Farm Collector

STEAM ENGINES Cavorting On The Hillside

Domino’s Farms 24 Frank Lloyd Wright Drive,P.O. Box 456 Ann
Arbor, Michigan 48106

Smoke, soot and cinders were the order of the day when hundreds
of nineteenth and twentieth century farm implements gathered around
the picturesque old red barn at .Domino’s Farms on Labor Day
weekend, but this unique assemblage was not the usual meeting of
threshers to take in the year’s crop. The many steam traction
engines were assembled at one farm to represent some of the largest
and rarest behemoths ever to ply the fertile fields of American
farmland in the last century and a half.

The shrieking whistles and belching smoke and steam created an
atmosphere not seen on nearby farms since the advent of mass
produced steam engines and other, smaller labor-saving devices on
the farm and in the nearby factories.

Not just a static exhibition of replicas or models lined up
along the pathways, the antique steam traction engines on exhibit
Labor Day weekend were dark, iron monsters painted in the truest
fashion of the hey-day of farming in America and they run! One of
the most exciting scenes of all the many lively events of the
weekend was the view of these gentle giants trundling along, up and
down the hills of Domino’s Farms, their slow and deliberate
motions delicately handled by the man or woman at the tiny controls
behind the steam boiler.

Giant Queen of the Fleet

As one of only five such engines known to still exist east of
the Mississippi, Marvin Brodbeck’s 32-120 Reeves Canadian
Special was destined to be the hit of the Labor Day weekend show.
Built in 1910 at the same Columbus, Indiana factory which
manufactures the Cummins diesel engine today, Brodbeck found the
engine in Judith Basin, Montana, where it had been rusting away
since 1939. After 41 years of neglect, Marvin completely rebuilt
the machine and had it in working order again by 1981. It’s
been the hit of every show since that time.

From Ottawa Lake, Michigan, Marvin Brodbeck said there were
about ten other steam traction engines which appeared at the
Monaghan expo. ‘They are all from about a fifty-mile radius (of
Domino’s Farms),’ says Brodbeck, who has easily the
most-admired exhibit anywhere in the mid-west.

Explaining all the numbers and names associated with this giant
steamer, Marvin says, ‘Mine was built to be a plow engine, not
the kind that just sat in one place. The first number (32) stands
for how many teams of horses it would take to replicate one
day’s work. The second number (120) stands for the horse power.
‘Canadian Special’ doesn’t mean it was made in Canada,
but that it meets the Canadian standards of more stringent boiler
laws. Canadian Specials have stronger, thicker boilers.’

‘And it’s a cross compound engine, too,’ he goes on
to say. ‘That means you can have high pressure in one cylinder,
exhaust in the other, or both, or…’

And, as is the case with every iron and steam exhibitor, he will
tell you every detail about his favorite project. That’s the
way these iron men operate. They’re enthusiastic and proud, but
never arrogant. They appreciate the interest of others and, if you
ask questions, they’re ready with answers. Lots of answers.
Like how much water does a boiler tank hold? (1000 gallons!). Or
how much does that thing weigh when fully loaded? (48,000

Lest anyone think that the world of steam traction engines is a
man’s world, Marvin’s daughter is proof of the fact that
both men and women are interested and proficient in the craft. Last
year, Beth (Brodbeck) Vanarsdall operated her dad’s 24-75 Port
Huron steam traction engine at the Monaghan show; her brother,
Roland, ran the 32-120 Reeves alongside her. Now that’s a steam

Dad Marvin is also president of the National Thresher’s
Association which operates out of Wauseon, Ohio.

A highlight of each day is the Noon Whistle, a venerable
tradition among collectors and fans of steam contrivances, as they
blow their many steam whistles to commemorate the passing of their
fellow collectors in the last year. Last year’s noon whistle
was in honor of Janet Brodbeck, who was killed in a farm accident
earlier that same year, and for Anna Kuehn, mother of Tom and Jim
Monaghan, who passed away the day before last year’s show. They
were fondly remembered amid the glorious cacophony of countless
pitches of brass steam whistles signaling this colorful

Some of the whistles are as incongruous as their owners; a
calliope whistle mounted on a steamer designed for threshing, a
series of whistles mounted on the back of a pickup truck, a phalanx
of giants arranged in an after-the-fact band organ. The creativity
of these steam fans knows no bounds. And the great, good noise
celebrating their ingenuity recalls the pealing of bells in a
Gothic cathedral paying homage as much to its own remarkable

  • Published on Nov 1, 1989
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