Werner Studer's One-of-a-Kind Engine is a Wonder of the Plains

| July/August 2004

Just off State Highway 166 in southeastern Kansas lies the small farming community of Cedar Vale, population 760. Years ago, the highway ran through the center of town, but time and progress pushed the road north and around Cedar Vale's direct influence, making it unlikely a traveler driving by would even notice the town.

Truth be told, the average urban traveler probably welcomes the highway's gentle bypass around the edge of the town, allowing him or her to continue traveling without pause. And yet, a simple excursion into Cedar Vale reveals a fascinating relic from the days of steam.

For the rural-minded, turning off 166 and driving into Cedar Vale on the old highway presents a familiar picture. Situated on gentle hills overlooking the Caney River, Cedar Vale's one-block-long main street houses the expected collection of small-town businesses, including an insurance office and a few shops selling knickknacks and antiques. But sandwiched between a few buildings in a haphazard park that doubles as a parking lot, an old steam tractor sits quietly, an antique Case separator its only companion.


An initial examination shows a nicely constructed steam traction engine furnished with a vertical boiler and a single-cylinder engine. A three-wheeled machine, the single front wheel is bolted to trusses that attach to a circular rack held by the frame. A pinion off the steering gear engages the rack for turning.

Power from the engine passes through a crankshaft equipped with a wooden-shoed clutch to engage traction drive, and a differential gear on the right side provides the differential action for the rear drivers. A 6-inch-wide, 32-inch-diameter, six-spoke flywheel is mounted on the left side of the crankshaft, and a smaller, solid flywheel is mounted on the right, just beyond the crankshaft gear that drives the differential idler gear. Looking closer, however, the tractor presents a few surprises.

Chief among them is an auxiliary belt, still intact, running from the crankshaft down to a belt drum attached to a truss on the frame. The drum is shafted, and a bevel gear on the other end drives a shaft running to the back of the machine. The shaft terminates at the remains of a hinged frame attached to the rear of the tractor, a universal joint fixed where it passes through the frame. It is, quite clearly, a power takeoff.