CASE STEAM TRACTOR .com 

"George"

Part One
Purchase and
Dis-assemble

Part Two
Re-assemble and
operate

Part Three
Build the bunkers

 

The tractor as it appeared April 16, 2002, one year into the restoration. 

As with most projects, I can honestly say that if I had known what I was getting into I might not have ever started it....

However, that being said, the fact of the matter is that I did buy George's tractor.  I really didn't do any research before buying it; I thought having a steamer would be fun and when I saw this one it sort of looked like it needed a new owner.  The tractor was just stuffed amongst the other "collectables" of George's life, and the piles of treasures had just grown up around it.  I thought it looked perfect.  To my inexperienced eye, the tractor looked mostly complete.  Of course there were some visible problems: the bullet holes in the heat exchanger, the front of the cylinder hanging off, lots of rust, and so on.  Mostly it appeared that if someone didn't take care to restore it, this engine would become just another piece of junk rusting away. The longer I looked at it, the more I could visualize it making smoke, steam and the wonderful sounds that only a working tractor can make.  I felt I had to buy it.  So I did. 

The beginning of the restoration  

Once the sale was completed it was time to bring it to our ranch here in Southern Oregon.  The project immediately began to show its size.  What seemed to be an easy job (just put it on a trailer) became much more than that.  Despite all our efforts to make the tractor roll, it wouldn't budge.  Low boys are expensive and while this one was sitting around I could hear the ding ding of the cash register.  We finally determined that it would be easier to lift the tractor and place it on the lowboy.  Wrong again...  At over 12 tons even the 966 Cat front end loader we had begged from a local construction site couldn't lift it.  The driver of the Cat had a good idea and thought he could just lift the back end.  We tried that and voila, it happily rolled it on its front wheels onto the trailer.   Next, permits were required because it is exactly 6 inches over width...

The trucking company did a great job, and one day later it rolled into our driveway. I thought I was prepared to roll it off, and I had a forklift here to once again raise the rear wheels and firebox and roll it off.  No dice... The forklift simply wasn't big enough to do the job. It appeared that the disassembly would have to begin right away, but since the tractor was now in front of my shop, I wasn't too concerned.  With the driver patiently waiting, I got out the wrenches and began removing my first stuck bolts.  It appeared that if we removed the intermediate spur gear that the rest of the frozen parts would budge.  With liberal applications of lubricant, we were able to ease the tractor off with the trailer by pulling with my big John Deere.  Not very dignified, but acceptable.  It was during these first removals that we found just how "stuck" parts can get.  The flywheel, piston, rear axle, gears, rods, pretty much the whole engine was stuck.  But the first step was complete, the tractor now sat outside of my shop.  Little did I realize that it would sit in that spot for the next two years! 

Disassembly  begins

It wasn't that I didn't work on the tractor; in fact, it was just the opposite.  From the day it arrived, it seemed that I was working on the Case.  I quickly found out that there were many Markus lends a hand on the Case 75times that two people or more were required to disassemble something.  And one of the real charms of these old pieces of iron surfaced.  Folks just loved to help.  Whether it was a neighbor who came by or the UPS man seeing me struggle with a heavy part, it seemed that there was always a helping hand when it was needed.  Along with the hand usually came a story, and ten minutes of work could easily become an hour, but that was part of the the fun of it all.
     But very little of the restoration would have happened were it not for the chance meeting of a true steamer's friend.  When I purchased the tractor I flew to Billings, Montana, and on my way from the airport we drove by the D & H Spring shop.  I noticed a variety of steamers sitting outside and stopped to meet the owner, Corky Staudinger.  How fortunate I chanced upon Corky, for he was the catalyst that sparked the whole restoration effort.  I had never worked on a steam tractor before. In fact, in Southern Oregon they are a pretty rare item and I had only seen one or two actually under power before.  Although I had worked on many pieces of farm equipment, I found this one a bit intimidating.  Obviously all the running gear had to come off, but I had no idea where to start.  I called D & H and in no time Corky had me squared away.  Bit by bit I disassembled it all, from flywheel to flues.  In fact, I found out that, unlike modern steel, if something was stuck I couldn't just apply more force. When I  tried that on the old Case, things simply bent or broke.  Even bolts as thick as my thumb sheared off if I used a big enough cheater bar to make them move.  So the Case 75 steam engine propersteamer taught me the lesson that Corky had first spoken about:  patience, and lots of it.
     Over time, though, it  slowly became a pile of parts and after a few months I had boxes of parts ready to send to him.  You can probably imagine how anxious I was to get the parts back, but it took more patience, about a year's worth, before all the pieces arrived back.  Corky had resleeved the cylinder, machined new surfaces onto the valve box and balance valve, and rebuilt the governor.  He rebuilt the cross slide and machined a new piston rod.  He also calibrated the oiler and sent along a half dozen replacement spokes for the rear wheels.   But the most important thing that Corky did was to share his experience and the right attitude to adopt when taking on a project like this, and I thank him for that.

While the engine and other parts were at Corky's there were dozens of other things to do, but foremost in my mind was a careful inspection of the boiler and related steam fittings.  A savvy buyer would have had this kind of thing checked out before the purchase, but George assured me that everything was good, and I believed him.  The boiler inspector, however, wanted more assurance than that and so this was the next step.  First came a careful visual inspection which first had me removing the fire pan so that the interior of the firebox could be looked into. The fire pan literally fell apart when it was removed, so this was my first fabrication project.  Removing the fire pan to get access to the firebox was important because if there was any evidence of an overheated crown sheet it would show up as a warped plate and possibly damaged staybolts.  George had described how the tractor was parked near a spring and how it always had a plentiful supply of water, so I wasn't too worried.  I also removed all the hand hole covers so that the stay bolts and water legs could be inspected.  An interesting note was that the original fusible plug was still installed.  I took this as a good sign, and other than a considerable buildup of scale, the boiler and related parts visually checked out OK.  I spent some considerable time cleaning the scale deposits out, and found a vacuum and long pipe was pretty handy.  Next came the more intensive ultrasonic inspection, which involves smoothing spots on the boiler so a device can be attached which measures the thickness of the steel.  Dozens of places were checked and compared to the factory drawings to determine any loss of thickness.  Once again the water legs and crown sheet around the firebox were of major concern, but when it was all completed I was relieved that George had been correct: the boiler was fine.  I was told that I had to replace all the steam pipes and valves with modern schedule 80 fittings and was cautioned to replace a half dozen rivets where the flue sheet connected to the smoke box, as the heads had become badly corroded.  This was to be my next project.
     I contacted a suggested boiler repairman who "specialized" in this type of work and was astonished to get a price of over $3000.00 for this small job, something about "liability and old tractors."  I felt this wasn't the appropriate price or attitude and decided that I would do it myself.  I work as a helicopter pilot and have an airframe repairman license.  I figured that if I could rivet together an airplane safely, I could certainly perform this work on the tractor.  A quick call to Corky for the necessary tools, rivets and "how to's" and I started in.  I'm happy to report that it really is a pretty simple procedure, and in short order the needed rivets were removed, and the replacements were heated and set.
     It was during this time I noticed some issues with some of the flues.  Some of them just didn't feel right as I worked the flue brush in and out of them.  I made an air pressure tool and found that a number of them had holes.  It seemed only right that I was going to get some hands-on experience at replacing flues as well. I figured that modern boilers had flues, so a look in the yellow pages turned up a local shop that said that they would take a look.  When the repairman showed up, he was all smiles and said that compared to swimming pool boilers and the like, this job looked like fun.  With that kind of attitude, he was hired.  We had to measure and special order the correct flue tubing.  This took a week or so and during that time I had to remove the old tubes.  Since I didn't have a tubing cutter, I carefully used a die grinder and removed the bead.  I then slid the tubes out.  Having some of them removed sure made it a lot easier to get to the remaining scale inside the boiler, so it was back to vacuuming again.  Once the tubing was here the repairman returned and in no time the new tubes were fixed in place.  It was about now that the parts from D&H arrived and I was now ready to begin the real heart of the restoration.
      With so many of the parts coming back rebuilt by Corky, it would be easy to think that by installing them the job would be done.  Unfortunately these parts were only a fraction of the total project.  Some parts were simply missing, like the handles to the smoke box door.  Others such as the step frames were broken and beyond repair.  It was through Emanuel King at the Cattail foundry that replacements were sourced.  He had cast perfect replicas for most of the small iron parts I needed.  But there were other problems too.  Fifty years of sitting outside had had a predictable effect on bearings and axle shafts so all of the rotating parts had to be removed and cleaned up.  When you consider that some of the parts aren't supposed to come apart easily, such as the flywheel to crankshaft, trying to make them now come apart was an exasperating experience.  The parts are big and unwieldy.  Too much force or heat would damage them irreparably.  So I spent hours and weeks trying to get them apart, sometimes measuring a day's work in minute amounts of movement.  But patience and perseverance prevailed and eventually the rear wheels were off the axle, the countershaft and pinions gears were off, the giant differential gear was on the floor, the flywheel and clutch assembly was removed, and the intermediate gear was set aside.  Removing the parts was only half the battle, and seeing all those parts and making them fit to reinstall was sort of the low point in the restoration process.  But it was winter, and with plenty of long nights I reworked all of these pieces here in my own shop.  Over the next couple of months all the rebuilt parts were reinstalled.
     With the help of eBay I was able to purchase an original Case Steam Engine Manual, including grease stains.  It is remarkable how complete this old manual was, and I found the top view page to be especially helpful in locating where all the parts went.  I really enjoyed reading about timing the engine proper.  This is the procedure where all the associated parts, namely the piston, slide valve, valve gear, eccentric,  reverse head, and many other parts all need to work in harmony to introduce steam to the piston at just the right time.  The old manual pretty much takes you through it step by step, from locating the index marks on the flywheel, then "finding the dead center" and "dividing the leads" and a bunch of other neat old terms.  Everything just seemed to move like it was supposed to.  When I was actually able to grasp the flywheel for the first time and rotate it, I was thrilled to hear the air hissing out of the open cylinder cocks.  The tractor was almost breathing again!  It was now time to look at all the plumbing and associated valves, but before I got started on that there was one other big project to tackle.
     When I purchased the tractor from George it did not have any fuel bunkers attached to it.  There had been bunkers at some point, but once it was parked out in the woods they had become a nuisance and were removed and discarded.  George did have a really rusty set of bones that I was able to pick through to get some original parts to begin the reconstruction of a new set.  I was just getting started when I came across Duane Woods in Wallace, Nebraska.  We got to talking and I realized that Duane could supply me with a set for about what I figured it would cost me to build them myself.  So I sent my old parts back to Nebraska and a couple months later Duane's bunkers showed up.  Duane will send you bunkers in any stage of completion, and I got them semi-kit style, with plenty of detail work still needed.  This was because I wanted to use as much of the old bunker steel as I could.  In some areas I actually removed Duane's work so I could install old steel.  In others it was removing modern nut and bolt fasteners and replacing them with rivets.  In the end, between the two of us, I got a set of bunkers that I was really happy with.  Best of all, Duane was able to supply me with a wonderful water transfer factory scene and this really completed the job.  After I completed my work I put on some paint and stripes and finally installed them where I really wanted, hung on the back of the steamer.
     Now that I could easily step up to the quadrant shelf, it was time to duplicate and fit and replace all the steam pipes that I had earlier removed.  Aside from dozens of trial fits and some really stubborn ends that fit into the boiler, this part was routine work.  At one point I even hooked it up to my air compressor and marveled at how, for a few short moments, the beautiful running gear would all silently move. After two years of work the tractor was looking like it was ready to move with steam. But was I?
     A recent boiler explosion at a state fair had really brought to light how an inexperienced hand could needlessly cause injury and harm to others.  Since I had no experience to draw on, I was really torn.  I was anxious to run my steamer, yet I wanted to do it in a safe manner.  I was very fortunate to read about a steam school in Brooks, Oregon, and when I called there for information I found that they would be holding their annual school in only two months.  For that long I could be patient.  In fact, it was during this time that my Dad visited to see how the project looked.  As pleased as he was, he couldn't help but notice that one of the front wheels was really crooked.  This and other damage came from its first trip from Billings to Nye, Montana, in 1912.  While crossing a stream the bridge collapsed and the evidence from this accident was not yet repaired these many years later.  Dad figured that since he had trued up many bicycle wheels, this one couldn't be much harder.  Lots of elbow grease and penetrating lubricant proved him right and the wheel now looked much better.  Dad also built me a custom 1912 Case step for the side of the steamer.
     Two months passed in a flash, and the school was wonderful.  There were about 20 of us attending and we learned about the safe operation of a steamer from front to back.  Best of all it turned out that they had nearly the identical twin to this steamer, a 1911 Case 75 horsepower!  By the second day we were all happily clanking around and blowing whistles, grinning from ear to ear.  It was interesting to note that of all the people there,  none of them owned a steam tractor.  Most were there to be certified so that at the Brooks Steam Days they could operate the museum's own rolling stock.  So it felt pretty good to be driving home to my own freshly rebuilt tractor.

First Steam Up

 To say that I was excited just doesn't begin to cover the accomplishment of rebuilding this tractor.  It took several years of perseverance, a commitment of funds and the enduring support of my wife, Dianne, to make this day happen.  But when the following Sunday rolled around I was finally ready.  Following the procedures I had learned at Brooks and the Case manual, I precisely filled the boiler and water tank, lubed everything up, carefully made a fire in the firebox and watched as a small tendril of smoke made its way out of the smokestack for the first time in more than 50 years.  Such a joyful feeling.  As the winter rain fell, bit by bit the boiler warmed, the fire grew, and the pressure slowly built on the steam pressure gauge.  The unmistakable smell of wet steam and ash surrounded the engine with its sweet aroma.  A turn of the blower knob and the steam hissed up the stack, a cloud of vapor to mark the occasion.  And like the whole rebuilding process, the firing of the Case tractor I named after George took patience.  The metal sang, and the fire popped, and the pressure grew.  And finally, after all, I blew the whistle, opened the cylinder cocks, set the reverse lever and opened the throttle.  And as silently and smoothly as you can possibly imagine, the piston moved and the flywheel turned.  And just like that, the Case steam tractor that had sat frozen in time for five decades was alive again.

Epilogue

I have so enjoyed this engine.  It is one of the most satisfying projects I have ever begun.  I use it here on our ranch several times a year, and marvel at the power it displays as it pulls a 16 foot harrow across my fields.  The sound that it makes at full song is exquisite-- the deep chuff of the stack and the soft whisper of the open cylinder cocks.  I have tried many whistles on it, but the original three tone chime is definitely my favorite, as it was to George.  The sound attracts people who come from miles away to watch it work.  Running it here at the ranch is completely different than at shows, where a bit of steam pressure seems to last all day.  Since we fire it with wood, it takes a careful engineer to keep the pressure up and not blow the pressure relief valve. It certainly takes a lot of wood and a lot of water, but the result is pure steam power.  Since we have horses it is easy for me to make the comparison between the nostalgia of both on a farm.  I can certainly see why the farmer embraced steam power so quickly, and what a miracle it must have been when the first steam tractors made their presence known.  As for me, it is a privilege to own and operate this engine.  I am finding more and interesting information about it all the time. For instance, it has been suggested to me that it has a very rare tapered clutch slide, a part that most tractors had field replaced in 1913.  Apparently, since this tractor was already parked in the trees, no one thought to remove it.  I'm also asked if I plan to paint it, something I just can't bear to do since I like the fact that it still has the grease and grime on it from when George last ran it, not to mention his unique smoke box art.
     I certainly encourage anyone who dreams of having their own to give it a try for there are many knowledgeable people out there to help you.  I only know that there is something deeply satisfying about owning and operating a steam tractor.  It's not like owning a Model T, which aside from its reliability is not much different from what you drive today.  A steam tractor somehow captures and delivers a timeless essence that few other pieces of machinery can, and it is the reason why men like George Miller keep and cherish them for their entire lives.  This essence is why, when I fulfilled a promise made to once again make the tractor run and his wife played the video and sounds of it operating, tears flowed from his nearly sightless eyes.  So when all is said and done, I would do it all over again, because restoring a piece of mechanical history and making it yours is, in the end, priceless.

Joseph Berto   

 

J. I. Case Steam Tractor Number 26701 was built in 1912. It has a 75 hp, single cylinder, double acting steam engine.

Astonishing research by Mike Bergstrom uncovers original sales invoice!
October 14, 2009  Mike writes:  I'm sending you a copy of the two-page Bill of Sale (dated October 11, 1921) transferring ownership of the Case steam traction engine from Riddle to Schwenneker.  I was sure surprised when I found that this document had the serial number that matched your restored tractor.  I don't know when Riddle came into possession of this steam engine.  The earliest reference I can find of him having a steam engine in the Picket Pin area is in a document dated September 30, 1918 "Riddle stated that the mill engine is a Case 25-horse power steam thrashing engine which drives a saw 54 inches in diameter with 32 teeth, and that the boiler is 75-horse power."  I'm only guessing that this is the same steam tractor.  I have reason to believe that the teacher mentioned in your article is Henry James Trenk.  He was an instructor at Billings Polytechnic Institute for about five years beginning in 1937.  A brief summary of his life in Shifting Scenes, A History of Carter County, Montana states that he owned a sawmill at Limestone, that the government took it over during World War II, and that after the war he resumed the Limestone sawmill operation until he died on November 22, 1947.  Several aspects about his story and your research seem to fit together.  I visited with Herb and Susan Russell this past summer.  They filled in numerous gaps about the Picket Pin Sawmill site.  I'm in the process of recording the sawmill location as a cultural resource site.  Both areas (Riddle's original sawmill and Schwenneker's relocated sawmill ~1/4 mile away) contain miscellaneous historic debris that most people wouldn't recognize as a former sawmill.  The area is a popular dispersed camping location.  I'll send you a final summary of the sawmill research (although it isn't much more than a page or two) if you're interested.  Thanks again for your help.  
Mike W. Bergstrom
Zone Archaeologist
Custer National Forest

 

Technical Details of J. I. Case Steam Tractor No. 26701.

 

Case Model G ------------ 75 hp.

Empty Weight:------------ 24,000 pounds

Boiler Pressure: ---------- 140 psig

Boiler Barrel:-------------34 inches in diameter 

Cylinder Diameter: ------ 11 inches.

Stroke: --------------------- 12 inches.

Overall Length ----------- 22 feet

Overall Height ---------- - 10 feet  2 1/2 inches

Overall Width ----------- - 9 feet  4 1/2 inches

Rear Wheel Diameter --- 5 feet 6 inches

Rear Wheel Width ------- 24 inches

Front Wheel Diameter ---- 44 inches

Front Wheel Width --- 12 inches



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