The Mystery of the Lehmer Model

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Seven years ago, I bought a wooden model of an agricultural
traction engine at an antique mall in Lebanon, Ohio, and thereon
hangs this tale.

About 20 percent of the model’s parts were missing, and I
wanted to recreate them to restore the model. First, I had to learn
what make of engine it was. It bore a resemblance to a Wood, Taber
& Morse portable, manufactured in Eaton, N.Y., but it had an
extra shaft running in front of the firebox beneath the boiler. I
was stumped. I called the antique dealer to ask where he had
acquired the model. He replied that he purchased it at a flea
market. Since I could not trace the engine’s origins, I
postponed restoration indefinitely.

Wooden model of Lehmer’s traction gear on a portable engine
with a boiler 14 inches long. This is the model that launched
Robert T. Rhode’s investigation of Isaac Lehmer and his
traction design.

Last year, I was paging through Jack Norbeck’s Encyclopedia
of American Steam Traction Engines, and my gaze became riveted to a
photograph on page 42 in the section of Jack’s book devoted to
portable engines. I recognized the picture as the inspiration for
my model, extra shaft and all. Jack’s caption contained
intriguing details, which he later told me had come from Raymond
Laizure, publisher of The Stumptown Steamer. The engine featured in
Norbeck’s book was indeed a 6 HP Wood, Taber & Morse
portable, but, as Norbeck’s caption informed me, in 1875, Isaac
Lehmer had a ‘set of patterns made from his own designs for the
attachments necessary to make it a steam traction engine.’

I contacted Larry Jones, curator of agricultural exhibits at the
Smithsonian Institution, to inquire if he had additional
information on the Lehmer traction engine conversion package. He
called my attention to a photograph on page 7 of Floyd Clymer’s
Album of Historical Steam Traction Engines. I noticed that the
engines in the pictures in Norbeck and Clymer were similar but not
the same. Both resembled my model, yet all three differed slightly
from one another. Intriguingly, the Clymer photo showed the words
‘Lehmer Traction Gear’ on the engineer’s platform. It
was becoming clear to me that Lehmer had formed a company to sell
his traction conversion kit. Research brought to light the
fascinating story.

Lehmer and Baumgartel’s Inventions

Isaac Lehmer was born on Feb. 17, 1844 near Shanesville in
Tuscarawas County, Ohio. I When Isaac was 17, the Civil War
erupted. He eventually served as a private in Company H of the 29th
Indiana Infantry, a volunteer regiment that saw action at Shiloh,
Corinth, Stone’s River and Chickamauga.2 Isaac married Hannah
Scott. They had two children: Henry and Mary.3 The Isaac Lehmer
family lived in Greenfield Township.

In 1875, Lehmer traveled to nearby Sturgis, Mich., to seek Henry
‘Hank’ Baumgartel’s help in producing Lehmer’s
invention: a traction conversion package for portable steam
engines. Born in Pennsylvania on Dec. 13,1851, Baumgartel had come
to Michigan at an early age. He eventually worked for the
city’s old foundry. Established in 1837, the shop by the 1850s
was manufacturing plows, scrapers, and steam engines, including a
sawmill engine that ran on sawdust. In the following decade, the
Sturgis Foundry, located on North Fourth Street, advertised
cultivators, hand-held rakes and horse-drawn rakes, in addition to
plows and steam engines. The Michigan Southern & Northern
Indiana Railroad (later the New York Central) transported many of
the foundry’s products to distant markets.4

Baumgartel was an expert foundryman.5 Adapting
Lehmer’s plans, Baumgartel created a traction conversion kit
that included an idler gear, a friction clutch inside a pulley on a
shaft bracketed under the belly of the boiler, a lever for putting
the device in motion, and (most likely) a differential or
compensating gear. Lehmer used his Wood, Taber & Morse
‘traction’ portable engine for 20 years.6 He and
Baumgartel sold conversion packages to others eager to transform
horse-drawn portable steamers into traction engines.

Photo in Floyd Clymer’s Album of Historical Steam Traction
Engines showing Lehmer’s traction gear, which converted a
portable into a traction engine.

Although many traction steam engines had been built in
California before the 1870s, traction devices in the Midwest were
relatively rare – although not unheard of- in 1875.7
Lehmer’s achievement was noteworthy. Page 402 of Ira Ford’s
History of Northeast Indiana stated, ‘Isaac Lehmer is
remembered not only as an early settler of Greenfield Township but
as inventor of one of the first traction engines.’ Page 88 of
John W. Hanan’s LaGrange County Centennial History claimed that
Lehmer ‘built the first friction clutch traction threshing
engine in the country.’

Baumgartel also made history. In 1883, as a foreman at the
Sturgis Foundry & Plow Works, he invented the first automobile
in Sturgis, Mich. A gasoline burner produced the heat to make steam
in a 140 psi water-tube boiler to run a two-cylinder engine that
powered the car. In the June 22, 1918 edition of the Sturgis
Daily Journal
, Baumgartel said that his vehicle attained a top
speed of 10 mph on a good road. Historian Robert E. Hair notes the
Daily Journal’s assertion that the Baumgartel auto was
‘the first automobile or the first conveyance which ever
traveled under its own power in Michigan.’8 The car
had no differential and no pneumatic tires, but it did boast a
steam whistle to warn pedestrians of its approach.

Lehmer may have assisted Baumgartel in the invention of the
self-propelled car, or else, inspired by Baumgartel’s example,
he may have produced his own automobile. Hanan states that Lehmer
‘also built a gasoline driven horseless carriage years before
the automobile was known. The imperfection of the gas engine, which
he built himself, was the chief hindrance to his progress and
caused him to abandon the project. The contrivance actually did
carry two men over sandy roads.’9 Did this car have
a gasoline motor as claimed, or was Hanan referring to
Baumgartel’s automobile, equipped with a gasoline burner? Page
75 of the Illustrated 1893 Atlas and Columbian Souvenir of
LaGrange County, Ind.
listed Lehmer as a resident freeholder,
but he gave a Sturgis, Mich., post office address. His close ties
to Sturgis and his having worked with Baumgartel to manufacture
traction engine conversion kits make it seem likely that Lehmer
collaborated with Baumgartel to invent the automobile.

In the census records of 1880 and 1900 for Greenfield Township,
Lehmer’s occupation was listed as ‘grain thresher’ and
‘thresher.’ For most of those years, his Wood, Taber &
Morse traction conversion engine must have made the rounds on his
threshing ring. Isaac Lehmer passed away on Oct. 9, 1906 and was
buried in the Pretty Prairie, Ind., Cemetery. Hank Baumgartel died
on Nov. 22, 1929 and was buried in Sturgis, Mich.

Mast’s Story

Larry Jones of the Smithsonian reminded me to examine this
paragraph in my book entitled The Harvest Story: Recollections
of Old-Time Threshermen:
‘Ira C. Mast of Elkhart, Ind.,
told this story concerning his father, Jacob, and his father’s
partner, Isaac Lehmer: ‘Lehmer and Mast took their old
horse-drawn engine and converted it into a traction engine. This
was done by belt pulleys and gears, with the first friction clutch
ever used, which Lehmer and Mast developed and put into the large
pulley. About the year of 1898, Nichols & Shepard Company and
the Rumely Company got into a lawsuit on patent rights on a
friction clutch. Finding out about this old engine of Lehmer’s
and Mast’s with its friction clutch, the old engine was taken
to La Porte, Ind., to prove in court that a clutch similar to
(Rumely’s) had been developed and put into practical use prior
to theirs.”10 Ira published his father’s
anecdote on page 4 in the January/February 1973 issue of
Iron-Men Album magazine.

According to the WPA Death Index, Elkhart County, Ind., Jacob
Mast died on Nov. 11, 1904. The Elkhart Truth newspaper
carried his obituary. He was a farmer aged 47. Although he was
approximately 13 years younger than Lehmer, Mast could easily have
been Lehmer’s business partner in the 1870s, when Lehmer was
manufacturing his traction conversion kits.

A frustrating search lasting many months gave me no additional
information about the court case involving the Lehmer friction
clutch. Then suddenly, thanks to the diligent work of Thomas Heard
and Carol Furnish of the library of the Salmon P. Chase College of
Law, I hit the proverbial pay dirt.

Six Years of Litigation

On June 1, 1900, Judge Marcus W. Acheson delivered his opinion
in Bliss v. Reed, a protracted case brought before the Circuit
Court of the Western District of Pennsylvania. He presided over a
courtroom in the building at Seventh Avenue and Grant Street in
Pittsburgh. Today, a portrait of Acheson hangs in the U.S. District
Court building. He resembles Joshua Chamberlain of Little Round Top

John H. Elward’s 1883 patent for a method of supplying
traction for a steam engine. Elward, superintendent at the
Minnesota Thresher Co., joined in a lawsuit against B.D. Reed for
infringing on patents for traction devices.

The turn-of-the-century case on which Acheson ruled took an
unusual form. B.D. Reed sold Frick, Gaar-Scott and Huber steam
engines and related equipment. Three inventors sued him when he
began to offer for sale engines that infringed the inventors’
patents for devices used in traction engineering. The inventors
were John H. Elward, superintendent at the Minnesota Thresher
Company in Stillwater, Minn., Charles M. Giddings, design engineer
for the Russell Company in Massillon, Ohio, and John C. Titus,
mechanical engineer for the Huber Company in Marion, Ohio. One of
the attorneys for the three complainants was H.H. Bliss. Oddly, the
title of the case bears his name.

John H. Elward’s 1883 patent for a method of supplying
traction for a steam engine. Elward, superintendent at the
Minnesota Thresher Co., joined in a lawsuit against B.D. Reed for
infringing on patents for traction devices.

In 1916 and 1917, Giddings published essays in the American
Thresherman and Farm Power
recalling the case. He claimed to
have invented the first friction clutch, which he called ‘a
godsend to the owners and users of the traction engine.’ He
added, ‘It was, in fact, so indispensable that tractors could
not be sold without one, which led a large majority of the tractor
manufacturers to appropriate the invention for their own use
without license, resulting in a six years’ law suit costing a
great deal of money on each side. The 20 different companies
mutually agreed to divide the expense of an attempt to break down
the patent rather than acknowledge the inventor’s right by
purchasing a manufacturer’s license, a fair sample of the
left-handed encouragement inventors often receive from wealthy
manufacturers who never believe in the Golden

Charles M. Giddings, design engineer for the Russell Company in
Massillon, Ohio, received this patent for a flywheel friction
clutch and traction drive in 1885. Giddings claimed to have
invented the first friction clutch.

Giddings referred to 20 companies, but the case before Judge
Acheson concerned only three. The discrepancy suggests one of two
possibilities: that approximately 17 additional companies were in
league with the three firms named in the suit and/or that a series
of other cases preceded the one brought before Judge Acheson. If
there were other cases in advance of the one that Acheson
considered, they likely were left undecided and therefore never
reported in law digests. I shall return to this probability

Readers may question, as I did, why Giddings and two other
inventors, none of whom worked for the same company, collaborated
to sue an agricultural implement salesman. One plausible
explanation is that, by bringing suit against Reed, the inventors
could challenge three companies for infringement of patents without
the necessity of each inventor and/or his firm having to sue every
infringing firm separately. Furthermore, in a strict sense, the
inventors’ patents were not infringed until the moment when a
machine copying their work was sold.

Giddings wrote that in 1890-91 Frick adopted his patented
flywheel friction clutch design -without the proper license.
Apparently, Giddings held no grudge against Frick, for he praised
the manufacturer, acknowledging ‘the good work done by the two
rival firms of Frick & Company and the Geiser Manufacturing
Company, both of Waynesboro, Pa., in the East, and that done by the
Russell & Company of Massillon, Ohio, in the

John C. Titus, mechanical engineer for the Huber Company in
Marion, Ohio, received this patent for a flywheel friction clutch
in 1884, a year before Giddings’ patent was awarded.

Giddings first came to Massillon as a salesman for the Waters
Governor Company. In 1882, he entered into the employ of the
Russell Company and embarked on a radical new design for the
manufacturer’s engines. He said that the first Russell engines
were copies of the Wood, Taber & Morse portables. Ironically,
Lehmer fitted a Wood, Taber & Morse engine with his traction
conversion device, but the portables of the Eaton, N.Y., firm were
popular in the 19th century. Russell’s early traction engines
used the bevel gear, also known as a ‘sunflower gear,’
patented by Colonel George Rogers on Feb. 15, 1876. (For more
information on the Rogers patent, #173,498, see my article ‘Who
Built the First Traction Engine in America?’ Engineers and
Engines Magazine 44.2 [1998]: 14-15.)

Russell was producing a spur-gear engine with a locking
differential when Giddings came on board. In 1883, Giddings brought
out his pioneering design, ‘in refreshing contrast to’
earlier Russell engines.14 He did not patent his friction clutch
apparatus until 1885, but Giddings proved to Judge Acheson’s
satisfaction that he had invented it in 1883 – the remarkable year
when Baumaartel built his steam car. Judge Acheson’s opinion in
Bliss v. Reed began by reviewing the specifications of Elward
patent #272,670, granted on Feb. 20, 1883.15 Part of Reed’s
defense was that the Elward patent did not specify a flywheel in
its claims. Without a flywheel as part of the patent, no
infringement by Frick, Gaar-Scott, Huber, or any other company
could have occurred, according to Reed’s attorneys. Acheson
determined that the patent drawing showed a flywheel and that a
flywheel was essential to the working of the patented device,
thereby refuting that portion of the Reed defense.

Reed s attorneys argued that there was no infringement because
friction clutch devices, as well as differential gears, had existed
prior to the Elward, Giddings, and Titus patents. Acheson replied
that ‘the defendant’s counsel earnestly contend that
Elward’s claim covers a mere aggregation of old mechanical
devices, and therefore is void. A careful examination of the patent
and the proofs, however, has satisfied me that the defense is not
well founded. While the constituents entering into Elward’s
organization may there each perform its own special function, yet
they also cooperate to a common end otherwise not attainable. By
their associated action a new and useful result is brought about.
The elemental parts specified in the claim stand in peculiar
relationship. The friction-clutch mechanism is interposed between
the driving engine and the compensating gear, and must be so placed
to accomplish the desired object. I am, then, of the opinion that
we have here a true combination in the sense of the patent

Acheson may have been alluding to a series of earlier undecided
cases that I have already mentioned as a possibility. Perhaps an
engine with a traction conversion kit -including a friction clutch
– manufactured by Isaac Lehmer and Jacob Mast was brought to the
Rumely Company to show that friction clutches existed before the
Elward, Giddings and Titus patents, although I have found no record
corroborating the Mast anecdote.

J.B. Bartholomew, to whom Charles M. Giddings assigned his
patent for a friction clutch; Bartholomew later served as president
of the Avery Company (photo in Men of Illinois in the Peoria Public

It is also possible that Ira C. Mast misquoted his father and
that another Indiana-based firm, the Gaar-Scott Company, had
attempted to prove that Lehmer’s friction clutch invention made
later friction clutches non-patentable. After all, Gaar-Scott was
one of the three companies named in Bliss v. Reed. Also, Ira may
have forgotten that it was the Russell Company (or, more
specifically, Charles M. Giddings), not the Nichols & Shepard
Company, that sued for infringement. Ira remembered that his father
gave the date of the case as ‘around 1898.’ Giddings said
that the litigation dragged on for six years, culminating in 1902.
It seems unlikely that Mast was referring to a separate case,
unless it were an undecided and therefore unre-ported one preceding
Bliss v. Reed. Law librarians have assured me it is highly probable
that Ira C. Mast’s story is directly related to the
Pennsylvania case.

Next, Acheson stated that the Frick Company took advantage of
Giddings’s friction clutch invention, patent #330,576, granted
on Nov. 17, 1885. Acheson upheld the fact that Giddings’s
patent was for a new device, even though it was anticipated in
Elward’s patent. The judge explained that the Elward clutch
used a cone that slid into the hub of the flywheel, while
Giddings’s clutch employed toggle arms to force wooden shoes
against the inner rim of the flywheel.

Reed’s counsel argued that, at an unspecified time after the
patent date of 1885, Giddings had assigned his patent to J.B.
Bartholomew et. al. The Latin abbreviation stands for ‘and
others.’ Since the Giddings patent was handed over to
Bartholomew ‘and others,’ Frick, Gaar-Scott, Huber and any
other companies that wanted to avail themselves of the invention
were allowed to use it, said Reed’s attorneys. Acheson rejected
the argument, saying that Bartholomew had sole title and that the
Latin phrase ‘et. al.’ designated Bartholomew’s heirs
or anyone to whom he might wish to assign the patent, not other
companies. Besides, Bartholomew had conveyed the title back to
Giddings in 1894. (Do Iron-Men Album readers know if
Giddings left Russell to work for Bartholomew, who later served as
president of the Avery Company of Peoria, 111.?)

Acheson expressed the opinion that the Frick engines that Reed
had sold were equipped with the Titus clutch-arm invention, part of
patent #302,449, granted on July 22, 1884. The defense argued that
Giddings’s patent used similar clutch arms before Titus
patented them and, thus, there was no infringement of the Titus
patent because of prior invention. Acheson decided that Titus’s
clutch shoes acted centrifugally, not by Giddings’s toggle
arrangement, and that Titus’s invention was patentable.

Raymond Laizure’s picture of Lehmer’s traction gear in
Jack Norbeck’s Encyclopedia of American Steam Traction

Judge Acheson concluded that Reed had sold engines that
infringed the Elward, Giddings and Titus patents. The transcript of
Judge Acheson’s decision leaves the impression that, of the
three firms named in the suit, the Frick Company most obviously
infringed the three inventors’ patents, although all three
manufacturers were found guilty.

On Jan. 18, 1901, Reed launched an appeal heard in the Third
Circuit. District Judge Buffington published his opinion that no
error was committed in the previous case heard by Judge Acheson and
that Acheson’s conclusion stood. In reaffirming Acheson’s
opinion, Buffington acknowledged that the various devices in the
Elward patent had existed prior to Elward’s invention, but, in
‘their new relation, the three elements of flywheel stored
power, friction clutch and compensating gear were made to so
mutually cooperate, co-act, and in effect unify with each other,
that they produced a new unitary result, to wit, a traction engine
adapted to meet abnormal maximum demands by the use of normally
minimum mechanism.’

On Feb. 8, 1902, Reed’s attorneys attempted to overturn
Acheson’s decision on a technicality.16 They claimed that
Elward had patented his traction arrangement in Canada on April 23,
1881. The Canadian patent was good for 15 years and expired in
1896; therefore, in 1900, Elward had no right to bring suit against
Reed. According to Reed’s attorneys, Elward had suppressed
knowledge of the Canadian patent’s existence and had acted in
bad faith when he failed to proclaim to the United States Patent
Office that he held a foreign patent for the same traction devices.
Once more, Reed’s attorneys came before Judge Acheson, who
stated that Elward had not exhibited bad faith because Elward’s
Canadian patent was for an apparatus different from the traction
arrangement that he patented in the United States. Acheson’s
1902 decision brought to an end six years of costly litigation.

The record is silent with respect to whether or not Frick,
Gaar-Scott and Huber began to pay licensing fees to Elward and
Giddings, and Frick and Gaar-Scott to Titus (who worked for Huber),
but I assume they must have done so. Judge Acheson placed an
injunction against the companies that, it seems to me, could have
been removed only by securing the proper licenses.

The Ongoing Mystery

Who built my model of the Lehmer traction gear conversion kit on
a Wood, Taber & Morse portable engine – and why? I have seen
two patent models, and the parts on my wooden engine closely
resemble the parts used in such models. Did Lehmer hold a patent
for the conversion kit, and, if so, was my model designed to secure
the patent?

The patent models I have inspected were not painted, but my
engine had a coat of flat black when I acquired it. The wood
faintly exuded the odor of a pigpen. I surmise that my engine may
have spent part of its life in a barn where hogs were kept.

Larry Jones wonders if my model might originally have been used
as a display during the protracted court battle over traction
engineering patents. In the late 1800s, attorneys in cases
involving such exhibits retained them, although courts occasionally
warehoused items used in trials. No displays have been sold from
the U.S. District Court for the Western District of

Despite the appearance that my model is an antique that could
date back to the late 19th century, it may be a more recent product
of a craftsman imitating the photographs in the Clymer volume and
Jack Norbeck’s encyclopedia. I may never know.

My research into the model’s history, however, gave me
enough information to restore it to its full glory.


 1. 18 May 2002; http://worldconnect. surname=Lehmer&given= Isaac;
Ford, Ira. History of Northeast Indiana. Vol. 2. Chicago: Lewis,
1920. 402.
 2. Civil War Soldiers & Sailors. 18 May 2002 ;
http://www.itd. Personz_Detail.cfm?PER_NBR=3 123853;
29th Regiment, Indiana Infantry.18 May 2002;
zcwss/template.cfm?unit-name=29th%20Regiment%2C% 10Indiana
 3. 1900 Census.
 4. Hair, Robert E. Sturgis and Its Industrial Growth.
Sturgis: Dresser, 1998.
 5. ‘Aged Sturgis Resident Dies.’ Sturgis Daily
Journal, 22 Nov. 1929: 1.
 6. Norbeck, Jack. Encyclopedia of American Steam Traction
Engines. Sarasota: Crestline, 1976.
 7. Alexander, Jack. Steam Power on California Roads and
Farms (1858-1911): A Survey of California’s First Motor
Vehicles. Tigard, OR: Binder, 1998; Rhode, Robert T. ‘Who Built
the First Traction Engine in America?’ Engineers and Engines
Magazine 44.2 (1998): 14-15.
 8. Hair, Robert E. Sturgis, Michigan: Its Story to 1930.
Sturgis: Hair, 1992; Sturgis Daily Journal, June 22, 1918.
 9. Hanan, John W. LaGrange County Centennial History. 1928.
10. Rhode, Robert T. The Harvest Story: Recollections of Old-Time
Threshermen (West Lafayette: Purdue OP, 2001).
11. I am indebted to Michael Rush, Deputy Clerk of the United
States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, for
this observation about Judge Acheson’s appearance.
12. Giddings, Charles M. ‘Development of the Traction Engine
in America.’ American Thresherman and Farm Power. 1916-17. Rpt.
in Development of the Traction Engine in America. Lancaster:
Stemgas, 1980. 22-23.
13. Giddings. 16.
14. Giddings. 17.
15. Bliss v. Reed, 102 F. 903 (C.C.W.D. PA 1900), Aff’d, 106
F. 314 (C.C.A.3 PA, 1901).
16. Bliss v. Reed, 113 F. 946 (C.C.W.D. PA 1902).

Numerous people and organizations helped me to research
this article. I owe them my gratitude and acknowledge their
valuable assistance by naming them here:

Antique Automobile Club of America

Lorry Dunning

Carol Furnish, Assistant Director, Instruction and Outreach
Services, Library, Salmon P. Chase College of Law

Thomas Heard, Associate Director, Information and Technology,
Library, Salmon P. Chase College of Law

Larry Jones, Curator of Agricultural Exhibits at the Smithsonian

Rebecca Kelm, Reference Librarian, W. Frank Steely Library,
Northern Kentucky University

Leslie Kendall, Peterson Automotive Museum in Los Angeles

Tracy Koenig, Assistant Department Manager, Public Documents and
Patents, Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

Walter Miller, Antique Auto Literature

Jack Norbeck, author of Encyclopedia of American Steam Traction

Mary Oliver, Archivist, Curator, and Registrar of the Montgomery
County (Ohio) Historical Society

Mark Patrick, Curator of the National Automobile History

Jeanine Rhodes, Reference Assistant, Elkhart Public Library

Michael Rush, Deputy Clerk of the United States District Court
for the Western District of Pennsylvania

Fred Shapiro of Burbank, Calif.

John Skarstadt, Curator of the F. Hal Higgins Collection in the
Special Collections of the Library of the University of California
at Davis

Elaine Pichaske Sokolowski, ReferenceDepartment, Peoria Public

Jane Spencer, Reference Librarian, Elkhart Public Library

Sue Steinke, Local History Room, Dayton & Montgomery County
(Ohio) Public Library

Barbara Thompson, Librarian, National Automobile History
Collection, Detroit Public Library

Gerry Vogel, Assistant Manager, Adult Services Division, Dayton
& Montgomery County Public Library

Karla A. Weidner, History Room Librarian, Sturgis Public

Amanda Wisler, Technology Coordinator, LaGrange County (Ind.)

Historian and author Robert T. Rhode is a regular
contributor to the Iron-Men Album. Contact him at: 4745 Glenway
Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45238, e-mail:

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