A Firefighter’s Steamer

The saga of Case No. 26701: a 1912 75 HP single-cylinder, double-acting steam engine

| Spring 2008

With any piece of equipment this old there is bound to be an account on how it survived. Many times we remark, “If only this engine could talk, imagine the tales it could tell.”

Fortunately, the history of this steamer can be told, for in its life it has only had four owners. For the past 45 years, it was owned and cared for by George Miller. When George agreed to sell it to me I visited him, along with my father, to hear his story. My dad wrote down this tale and I’m fortunate to have it to share with you.

If you ever visited Absarokee, Mont., you may have noticed this steamer tucked back into the corner of George’s yard. George says there had been a steady stream of visitors to the engine over the years. Although he planned to operate it again, the years just seemed to slip by, and when he turned 92 he decided it was finally time to sell it. I’m grateful he decided to sell it to me.

Jump to a section:
— Origins of Case No. 26701
— With a new owner, the restoration begins
— Firing up after more than 50 years 

The saga of Case engine No. 26701

According to George, this steam engine was built in 1912. It is a 75 HP, single-cylinder, double-acting steam engine.

It was shipped by rail to the J.I. Case dealer in Billings, Mont. The dealer did not sell it immediately, so he leased it for plowing and threshing in the fall of 1912. It pulled a 12-bottom plow with the plows spaced 14 inches apart, plowing a 16-foot-wide swath.

In 1913, the engine was bought by two brothers, Jake and Howard Swinaker. They drove it 85 miles from Billings to their farm near Nye, Mont. Traveling at 2-1/2 MPH, the trip took 3-1/2 weeks. They had to reinforce the bridges that they crossed, and even then the engine nearly broke through one bridge; the bent wheel and broken step the steamer sustained from this near accident are still visible almost 100 years later.

For the next year the Swinaker brothers used the engine alternately for farming and to run their sawmill.

In 1915, Jake bought a 15 HP J.I. Case steam engine to use on the farm. Howard took over the 75 HP steam engine to permanently power his sawmill.

Glen Gordon
1/4/2010 4:53:16 PM

I must confess that I am not a die hard steam fan but I am quickly converting. Having just read the article about the Oregon fire fighter's experience with restoring his 1912 Case steam tractor, not only am I amazed with his abilities and patience (as well as the other assistants)to bring this piece of history back to life, but to think of the engineering forty years before the concept of the computer. I applaude anyone involved in a project like this. Glen Gordon