Farm Collector

Steam Engine Tales

R.R. 3, Box 381 Danville, Illinois 61832

In 1915 my grandfather, Haskill Creed, of Cairo, Missouri,
ventured west to the Larned, Kansas area. He had been hired to
engineer a 32 HP Reeves for a Mr. John Alfred. This engine was a
simple, with a lap seam boiler. It pulled a wooden 44 inch Reeves
separator which was several years older than the engine and quite
worn. In 1915 they managed to keep the separator running and they
made some money. In 1916 my grandfather purchased the engine and
separator from Mr. Alfred for $600. Grandfather continued to thresh
Mr. Alfred’s run for three years. The engine and separator
stayed in Kansas year ’round, and Grandfather came out from
Cairo, Missouri, to run the outfit during the harvest. After the
1918 harvest, Grandfather decided that the separator was worn out.
He had the separator burned and the engine loaded on a flatcar in
Great Bend, Kansas, and shipped to north Missouri for $75.

In north Missouri the big Reeves was primarily used to pull a
road grader on the county roads. Occasionally it was used to pull
hedge. Dad remembers his father hooking a cable around a hedgetree
and the other end to the Reeves. He would move the engine slowly
forward to get the slack out of the cable and then gently rock the
Reeves by opening and closing the throttle. At first all you would
see was the hedgetree shaking and giving a little each time. The
next thing that you would see was roots coming out of the ground
from all directions.

One day in 1922, Grandfather decided to check the thickness of
the boiler. The standard practice in those days was to peck on the
boiler with a hammer to check the thickness. Evidently the boiler
was not very thick, since the hammer went completely through the
boiler in several spots. This was quite a surprise, because it had
carried 160 pounds of steam the previous fall. At that time there
was no satisfactory way to repair a boiler in that condition, so
the Reeves was cut up for scrap.

In 1925, Grandfather bought a 1922 12 HP Case steam engine east
of Macon, Missouri, for $350 from a widow. Dad remembers going to
get this engine. It looked like it was brand new and was always
stored in a shed. This engine was used to fill silos and pull a
buzz saw. In 1928 this engine had its first flue go out and it was
cut up for scrap.

Dad can remember other engines in the Cairo-Jacksonville area,
but he only remembers one person who successfully farmed with a
steam engine. This person Bill Darby, from Jacksonville had Advance
and Nichols & Shepard steam engines which he used for threshing
and plowing.

In later years, Dad became acquainted with Les McKinny of Cairo,
who owned several large engines. Les thought that the best engine
ever built was a Rumely. He built five scale models of M Rumely
engines. They all had boilers built at Moberly, Missouri, by
Solomon Boiler Works. He built his last model in the late Sixties;
we believe it was a double cylinder. One model he traded even for a
brand new car. I would like to correspond with anyone who would
know where any of these models are located.

My other grandfather, Elmer Mosteller, lived near Mansfield,
Indiana, in the area called Rocky Fork. He used steam engines to
power his Enterprise sawmill. The first engine that Elmer owned was
a portable engine with a wet bottom firebox. My uncles cannot
recall the make of this engine. This engine left a bit to be
desired because of the fact that it had a hole in the bottom of the
boiler. My grandfather would whittle out a wooden plug, hammer it
into the hole, and stack wooden blocks underneath the plug. He
would drive a wedge-shaped piece of wood between the plug and the
stack of blocks to hold the plug in place while the boiler was
under pressure. All of the wheels were chocked to keep the engine
from rocking. Caution was used to keep the engine steady because if
the plug blew out he would lose a day of sawing. My uncles remember
a few times when the plug did blow out which would clear the
sawmill shed of everyone except for my grandfather.

Elmer later owned a Reeves traction engine and sawed with it.
One time they were crossing a rocky creek bed and a steering chain
broke which allowed one front wheel to cut back into the side of
the boiler. Before the engine could be stopped, the front wheels
lodged between some rocks and tore the front pedestal out from
under the boiler.

The last engine that Elmer owned was a Baker which was scrapped
in the lot behind his house. Several years later my dad was walking
through that lot and saw something sticking out of the ground. He
started digging and uncovered a Powell whistle which we assume was
from the Baker engine.

In the mid-Fifties, Dad found an 80 HP Case near Lena, Indiana,
which was for sale for $125. Dad lived in St. Louis, Missouri, and
he did not know anyone who lived near Lena where he could park the
engine, so he did not buy it. Later the owners offered to give the
engine to anyone who wanted it. Bob Johnson of Terre Haute,
Indiana, took what he could get off of it and it was cut up. Dad
and Bob have regretted not getting that engine ever since. Bob took
some black and white film of it running the sawmill years before.
It looked like it was a good engine to me.

After we moved to Indiana in 1962, Dad met Albert McChargue of
Bridgeton, Indiana. He had owned Minneapolis, Baker, and Huber
steam engines. The Minneapolis was used to power a Sinker-Davis
sawmill in Bridgeton. The Baker was used to power a 40 inch Baker
threshing machine, the Huber on a wooden 36′ N&S threshing

The Huber was formerly owned by someone who used it to run a
sawmill. The owner got concerned about the Huber’s boiler
condition and decided not to use it anymore. It was pulled out to
the side of the sawmill and another engine was used to finish
sawing the timber. When the sawmill was moved the Huber was left
behind for the junkman. Albert heard about the Huber, looked it
over, and purchased it. Since he did not have a boiler pump and the
boiler looked good to him, he decided to fire it up. He set the
pop-valve to 180 pounds, filled the boiler with water, and lit a
fire. After the fire was going real well and the pressure was
rising, he filled the firebox with wood and retreated to a hilltop
about a quarter of a mile away from the engine. From there he
watched the engine and waited for the pop-valve to open. About a
half hour later the pop-valve opened and the boiler held. He went
back to the engine and made more preparations while waiting for the
boiler pressure to drop to a safer level. When he was ready, he
opened the throttle, engaged the clutch and out he chugged on the
engine that was given up for junk.

Albert introduced my dad to Fred Kemna in the mid-Sixties. Fred
lived on the Illinois-Indiana state line near Danville, Illinois,
and always had several steam engines. I can remember when I was
eight years old and going to Fred’s to see all of the engines.
Keck-Gonnerman, Baker, Buffalo Pitts, Gaar Scott, Advance, Advance
Rumely, Nichols & Shepard, Port Huron, Case, and Reeves were
some of the ones that I can remember. I don’t think that Fred
ever saw a steam engine that he didn’t like. Two things that
upset Fred were to see an engine sitting outside with its stack
uncovered or an engine mired down in the ground. On Memorial Day
and Fourth of July, Fred almost always had an engine fired up to
play with. Several times Dad would go up to Fred’s and get to
run an engine. One time Fred tried to give Dad a 20 HP Nichols
& Shepard engine to take home and play with. Dad refused the
offer because he felt that it would be taking an unfair advantage
of his friendship with Fred. I think that the 20 HP Nichols &
Shepard, as well as several of the Keck-Gonnermans that Fred owned,
went to southern Indiana.

One engine that Fred owned was an Aultman-Taylor which was
shipped to Kinzers, Pennsylvania, then on to South America. He
always wanted to go to South America and visit this engine, however
he never was able to do it.

Fred owned many different makes of engines and he liked them
all. Fred never saw a lap seam boiler leak at the seam. He always
said that a properly built lap seam boiler, after several years,
could be as strong as a butt-strap boiler. He felt that there were
more ways to trap moisture in a butt-strap boiler.

Fred and Dad’s favorite engine was a 22 HP Advance Rumely
which is still in the Kemna family. If you attend the Skinner Farm
Museum Show near Perrysville, Indiana, you might be lucky and see
it in action.

The stories that people write about the good and bad points of
Case engines are interesting. Frequently the 65 HP Case is the main
subject of these stories. It is interesting to note how the Advance
Rumely 20-22 HP is built similar to a Case 65. There are very few
in-depth stories written about the good and bad points of an
Advance Rumely engine. It would be interesting to see how a 20-22
HP Advance Rumely compares to a Case 65, and to see how a 25 HP
Advance Rumely compares to an 80 HP Case. I guess Advance Rumely
would be the subject of these stories had they sold more engines
than any other company.

I enjoy the IMA and I especially enjoy hearing stories from the
older folks about steam engines. The stories about buying and
restoring engines are very informative. I would like to encourage
more people to contribute to this publication.

  • Published on Jul 1, 1994
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