Farm Collector

The A-B-C’s of my Steam Experiences (Avery—Birdsall—Case)

R. D. 2, West Winfield, New York 13491

In almost ten years of subscribing to the Iron-Men Album I have
never before written up any of my experiences with steam, so better
late than never. I first became interested in steam engines at the
age of fourteen when I saw my first traction engine at the New York
State Fair at Syracuse. Right away the bug bit me and I have been
an avid steam enthusiast ever since. For two years afterwards my
burning desire was to own an engine of my own. I wrote letters,
answered ads and went on many wild good chases. It is unbelievable
what some peoples’ idea is of a steam engine. I went to look at
everything from diesel road rollers to ditching machines.


One of these trips turned out all right as the ‘steam
engine’ turned out to be an 8-16 Avery tractor which had been
sitting in a manure pile since 1939, and what a mess it was! The
two brothers that owned the tractor had tried to repair the tractor
and had given up and as the tractor happened to be sitting behind
the barn next to the manure pile, it soon became covered with
manure. After a few years the pile rotted down and exposed the
tractor again, which is the point where I entered the scene and
bought the tractor. I got a friend and our John Deere 730 and went
to get the tractor and tow it home on the shoulder of the road.
Much to our surprise the old Avery came right out on the first
pull, but only one wheel would turn, a front one. Also the steering
wheel was rusted tight. A few days later after the generous use of
oil and kerosene the wheels were turning on the way home. I spent
about a year afterwards getting the old Avery in good shape,
although far from being what we would call restored, it was ten
times better than when I had found it.


Now all this time I was still dreaming of a steam engine, so at
one show I became acquainted with George VanAtta of Barton, N.Y.
who had a 1918 Birdsall traction engine which was for sale. I was
able to make a deal by trading in the old Avery towards the
Birdsall. As the engine was to be trucked home after the show
anyways, they hauled it to my place and at last I had an engine. It
was up to me to transport the Avery to Mr. VanAtta after I had
finished it up, which took another year.

The years following were filled with experiences both good and
bad, in which I learned a great deal about engines. Now, take into
consideration that I was only 16 when I bought the Birdsall and had
never so much as thrown a shovel of coal in an engine. Eventually,
I did learn how to run and care for an engine. I think I was the
world’s champion fire puller, from having to dump the fire
during some of the mishaps I had. I believe that these experiences
were the best teacher, as I will never forget them.

Two of the more pleasant memories I had of the years I had the
engine are the threshing show I had and the one steam show I
exhibited. In 1965 I showed this engine at the N.Y.S. Pageant of
Steam at Canandaigua, N.Y. for four straight days, all alone. There
I met a man who was running a roller of Mr. Marshall’s. His
name was Stu and his last name I have forgotten. I wish all young
engineers could meet him. Although he already had plenty to do, he
was more or less always watching over me, giving good advice and
lending me a hand when ever I needed help. The other engineers were
too busy with their own engines. He alone had the kind heart to
give a hand.

On one occasion I had just returned from eating lunch when the
parade was starting up. I pulled open the firebox door only to find
the fire had gone out. No sooner said than done and this man was
bringing over a few shovels of his own fire for getting mine
started-up again, while two other engineers nearby only laughed and
pulled their engines around mine and went on. This is what great
men and great engineers are made of. This was the only year that I
had the engine there, as the club president decided that as my
engine had to be hauled 140 miles to the show, and most of the
others were much closer to the show grounds, that I should forego
my expense money which the other engineers got. Also, that if I was
to bring the engine again I would have to pay a share of the
trucking, so as it turned out, this was to be my only show as an

The next year an old friend of mine, an old time thresherman,
Gus Holmes, and myself organized a small steam threshing
demonstration at his farm a few miles north of our farm, which was
quite a success. However this was not to be an annual event, as Gus
passed away a few years ago.

I sold my Birdsall engine five years ago to the state of New
York for a museum which is currently under construction in the
state capitol in Albany. This museum is to be run by the State
Education Dept. and is to contain only items manufactured in N.Y.
At last count they had over 25,000 items collected which they plan
to display; should be quite a thing. I decided to sell my engine,
not because I had lost interest, but because the boiler was not in
good shape. It was safe for the pressure I carried but it had a few
features which I did not care for, namely, welded patches in the
firebox and a flue situation which I have never seen before. The
old flues had become bad so black iron pipe had been put inside the
old flues and welded on both ends. Also the gearing had worn to a
point where a strong man could have shaved with them. All these
things had taken place before I bought the engine, and in my
ignorance of steam engines had not concerned me, but as time went
on these things came to bother me a great deal. I decided to sell
and I believe that sitting in a museum in non-operating condition,
is the best for this particular engine.

Four years ago, using the money I received for the Birdsall, I
purchased a 1916 S.W. Wood traction engine of 16 H.P. which is in
like new condition, When I found this engine it was sitting in a
cow pasture in Coxsackie, N.Y. on the Hudson river. I still do not
have this engine running as yet, for lack of funds for a hand hole
repair and set of flues, but I hope to in a few years. This engine
is in the best original shape of any I have ever seen. The inside
of the boiler shell still has about 50% of the steel mill bluing on
it. The gearing shows absolutely no wear and when I tried removing
one layer of paper shim stock from the crankshaft journals I found
that I could not turn the engine over without first replacing the
shims I had taken out!


Since I first started out with the old Avery tractor I have
collected quite a number of steam and antique items such as a 1930
Chrysler which I drove to college and when I first got married, a
1922 Sanford fire truck which I use as a farm truck, an 1892 Case
portable which I bought in a junkyard, which I am looking for the
engine for it, a 1915 Metz friction drive roadster which is mostly
complete, a 1913 Ford model T which I have built up from a buzz saw
rig which only needs the body to complete, a horsedrawn
two-passenger coach, and a 1904 curved-dash Oldsmobile body, which
belongs to my wife, Sally. She hopes to built it into a car again
as I did with the model T. All this plus I make maple syrup in the
spring and run a dairy farm of 380 acres in partnership with my
mother. So I have enough to keep me fairly busy. I will try to get
some good pictures of my engines and other interesting pieces of
steam equipment nearby to send in for a later issue. Take care.

  • Published on Jul 1, 1974
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