Box 334 Owatonna, MN 55060
It all began way back one sunny August afternoon in 1920. My boyhood buddy and I were playing together in our old hometown a dozen miles from where I am writing this. Suddenly we heard a blast of steam whistle from a farm at the edge of town signaling the start of a threshing rig. I still remember the two of us running at top speed to the scene of the action. There at the edge of the farmstead alongside of a grove of willows was a Case 12 HP engine belted to a Case separator and a wood water tank wagon beside the engine. We spent the remainder of the afternoon there soaking up an impression that has remained with me all through the years: the beautiful sound of that little engine doing its work, and the beginning of a love for steam power.
The following year my parents moved to a farm where we lived the next quarter century. One of the highlights of the year was the threshing season with a 30-90 Russell engine pulling the Avery Yellow Fellow separator. The young boys in the threshing rig got together to enjoy the food and festivity which was part of the threshing routine. All too soon it seemed we had grown up enough to drive a bundle team and wagon hauling the bundles to the machine which had such a capacity that ten teams and wagons were required along with four field pitchers. We threshed that way until 1938 when combines and smaller threshing rigs took over. The old Russell lost its life in the WW II scrap drive. But it left an enduring impression on me and a lifelong admiration of steam power. Nothing was done about these boyhood dreams until 1953 when I put together a steam car.
By 1946 I was already engaged in manufacturing and had a fairly complete machine shop. Sufficient spare capital had been accumulated to acquire a 1924 Stanley steam car engine and rear axles which were later mated to rear wheels and brakes of a 1951 Willys station wagon. The Willys engine was removed and a water tube boiler of my design and manufacture went under the hood. Stanley controls were used and it was fired with a gun-type burner rewired for low voltage. It worked well and provided a lot of pleasure and satisfaction for my love of steam.
I was forced to sell it in 1955 when I sold that business. But that is not the main point of this story, just background information.
The present story begins in 1979 when I accidently bought a -scale traction engine at an auction. After a thorough restoration, I fired it up and the old joy of steam came back like a ghost out of the past. The little -scale had little practical usage except to excite a desire for more. Looking at the big steamers at auctions and steam shows only served to convince me that I could not get much day-to-day, year-round fun with them. Too heavy to move to the scene of action with my limited equipment. Too big to store in my facilities. I probably couldn't find a chance to do any useful work with a big engine except at a steam threshing bee, and then after spending a couple hundred dollars to get it hauled there and back. Then a friend suggested a -scale Case which was available. Small enough to haul on my five-ton trailer, yet big enough to do useful work. How right he was!
One of these days I will have the opportunity to hook my little -scale Case on a dynamometer and really find out what horsepower it puts on the belt. In the meantime, I am estimating 16 HP based on past experience with tractors pulling similar loads. Like last fall we pulled a M-M cylinder corn shelter at Richard and Alfred Reuter's farm about fifty miles away, shelling better than 100 bushels per hour. Their model B John Deere couldn't handle it, and we were surprised that the Case had no problem. The dragline into the crib fed a steady stream of ear corn into the sheller so we had a steady load which made firing the boiler easy. It takes careful firing of the small boiler to get the maximum output and we try to hold 150 pounds boiler pressure. The smaller heating surface is more sensitive to load requirements and steady firing is essential on the heavier loads. The large engines with many times the boiler capacity are more tolerant of load changes and fuel input.
Later we had the little Case at Olaf Torkelson's farm about fifty miles away and pulled his McCormick-Deering corn shredder. It was a beautiful fall day with about twenty-five people congregated to watch the action. Again, no problem with driving the shredder. Like at the Reuter's place, we had nice dry wood to burn and were treated to excellent farm hospitality. Without the mobility we enjoy with the small engine, it would be impractical to travel to these friends' farms and have such pleasure. Olaf has a 6 HP Russell engine, about a hundred years old, which he had belted to a Belle City thresher about the same age, and added to the fun time enjoyed by everyone.
One of the trends of our times is the increased use of wood for heating. We have many friends who have wood to saw and the little Case gets plenty of use powering our buzz saw. In fact, that is the most usage we find for it. Any wood sawing is an easy load. The variation in load gives the governor a chance to function and it is a real pleasure to hear the engine snort. Moving to these various jobs is no problem with the small engine.
Being a new engine with an ASME code boiler takes a lot of worry off my mind compared to a hundred-year-old engine, and no problem at the time of boiler inspections. Of course, the little engine does not impress the owners of the big iron and we don't try to compete. A lot of spectators marvel at the amount of work the -scale engine can do. Like I said at the beginning...light enough to haul around and big enough to be useful. It's a happy compromise that makes it possible and convenient to enjoy a steam engine year round. Something to appreciate after a lifetime of dreaming about it. As the years go by and many of the old engines will fail the boiler test, it may be up to the small -scale engines of new vintage to carry on the steam tradition. I know the little -scale Case will be equal to the challenge.