What’s In Store at OVAM?

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4745 Glen way Avenue Cincinnati, Ohio 45238-4537

Haley’s Farm Shop of Odell, Illinois, gives Dr. Robert T.
Rhode’s steam engine a new smoke box. Case equipment will be
featured when the J. I. Case Heritage Foundation Exposition is held
at the Ohio Valley Antique Machinery Association show August 7-10,

The Case Expo that’s what’s in store. Case enthusiasts
and all who enjoy agricultural history are in for a treat August
7-10, 1997, when the International J. I. Case Heritage Foundation
hosts its eleventh annual exposition of steam engines, tractors,
and related equipment in conjunction with the Ohio Valley Antique
Machinery (OVAM) show, held not far from Georgetown, Ohio, and not
too far from Cincinnati. Case, Georgetown, and OVAM go together.
Georgetown boasted a Case dealership, ably led by Charley Woods,
and, in OVAM’s inaugural year and for many summers thereafter,
Howard M. Dunn of Mt. Orab exhibited his 65-horsepower Case
steamer, serial number 35654 (built in 1923). It was the featured
engine in 1973. I have a special feeling for that Case, since I
bought it in 1995.

According to Full Steam Ahead (St. Joseph, Michigan,
ASAE, 1993), the production of engines at the Case manufactory in
Racine, Wisconsin, began in 1876. Two years later, the engine with
serial number 3.48 became the first Case engine to receive a
traction attachment. This fact leads to a question.

Was this the first traction engine devised in North America, as
some have claimed? No. according to the May/June 1951 Iron Men
, a cut in a 1905 Lang and Button catalogue depicted a
traction engine for which Maryland had issued a patent in 1787 to
Oliver Evans of Philadelphia. In 1916-1917, C. M. Giddings, who
radically redesigned the Russell engine, published a series of
articles entitled ‘Development of the Traction Engine in
America’ (Lancaster, PA.: STEM GAS, 1980 reprint). He reported
that ‘in 1868 and 1869 a farmer living near Mt. Vernon (Ohio)
conceived the idea of making a portable engine propel itself using
horses on a tongue to guide it.’ The farmer assigned the patent
to Charles G. Cooper of the firm of C. & G. Cooper, which sold
traction engines before Case did. Other companies also beat Case to
the traction-engine punch. It seems clear that the device which
provided traction to early Case engines was of the Cooper type. C.
H. Wendel’s 150 Years of J. I. Case (Osceola, WI:
Motor books, 1994) states that, although early Case traction
engines propelled themselves, horses steered them until 1884, when
Case advertised its first hand guide, or steering wheel. The
Russell Company outstripped Case by offering a self-steered engine
in 1882, according to Giddings.

So Case was neither the originator of the traction engine nor
the first to market a self-steering engine. Seeking a Case
innovation to extol, some fans of Case equipment argue that, by
spending two years investigating ways of uniting a threshing device
with a cleaning mechanism and by eventually marketing such machines
in 1844, Jerome Increase Case was one of the first in North America
to sell a viable thresher. Other Case adherents uphold the 1904
introduction of the all-steel thresher as an example of the Case
firm’s ability to pioneer a concept. Still other Case buffs
say, ‘What’s so important about inventing the wheel? What
matters is making the best wheel and selling more wheels than
anybody else.’ Even those not persuaded that Case equipment was
the best equipment do admit that, over the long life of the firm,
Case scored an unprecedented array of inventions, whether or not
such innovations were showy.

Case experimented with all manner of boilers and engines: return
flue, center-crank, compound, and even a straw-burning system fed
from the engine’s left side in front of the drive wheel.
Perhaps this willingness to try out different ideas led to
Case’s success. The J. I. Case Threshing Machine Company became
the leading builder of agricultural steam traction engines in North
America. No explanation for Case’s unrivaled popularity
satisfies everyone particularly if he or she is the devotee of some
other manufacturer. Wendel postulates:

There is no single or simple answer to the Case mystique. Even a
cursory study of the phenomenon illustrates that many factors were
involved. One of them was that Case was in the right place at the
right time, offering the right machine to the right people. There
also is no doubt that much of the early popularity resulted from
advertising efforts which were uniquely effective. Case had already
gained a good reputation in the thresher business, and had already
begun the formation of an extensive sales organization. This
consisted of direct sales, territory men, extensive magazine
advertising, and positively elaborate product catalogs. (page

With justice, others argue that several companies had
established a reputation for excellence in the thresher business
and had vast yet efficient advertising and sales networks. For some
reason, Case not only became the leader but also stayed far ahead
of the pack. Maybe the well-known and respected mechanical engineer
and writer Frank Burris, a nonagenarian who once tested Case
engines and who lives in Fallbrook, California, could explain to
our satisfaction why Case emerged as the undisputed champion of
farm engine manufacturers.

While we wait to see if Frank will take up the challenge of
expounding on Case’s achievement, we will gather at the OVAM
show in August to enjoy another Case event.

Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment