16000 series, then maybe the one over the handhole is the one but it is not correct for your boiler number. So, if you don’t find it where I have described, then look this number over the handhole over again and see if it isn’t somewhere in the series that I mentioned. It might be 12917 or 13917 or 15917 or some of the other figures, besides the second one might not be what you think they are.

I had an experience concerning boiler no. 11307 on an old 15 HP Case Engine. They thought it was 11807. The fellow who was so sure of it was a part owner and he “just knew it was a boiler head engine number.” And that number was a 15 HP engine too, and so I thought possibly someone had stamped the engine number on the boiler head but didn’t think so very strong.

So I wrote in (that was a number of years ago and we could get information pretty easily then), and sent this number in as the boiler number which I thought it was. However, the engine with the boiler no. 11807 was a 75 HP portable and had been shipped to Washington or Oregon so that “knocked that out.” But when I saw a picture of the engine I knew for certain that the 11807 was not anywhere near the engine number, so I wrote another fellow who was interested in it and told him of my findings. As he had sent me the pix of it, I knew it was a much newer engine than #11807 and told him to take a good look at it sometime when he saw it again and clean it off good with a wire brush or something and see if the number they had given me wasn’t wrong.

Well, this he did and he came up with the #11307 and I sent that boiler number to Racine and got the correct engine number, which I believe was in the upper 22000s. And according to the book, this is proper for a 15 HP engine built in late 1909 or early 1910. So you can see that the wrong interpretation of one figure can throw things “way off.”

If you can get the correct engine number from the Case Co., then either Harold Ottaway or myself can furnish you with the new brass number plate for it so you can have it all fixed up. I think this is all I can do for you in reference to the engine number so will now take up the other things.

Thanks for the nice pictures of the engines. And I can furnish you with the handles and buttons for the smokebox door, if I have enough. I had quite a lot of them but have let so many of then go that I may be about out as so many of the “Boys” have wanted them. I will see what I can do and let you know, also the price, I will have to look it up but I believe the handles are $1.00 or a little more and the buttons are a little less. The buttons that I have are made of brass, as I guess they were easier to make although the material was more expensive. Harold did have some handles cast too, but they may be gone now.

No, the independent steam pump was NOT regular equipment on the Case 110. They had a geared pump mounted on the engine frame bracket inside of the engine frame and just behind the dome. I think that is the reason for the forward location of the dome on the 110s. The late ones tho, after #27646, had the same geared pump as was used on the 80 and was located the same, just like on your 50. Then it wouldn’t have been necessary to have the dome so far ahead, but I suppose they had quite a bunch of these boilers built ahead and never bothered to make the change as they soon discontinued the manufacture of the famous 110.

And I doubt very much if you will ever be able to find one of these pumps, and you could not use the later one either and you couldn’t find one of them either. So, if the independent pump works alright, you had just better leave it on and if it doesn’t work and you can’t fix it so it does, you could put on a 1” injector on that side in place of the pump if you wanted to do so.

In re- the pix; we had the first Case 8”x9” 20-40  Gas Tractor to come to Kansas. I believe the number was #1080. They built several of them in this series and then built quite a few of the older 7 3/4”x8” engines with later numbers and then started the 8”x9”s again. Still later they increased the size of the cylinders to 8 3/4”x9”. We sold ours a long time ago. In 1918 I guess.

You surely have a nice assortment of separators and binders, etc. I have the old 32”x54” that came with “Old Abe” in 1906 and another one just like it and also a pretty good later 28”x50” and that is all the other stuff I have besides the engines. Three 65s, one 45, two 50s and two 40s, one with the littler boiler and one with the big “Ohio Standard” boiler. They are both in the 31000s.
After looking over your letter again, I see where you are an electrician in Rockford, so I guess you wouldn’t have much trouble in going to the Case Branch House there to have them try to get the “dope” on your engine.

So, as I have written at some length and as my health is very poor and I am pretty tired, I will close for this time and try to see what I can find in the way of smokebox door handles and buttons.
Yours very truly, E. C. McMillan (Big Mac). 

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