A Firefighter’s Steamer

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

| Spring 2008

  • Restoration of Case No. 26701
    Joseph Berto's 1912 75 HP single-cylinder, double-acting Case steam engine, No. 26701.
  • Bento
    Another view of the 75 HP Case, with purchased and rebuilt fuel and water bunkers.
  • Other Treasures
    Surrounded by other treasures, the Case appeared mostly complete. However, it required much more work and funds than first anticipated
  • Millers
    The Case 75 HP engine in George Miller's yard. This engine spent its life powering a sawmill, so the second belt pulley ran the carriage that moved wood through the saw.
  • Berto Brothers
    George and Joseph Berto are all smiles as they look toward the re-awakening of this Case 75 HP.
  • Snow
    Forlornly sitting in the snow, the engine seemed a long way from making steam again.
  • Arrvies in Oregon
    The engine arrives in Oregon
  • George
    George points out the features of the engine, as he gives it a final look before it leaves his property.
  • Friends Help
    Friend Marcus Rey, Gold Hill, Ore., helps with the task of heavy part removal.
  • One Year In
    The Case engine as it appeared on April 16, 2002, one year into the restoration, it took determination to continue, with little to show for the ongoing effort.
  • Chime Whistle
    When the Case is operating the chime whistle draws people from miles around to see it run.
  • cylinder
    The cylinder and rod worn out from decades of use, the heart of the Case engine required major work.
  • Clutch
    The Case clutch slide missed a factory recall in 1913.
  • Install Flues
    Removing accumulated scale by scraping and vacuuming the boiler revealed problems with the flues, as well.
  • Flywheel
    Applying heat to the flywheel; removing long-stuck parts required careful application of heat and force.
  • Toolbox
    Blending old components with new using hot set rivets for a period look on the mounted toolbox
  • Bunkers
    The poor condition of the bunkers that were purchased with the Case engine
  • ready to go
    Considerable effort resulted in a steam engine restoration that should last for generations. Attention to details produced a set of new replacement fuel bunkers that were better than new.
  • Harrow
    Running the Case with a harrow.
  • steamer
    The satisfaction of rebuilding a steam engine is only matched by operating it. An important step was learning how to safely operate the steamer at the Brooks (Oregon) Steam School.

  • Restoration of Case No. 26701
  • Bento
  • Other Treasures
  • Millers
  • Berto Brothers
  • Snow
  • Arrvies in Oregon
  • George
  • Friends Help
  • One Year In
  • Chime Whistle
  • cylinder
  • Clutch
  • Install Flues
  • Flywheel
  • Toolbox
  • Bunkers
  • ready to go
  • Harrow
  • steamer

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