STUDER STEAM TRACTOR

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The Studer's James Leffel & Co. engine.
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Close-up of wooden countershaft carrying the differential idler gear.
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Differential assembly and drive pinion.
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The Studer's steering gear and single front wheel.
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The engine's Pickering governor appears complete.
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Power takeoff shaft is visible, jointed where it runs through frame that once held a saw rig driven by the power takeoff.
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Close-up of power takeoff bevel gears.
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Auxiliary belt on the crankshaft ran the power takeoff (with shaft running to rear) set under the main frame.

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.

FIRST LOOK

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.

The second surprise is the countershaft that carries the
differential idler gear: It’s made of wood, most likely Bois
D’Arc (or Osage orange as it’s called in this part of the
country), a wood favored by native Americans for its strength and
flexibility in bows.

From the fine boiler riveting to the fabrication of the main
frame and the drive train, everything about the machine, with
perhaps the exception of the wooden countershaft, suggests a
factory-built effort.

It turns out, however, this steam traction engine was a single
effort, constructed by German immigrant Werner Studer about
1914.

WERNER STUDER

According to life-long Cedar Vale resident Glen Smith, Werner
Studer came to the U.S. about 1900. Settling on the East Coast, he
returned to Germany a few years later to study blacksmithing. His
studies completed, he came back to the U.S., married an opera
singer in New York and then, for reasons unknown, moved to Cedar
Vale.

Once settled on property outside of Cedar Vale, Studer went into
the plant business, setting up a hothouse on his property and even
constructing a tunnel from his farmhouse to the hothouse some 20
feet away. But Studer didn’t turn his back on
blacksmithing.

Smith says Studer was a ‘master’ blacksmith known for
his excellent work, especially to the local farmers, who brought
him broken teeth from their separators for repair. At some point,
Studer was inspired to build his steam tractor, but it doesn’t
appear he ever intended it for plowing or threshing duties.

According to Smith, Studer spent $600 making his tractor,
ordering the boiler parts and engine out of Ohio. While there are
no markings on the boiler, the valve chest on the engine is clearly
cast ‘James Leffel & Co., Builders, Springfield, Ohio,
USA.’ Leffel & Co., known best for its manufacture of
water-powered turbines, also manufactured boilers and steam
engines. In fact, the company is still in business, and still in
Springfield, Ohio.

Smith says Studer’s primary use for the machine was as a
mobile saw rig, and this explains the tractor’s power takeoff.
When built, the power takeoff ran a saw blade incorporated into the
rear frame extension. The saw rig is the only major piece of the
tractor that’s missing, along with parts of the frame
extension. The saw rig could be lowered and raised by a
hand-cranked boom mounted on the back of the cab, and Smith says
Studer traveled the surrounding area cutting hedgerows. Studer
tried the engine out in the field pulling a two-bottom plow, but
‘it was too slow for plowing, and it was too small to run a
separator,’ Smith says.

Word of his machine evidently made it back to Leffel & Co.,
Smith says, and the firm offered Studer a salary working for them
in Ohio. ‘It wasn’t his cup of tea,’ says Smith, and
Studer stayed in Kansas.

For many years, residents of the area knew about Studer’s
tractor, but as time passed it faded from the collective memory. In
1957, a few years after Studer’s death, Smith bought the old
Studer farm, and the tractor was still there, sitting quietly off
to the side in an old shop. Glen let it sit until about 25 years
ago, when Studer’s daughter, Lilly Studer Schrag, donated it to
the town.

And there the tractor sits to this day, quietly looking out onto
the old highway. Studer’s daughter, if still alive, no longer
lives in the area, and Smith, who counts among his prized
possessions a vise and an anvil that once belonged to Studer, is
among the surviving few who remember the German immigrant, Werner
Studer, and his steam traction engine.

Special thanks to Fred Kohman, Perry, Okla., for
alerting us to the Studer tractor and connecting us to Glen
Smith.

Farm Collector Magazine
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