THE KITTEN: From Wood To Cast Iron

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Rt 2, Box 6 Slaton, Texas 79364-9501

I have a story to tell you about the Kitten factory, and more
specifically the travels of the wooden patterns for the Kitten
steam engine.

Florenz Kitten came here from Ibbenburen, West Germany with his
parents when he was ten years old. They settled in a small
southwest Indiana town called Ferdinand. It was there that Florenz
attended school.

One teacher noticed that during recess Florenz would leave the
school ground and return when classes were to begin again. And as
the story goes, the teachers could not find out anything about what
he was doing every day when he left the school ground. Of course,
all children were supposed to stay on the school property until
classes were dismissed for the day.

The problem was solved one day when a teacher followed Florenz
on his usual journey. At this early age, he was busy building his
own small scale steam engine in his secret hiding place.

As you can tell, Florenz started early in his life to work on
his dream. And from that day on, the teacher who followed Florenz
continued to help and encourage him to build and sell steam
engines.

For one thing, to manufacture equipment before the turn of the
century one had to do most of the work oneself, for the supply of
steel wasn’t very available, nor were there any factories to
make cast iron on a custom basis. So, like other manufacturers of
the time, one had to have one’s own blacksmith shop, machine
shop, carpenter shop, foundry, and of course, someone to design the
machine. That designer was a gentleman by the name of Florenz
Kitten.

Over the years, the Kitten Machine Works made, first of all, a
horse drawn combine, a thresher, a steam engine, a saw mill, a
gasoline engine, and even worked on making an airplane. These
machines had cast iron in them, so first, he and his men had to
make the pieces out of wood so that they could be cast. Florenz
Kitten, like so many other manufacturers, had hundreds of wooden
molds. The wooden molds were difficult to make, and expensive, so
they naturally were well cared for.

The Kitten Machine Works changed hands several times during the
seventy some years that it was open. In March 1960, what was left
of the buildings and equipment was bought by the Ferdinand
Development Corporation. This corporation bought the property for
the sole purpose of saving the buildings and equipment for
posterity. That was done, until 1972, when the whole place burned
to the ground.

However, thanks to a man named Walter Knapp, the story
continues, You see, when Finton Stallings owned the building, he
was selling (in his words), anything that he could, just to make a
living. This included hauling Kitten steam engines to the scrap
pile, and a few parts to Walter Knapp. When Walter Knapp heard that
he could still purchase some parts from the factory, he jumped in
his truck and headed for Ferdinand.

Finton sold him some parts plus, more importantly, all of the
wooden patterns for the Kitten steam engine. Walter kept these
wooden patterns safe, until late in his life. He then sold them to
Eiffel Plasterer for the same use to preserve them and make parts
when needed. Eiffel kept the parts as promised, for posterity.

Now of course I, Jerry Kitten, being a distant relative of
Florenz, started collecting antiques, mainly those of the Kitten
factory. Through the years, I heard of the Kitten patterns that by
Eiffel Plasterer owned. I made several trips to Huntington,
Indiana, wrote many letters, and made numerous phone calls to
Eiffel, in an attempt to procure the by now famous Kitten patterns.
The best I could do was to get Eiffel to say that whenever he was
through with the Kitten patterns, they were to go to me, Jerry
Kitten.

Eiffel has since passed away, and now the Kitten patterns are
here in Slaton, Texas. We have done some research and studying on
the patterns, and it sure is one gigantic jigsaw puzzle. There are
well over 100 patterns that we have identified, and two small boxes
with various pieces with uses we are unsure of

It seems that the Kitten patterns are home now: not because they
are back in their hometown, but because the Kitten patterns are
once again owned by Kittens: Kittens who are distant relatives of a
once powerful, but quiet gentleman named Florenz.

This fairy tale of a story could end here, now that we have a
happy ending, but there is more to the story. However, that will be
told another day.

One thing in advance the title to my next story will be:

‘Ole Man Winter’.

Kitten Engines To Gather in Ferdinand

The above picture shows a Kitten engine with Mike and Francis
Lindaucr standing behind it. This Kitten will be used on June 27,
1992 for a demonstration in Ferdinand which is to be part of the
Ferdinand Benedictine Heritage Farm Show, at the Monastery
Immaculate Conception. Ferdinand is located just 1 mile north of
Exit 63 of 1-64 across Indiana, 70 miles west of Louisville,
Kentucky.

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