The Legendary 150 HP Case Steam Traction Engine
George W. Hedtke
In 1904, #14666, the first of the 150 hp J.I. Case steam engines was tested by being called upon to pull four 15 hp new engines (weight 57, 600 pounds) up the 13 percent grade at the rear of Case Company's engine assembly building in Racine, Wis.
The first 40 x 150 HP Case steam engine was developed and built at the J. I. Case Threshing Machine Company Engine Works at Racine, Wis., in late 1904. This was not designated as a Road Locomotive (R. L), but was called a 'Sample,' or experimental engine. The serial number was 14666, and I have compiled the history of this great engine through the years and conducted much research, including the gathering of information on the eight more 150 HP Case engines that followed and were called 'Road Locomotives.' It (#14666) was billed as 'The World's Largest Traction Engine' in 1904.
I will now go into detail about the history of Case 150 HP engine #14666. The story is quite lengthy and I have verified the facts through several sources. I will follow up with the known history of the other eight 150 HP engines.
In 1904, #14666, the first of the 150 HP J. I. Case steam engines was tested by being called upon to pull four 15 HP new engines (weight 57,600 pounds) up the 13 percent grade at the rear of Case Company's engine assembly building in Racine, Wis.
Old #14666 was completed at the factory in late 1904. The engine was equipped with a 500-gallon water tank on top of the boiler, with a boiler jacket, headlight and short cab. These accessories were left off for shipping and do not appear in any pictures. It was tested at the factory at the rear of the engine assembly building, pulling four 15 HP new engines weighing 57,600 pounds up a 13 percent grade on April 21, 1905, and popped off steam near the top. It was then purchased by the Sater Copper Mining Company at Folsom, N.M.
The engine was first equipped with round-spoke rear wheels and, during the initial testing, they proved to be too light under the load and were replaced with stronger flat-spoke wheels before shipping. It was then shipped to Folsom, N.M., a small town about 55 miles up the Dry Cimarron River from where the copper mine was located. The 150 HP Case was to be used to transport the wagon loads of copper ore for the 55-mile trip to the rail siding at Folsom. The Sater Mining Company didn't use the engine much, since after a few trips the ore played out. The mine and engine were abandoned when the Sater Copper Mining Company was liquidated. On one of the few trips it made over the 55-mile haul, the engine slid off a narrow canyon road and was damaged. The gearing was wearing out very rapidly, since the metal alloys available in that period were very inferior to the strong materials which can be used today for gearing. After its mishap, the engine was brought back to the mine where it powered a sawmill to cut timbers for the mine.
The old #14666 150 HP Case Steam Engine sat abandoned at the mine site until 1918, when a junkman broke it apart for World War I salvage. All of the fittings, castings, parts, wheels, etc., were gone; but the boiler clearly marked with #14666 cast in brass on the smoke box side remained. This first 150 HP Case engine had coal storage bunkers and water tanks at the rear with side steps to enter the operator's platform on the left side.
The eight Road Locomotives to follow during the four years were equipped with rear-entrance 'Contractor's Bunkers.' The serial numbers of the other eight 150 HP RLs are as follows: 17162, 18547, 18548, 18549, 18723, 18870, and 18871. I will insert a brief history of these 150 HP Case RLs at this time.
The second one (#17162) was built in 1906 and was shipped to Colby, Kan., to John and Lee Jeffries. It sat in bad repair at the rear of Frank Lewis' blacksmith shop after pulling a large 50-bottom Oliver plow for the war effort in a sugar beet field. It was scrapped after 1918 to help pay for it.
The next three (#s 18547, 18548 and 18549) were built in 1907 and shipped to the Case Branch at Brunswick, Ga. The next one (#18723) was built in 1907 and went to Louisville, Ky. #18848 also was built in 1907 and went to Watertown, N.Y., and was owned by two young men who used it for hauling stone from a quarry in five wagons, each with capacity for 10 tons of stone.
#18870 went to Wauban, Minn. #18871 was delivered to Tomahawk, Wis., and was owned by a man named Bradley who threshed with it. This engine left the country in the early 1920s, and no one remembers its fate. The other 150 HP Road Locomotives were the victims of dismemberment by the junk dealers' cutting torches, and some boilers were used as skid boilers for heating plants.
This should prove to the world that there were only nine Case Road Locomotives, 40 x 150 HP 'World's Largest Traction Engines' up to the end of the production of these giants in 1907. It has been argued that only three were built.
The two-speed gear arrangement led to the end of production because there was no available metal alloy good enough in those days to hold up on such huge engines. The engineers at the J. I. Case Company developed an alternative, the famous 32 x 110 HP Steam Traction Engine, of which 877 were to follow the first 40 x 150 HP (old Engine 14666).
The Case 40 x 150 HP Traction Engine was designed for heavy hauling, such as ore from the Sater Copper Mine, carrying lumber and freight loads up to 50 tons. It had a friction-power steering mechanism which operated when the engine was running. It had a 14-inch cylinder and a 14-inch stroke. It had a Wolf reverse. The fire box was 58-1/4 inches in length, 39-1/4 inches in width and 45-1/2 inches high. It had a 42-inch boiler barrel. There were 93 flues, which were two inches in diameter and 108-1/2 inches long. It carried a steam pressure of 160 pounds. It had a two-speed arrangement in the gearing which was designed to travel at 5.69 miles per hour in high and 2.64 mph in low. The flywheel was 50 inches in diameter and turned out 200 rpm. The rear wheels were eight feet in diameter and 30 inches across. The length of the Road Locomotive was 25 feet and three inches, and it was 10 feet wide. It had a reserve water tank of 500 gallons. The bunkers had room for 1,200 pounds of coal, or enough to run for three hours. The RL was an enormous engine, and the average man could walk under the boiler without bending over.
Engine #14666 sold for $3,600 in 1904 to Sater Mining Company with one-half down in cash and the rest on credit. It was never known at Racine if the engine was fully paid for, since the mortgage was not dated or cancelled.
The price was raised to $4,000 for the next engines. My research on this legendary American Heritage J. I. Case 40 x 150 HP Steam Road Locomotive has included review of the records of E. C. 'Big Mac' McMillan, Hoisington, Kan.; Arthur J. Frazee, Reeseville, Wis.; Roy Wolf, the keeper of the steam engine records at the Case Threshing Machine Company, (builder of the 'Big Case') at Racine; and other verified records.
'Big Mac,' well known as a Case expert, went to the mine site years ago to find out about the fate of the old #14666 and found a small piece of the flue sheet lying on the ground there. He assumed that was all that was left of the big 150 and took it with him. He passed away not knowing that the boiler still remained intact, but had its flue sheets, thru stays (large rods inside the boiler that ran alongside the flues and tied the front and rear flue sheets together), and flues cut out. The boiler was sitting upright not too far from the abandoned mine site as a storage tank to water cattle. It was a reserve tank adjacent to a windmill, where it held water for use when the wind didn't blow. The smokestack was removed and, for some reason, a large section next to the firebox door was cut away.
Mr. Carl Logan, a large Case dealer at Leoti, Kan., heard that the boiler of old #14666 might be near the mine. He heard about the large old boiler used by the windmill to water cattle; and Carl and a friend drove to the copper mine site near Folsom to try to find the boiler. A few miles from the site, the fan belt on his car broke and he drove in short spurts in search of water. Fate led him down a road where he spotted a windmill, and there sat the boiler with the brass plate #14666 still in place. A rancher helped him get a new fan belt and told Carl and his friend where to find the owner of the property. A lady answered the door and became very indignant because her husband had recently passed away and she thought the men were there to take advantage of her. Carl Logan and his friend returned home without the boiler.
Mr. Logan took his truck to Racine, Wis., to the Case factory to pick up a load of machinery for his dealership. While waiting to load, he found a set of large wheels and gears in an old building. He inquired about these pieces and was told they were from one of the old road Locomotives that had bad gears and was disassembled and sold for a skid engine. No record was found to show which 150 HP engine this was. Mr. Logan talked to dock people at the Case factory to make arrangements to purchase these wheels on his next trip to Racine to pick up machinery.
In the meantime, the woman who had the boiler was sorry for her poor treatment of Mr. Logan and his friend because she was grieving over her husband's death; she contacted Mr. Logan and gave him boiler #14666. It was soon parked at his Case dealership at Leoti, Kan.
When he made his next trip to Racine in high hopes of purchasing the wheels and gears, he found much to his dismay that the Case Company had just changed presidents and the new president had ordered the old building torn down, all metal scrapped and a new parking lot built. The wheels and gears had been hauled away to a Racine forging and metal company, cut up for scrap and were gone forever. Old boiler #14666 was neglected. It was even used as a culvert in a ditch where machinery drove over it; and, as time went on, Mr. Logan had an auction to sell all of his steam engine parts and equipment. The famous old Case boiler was taken from the ditch and sold to Mr. Justin J. Hingtgen of LaMotte, Iowa. It was mounted on a cement slab at Mr. Hingtgen's farm where he held his well-known steam show, The Mississippi Valley Steam Power Show. After Justin Hingtgen's untimely death at the age of 51, the famous old boiler #14666 was purchased from the Hingtgen Estate by George W. Hedtke and was moved to George's Hedtke's Hickory Oaks Farm at Davis Junction, Ill.
Hickory Oaks Farm is the permanent site of the North Central Illinois Steam Power Show and Operational Agricultural Museum.
This article was transcribed from Mr. Hedtke's hand-written manuscript by Arthur P. Brigham of Silver Spring, Md., husband of Helen Case Brigham.