Sunday, December 1, 2019

1920 Orr & Sembower Portable Steam Engine

The firm of Orr & Sembower is probably better known for their line of heating and industrial stationary boilers than for portable steam engines. I had never heard of them until I saw this one at the Richland Creek Antique Fall Festival this November. 

The company dates back to 1885 when they opened an office in Reading, Pennsylvania and a factory in a town called Cumru. By 1890 they had incorporated and expanded with additional offices in New York City, Chicago, Illinois, and Boston, Ma. 

Their products included; vertical and horizontal steam boilers, steam and electric hoisting engines, gasoline and kerosene hoists and of course, portable steam engines that ranged from 6 to 40 hp. By 1891 they employed 175 workers.   

During the next century Orr & Sembower gradually faded from view, at least that’s what is available on the web leads you to believe. I found a mention of them from a publication called “ Domestic Engineering” dated to 1969 that describes them as “One of the largest international manufacturers of commercial / industrial boilers.” In 1975 the Calderas Group acquired the rights to the Powermaster brand for Mexico. They had been associated with Orr & Sembower  since 1949, first as a sales representative and by 1954 as a licensed manufacturer of the PowerMaster boilers in Mexico. In 2011 they bought the Power Master rights for the United States. 

Today you can find a website for the Calderas Group but not for Orr & Sembower. Calderas markets their fire tube Power Master boiler globally, according to their website. There are a few companies that advertise repair parts for Orr & Sembower boilers but these appear to be odds and ends leftovers.

The portable engine shown here is owned by the Moody Family who presented its history on their nicely prepared display that you see in front of the engine. The original owner was a man named W.B. Brunson who ordered the engine from a distributor located in Augusta, Ga. in 1920. It was shipped from the factory by rail and Brunson pulled it back to his home in Edgefield, SC. with his team of oxen, a journey that took him two days, one way. Brunson used the engine to power a sawmill that he operated into the 1930’s. By 1940 the engine had been retired to lawn ornament duty at Brunson’s home.   

In 1973 Bill Moody purchased the engine and it sat in his yard until 2010 when it was returned to operating condition after an overhaul. Today it’s fired up once a year at the Richland Creek Antique Fall Festival. To learn more about next year’s show visit: . 

Encyclopedia of American Steam Traction Engines by Jack Norbeck 

Friday, November 15, 2019

The Ohio Gas and Gasoline Engine

During the first half of the 20th Century small manufacturing companies proliferated. Almost every town had at least one. For Sandusky, Ohio, it was the Ohio Motor Co. These firms came and went, with some leaving hardly a trace that can be found today. This post is about one of them.

The only source of information that I’ve been able to find is an article that Gas Engine Magazine published back in 1982 titled “The Ohio Gas Engine”. It was written by Keith and Jeanne Monnier who culled what was available from existing public records.   

Sometime around 1896 a  mechanic named Albert Schwer and his son began working on a gas engine that would lead to the founding of the Ohio Motor Company a year later. The firm was incorporated in May of 1897 with officers listed as: Henry Strong, President, R. E. Schuck, Vice President, G.F. Anderson, Secretary, James Flynn, Treasurer and Albert Schwer as Manager. 

Their first products were marine engines, but it wasn’t long before they were building stationary  engines that ranged in size from four horsepower to fifty.  Judging by photographs of engines that I found online, I would guess that this one is one of the four horsepower models. 

Sometime in the World War 1 period the Ohio Motor Co. ran into serious financial difficulties and the production of the Ohio Gas Engine came to an end.

This engine was exhibited at the WNC Fall Harvest Days Antique Engine and Tractor Show 2019. For information about this show visit: .

Friday, November 1, 2019

Early 50's Farm King

After spending hours searching the web with three different search engines I still don’t know with any certainty who made this tractor, let alone any details about it. Oh well, not knowing what I’m talking about has never stopped me before and I’m not about to start now.

The show exhibit card that was laying on the seat read, “Early 50’s Farm King”. Was that the model name or the name of the manufacturer? Since that was what the owner called it, that was where I decided to start looking. There is a company using the Farm King name, but they manufacture agricultural machinery. I found no indication that they had ever built a farm or garden tractor. MTD sold a garden tractor branded as Farm King but I couldn’t find any mention of one of theirs that dated back to the fifties. 

Only one corporate name , Crosley, can be found on this tractor and it is prominently displayed on two locations. Cast into the cylinder block, and again on the multi-instrument display. This might lead you to conclude that this tractor was a Crosley product, on the other hand, tractors of this type have always used outsourced components. 

Powel Crosley Jr. was an American businessman and industrialist in the early years of the 20th Century who was invested in a number of ventures. He owned the Crosley Broadcasting Corporation, and the Crosley Radio Corporation, which during the 1920’s was the largest manufacturer of radios in the world. Even today you occasionally see reproductions that carry the Crosley name. His companies also manufactured home appliances. 

It seems that his real passion however, was small cars, very small cars. From 1939 to 1952 Crosley Motors Inc. located in Cincinnati, Ohio churned out a steady stream of subcompact vehicles that delight car buffs and show goers to this day. Crosley automobiles came in a variety of flavors, but I only found one effort to enter the tractor business. 

The Farm O Road was intended to be a multipurpose vehicle that is hardly what most people think of as being a tractor. It looks more like something that wants to be a Jeep when it grows up. The idea was that a near destitute farmer could plow with it all week and then drive it to town for a weekend of debauchery. “It goes to town,'' as a contemporary ad proclaims. I don’t know if it was a success or not but it appears to be the only venture Crosley made into tractor production. 

The third possibility is that it was produced by the Jaques Power Saw Co. of Denison, Texas. This is the hypothesis that I favor because of the strong family resemblance it shares with the Jaques Mighty Mite and the Ottawa Mule Team tractor. You can judge this for yourself by taking a look at the Iron Mule post from July 1, 2017 and Sept. 15, 2017.   

Beyond that, there’s not a lot to support that position. A Bing search produced results that ranged from things like Maine sex offender registry to “Jacques Ze Whipper - Home / Facebook”, ( probably don’t want to go there. ). I did manage to find a couple of references to a Jaques Farm King on chat room sites frequented by collectors. They were discussion threads started by owners who were looking for more information about their tractor but not a lot was produced. So that’s where it stands with this inquiry at this point. Maybe someone out there in readerland can supply some documented information.

This tractor belongs to Bradley and Candy Richey and was exhibited at the 2019 Foothills Antique Power Association of NC. Show at the Hickory American Legion Fairgrounds. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Oliver Super 55

Back in the early years of the 20th Century tractors were the “Crypto” that would make you rich and everyone wanted in on the action. The Oliver Chilled Plow works of South Bend, Indiana was no exception, and sometime in the mid 1920’s they decided that the world needed an Oliver Chilled Plow Tractor. Developing a functional machine proved to be more difficult than they anticipated and only one copy of the tractor is known to exist today.

Oliver’s lack of tractor expertise was soon overcome by the 1929 merger with the Hart-Parr , Nichols and Shepard and American Seeding companies that resulted in the formation of the Oliver Farm Equipment Co.  that was positioned to provide nearly everything a farmer needed except rain. Hart-Parr had been building tractors since 1902 and is generally credited with inventing the term “tractor”. The Oliver Corporation, as it became known in 1944, was on its way to a long career of building innovative farm machinery.

The Hart-Parr tractors evolved under the new corporation. By 1930 the two cylinder horizontal engines had been replaced with vertical four or six cylinder inline motors. By 1935 they had gone “streamlined”. It made them look spiffy, but they didn’t go any faster. A more practical innovation was the gradual replacement of steel wheels with rubber tires. A new Fleetline series was introduced in 1948. This series emphasized interchangeability of parts between the various models. Then, from 1954 to 1958 Oliver produced the “Super” series that included the model classes: 55, 66, 77, 88 and 99. 

The Super series tractors were available in both gasoline and diesel versions and the diesel version proved to be the best sellers. Innovative improvements like independent disc brakes, their “Hydra-Lectric” hydraulic system and an independent PTO were well received by Oliver buyers. A three point hitch system was offered as an option.

Oliver shipped a model 55 to the University of Nebraska where it was evaluated in Test Number 524 from September 27 to October 12, 1954 with the following results reported for the gasoline powered version. Maximum observed horsepower; drawbar, 29.6, belt, 34.39. Wheelbase: 73 inches, front and rear tread width:48 to 76 inches. Advertised speeds: first gear, 1.69 miles per hour, 2nd, 2.58, 3rd, 3.46, 4th, 5.33, 5th, 6.39, 6th, 13.18 mph. 

Oliver manufactured its own gasoline engine, a four cylinder vertical in line with the crankshaft mounted lengthwise to the tractor. The four cylinders had a bore of three and one half inches and a stroke of three and three quarters inches. Total displacement added up to 144 cubic inches. 

I photographed this 55 at the WNC Fall Harvest Days Antique Engine and Tractor Show in 2018. It was parked in an area away from most of the exhibits that is usually where items for sale are traded. There was no for sale sign or any information about it displayed. Maybe it had already been sold. It caught my eye because I can’t recall having seen a Super 55 before. 

Encyclopedia of American Farm Tractors by C.H. Wendel 

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Fairbanks-Morse Type Y-VA Engine

I missed the 2018 Foothills Antique Power Association of NC show. Rain was forecast so I opted for a show that was closer to home and scheduled for the same day. The club members put 2018 to good use and by the time the 2019 show rolled around, two Fairbanks Morse engines had been installed at the American Legion Fairgrounds site. No flies on those boys, no siree Bob. 

The engine that’s now being used to power their demonstration sawmill was built at the Fairbanks Morse factory at St. Paul Mn. in 1925 and shipped to a customer in Gaithersburg, Md. in May of that year. In 1928 it headed south to Orangeburg, South Carolina where it provided the motive power for a cotton gin for an unspecified number of years. In use or not it stayed there until 1987 when it changed owners again and was moved to Dacusville, SC where it was used to power a demonstration sawmill during their annual tractor and engine show. The current owners acquired it in December 2017 and moved it to the Legion Fairgrounds site at Newton, North Carolina.

To give you some idea of the effort that went into this project, consider these numbers. The type Y engine weighs a hefty 17,420 pounds. Add to that: flywheel, 2600 pounds, exhaust system, 1,500 lbs, platform and ladder, 500 lbs, clutch, 3500 lbs. Add those together for a nice round total of 25,520 pounds of antique engine.

Thaddeus Fairbanks could have told you exactly what each of those parts weighed because he designed and patented a platform scale in 1832 that became the industry standard and the best selling product of the company that he and his brother Erastus operated. In the years that followed, the E & T Fairbanks Company would sell thousands of those scales in countries around the globe. 

As the years passed, the Fairbanks Co. prospered and continued to add new products to their line. During the 1870’s, one of their dealers by the name of Charles Morse added Eclipse Windmills and pumps to their product line. They sold well and before long Mr. Morse became a partner and the name was changed to Fairbanks Morse & Co. 

During the 1890’s production expanded again with the addition of stationary engines.  Gas burning engines came first. These were typically used by oil field operations. Small engines that burned kerosene followed around 1893.  Coal gas was the next fuel in 1905, followed by a semi diesel that was ready for market in 1913. Rudolf Diesel’s American patents expired in 1912, opening the door for companies like Fairbanks Morse to sell their own versions.

The model Y was a semi-diesel that entered production in 1914. F-M offered it in a variety of power options that ranged from a one cylinder engine at thirty horsepower to a six gang engine rated at nearly 200 hp. The model Y-VA replaced the Y in 1924 and became a mainstay for applications  that required  long periods of non stop operation, like generating electricity. 

The key to this engine’s long life was the simplicity of it’s design. A two cycle, airless injection design, with few moving parts to wear out or break kept down time for repairs and maintenance to a minimum. has posted a sectional view of the model 32 engine that replaced the Y-VA, that gives you a better understanding of the working parts of this engine than any description that I could provide here. The Model 32 version was produced into the 1940’s and some were still in daily use into the 1970’s. 

The tag on this engine identifies it as a Y-VA rated at 120 HP running at 257 RPM when it left the factory in 1925. According to the FAPA It underwent extensive modifications in 1941 that boosted its output to 150 hp. 

The other engine in this display ( the red one ) is a 60 horsepower Fairbanks - Morse Diesel that was also moved to Hickory during 2018 - 2019. Unfortunately, that’s about all the information that they have provided about this engine. Watching these big engines run is a lot of fun and they provide an extra incentive to visit this show. For information about the 2020 event visit: www.foothillsantique,com .

Sources: #208 Fairbanks-Morse Y-VA engine 1924  

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Copar Panzer Model A

There are a lot of Copar Panzers still in existence. It's not unusual to see one or more examples at any show. By 1955 the factory was producing a Panzer every thirty minutes when it was running at full capacity. Nailing down hard facts about production of specific models is not always easy, however. In this post we’ll take a look at what might be one of the rarest of the rare.

The Panzer Tractor Owner’s Club’s website: is the go-to source for information about all things Panzer since they probably have more original  documents in their collection than anybody. According to their posted history of the Model A, only about 350 were built in 1954 before production was moved to a new facility in Laurel, Md. Of that 350, they know of 50 tractors that have survived. 

James Clark was an engineer employed by Ahrendt Instrument Co. of College Park Maryland when he designed his first garden tractor, and approached his employers about building and marketing it. Ahrendt was one of the thousands of war time defense contractors who were looking for a transition to a civilian market and Clark’s tractor must have looked like a good option. 

The Panzers that were built in 1954 at the College Park Ahrendt factory were called Model A’s and were marked on the jack shaft casting with that designation and College Park cast into the iron part, as on this one. After the Laurel, Md. plant opened in January, 1955, Copar started calling them Model T 102 and the Model A was officially relegated to the dustbin of Panzer history. 

But wait, it's not that simple ( it never is ).  There might be some Laurel T 102s out there with the College Park jackshaft casting because of an existing stock of production and repair parts. If so, the casting could say College Park and the only way to know would be by checking the serial number against a reliable registry. 

With that in mind, I cranked up my computer and started looking for a serial number. On the casting along with “Model A” and “ College Park” cast into the metal is “ Serial Number” cast into the part. I ran the magnification slider up to about 75% and there it was, a blank space. It looked like at one time there had been a metal tag attached to the cast iron, but that had been a long time ago. Now there was only a rusty patch of iron. 

Soooo! All that and I can’t say for sure that this is one of the few, the proud Model A’s. Oh well, onto more definite material. Model A tractors were powered by an eight and one half horsepower model 23 Briggs and Stratton engines and came from the factory equipped with cast iron pulleys. The entire tractor was painted red. The yellow wheel accent was added after the move to Laurel, Md.  

Copar was sold to Virginia Metalcrafters located in Waynesboro, Va. in 1960 and tractors were then sold using the name Pennsylvania Lawn Products until the mid sixties, when a company called Jackson Manufacturing Co. bought them out. Production of Panzer tractors ended sometime in the early 1970’s. 

The Panzer shown in these photos was exhibited at the Steam Expo in Cumming, Ga. last November. No information about it was displayed. For information about the 2019 show visit: .

Sources:  The Panzer Tractor Through the Years by Sam Moore, May 2013 

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Norfolk and Western 611

If you’ve ever taken a ride on a steam excursion train you know that rail fans will wait beside the tracks, sometimes for hours, just to watch a steam locomotive go by. A better way is to be at the North Carolina Transportation Museum at Spencer when they’re having one of their “At the Throttle Steam” events, that way you can watch all day long if you want to. When I learned that the 611 was returning last September, I knew I had to be there.

Big, powerful and streamlined sleek, the N&W J Class 4-8-4’s were the crest of the last wave of the steam age. By 1941 when the first of the class was built, the technology had evolved to its highest stage of development and the craftsmen at N&W’s Roanoke, Va. Shops were among the best in the world. Norfolk and Western built 14 engines of the J Class to pull their crack passenger trains like the “Cavalier, the Tennessean, Pocahontas, and the Birmingham Special. 

At a time when most of the nation's railroads were eagerly embracing dieselization N&W chose to embark on a program to build state of the art steam locomotives at their Roanoke Shops. The first 5, numbered 600 to 604 rolled out the door between 1941 and 42. Six J-1 class engines, numbered 605 to 610 followed between 43 and 1944. The final three, 611 to 613 were built in 1950.

With a boiler operating at 300 psi to power cylinders with a bore of 27”  X stroke of 32”  that produced 80,000 # tractive effort, the J’s were the most powerful 4-8-4 engines ever built. They were designed to be capable of reaching 140 mph, that is if you could find a section of track that could accommodate a train at that speed. In actual service they did pull up to 15 passenger cars at speeds up to 110 mph.

The 611 rolled out the door at the Roanoke Shops on May 29, 1950 and onto N&W’s engine roster. It cost Norfolk and Western $251,544 to build the engine in house, which might have been a factor in the management’s decision process. The Roanoke Machine Works was founded in 1881 for the purpose of building and maintaining steam locomotives for the N&W and the Shenandoah Valley Railroad. The 60 acre facility  accommodated a foundry, machine shops, smith’s shops, erecting shops, a planing mill, lumber drying sheds, warehouses and a roundhouse. Everything necessary to maintain and build steam locomotives.

That the 611 was one of the last of the J class built, gave it an advantage as a survivor over engines with higher mileage and more hours in service. By 1958 N&W’s passenger service had completed the transition to diesel power and the remaining Js were transferred to freight service or sold as scrap. In 1959 it was chosen to pull the last of the steam railfan excursions that N&W would offer. Today it is the only surviving example of the J class engines and the star of the collection at the Virginia Museum of Transportation. 

This fall the 611 will travel north to the Strasburg Rail Road in Pennsylvania for a series of events that will run from Sept. 27 to Oct. 27 2019. You can learn more about the planned activities by visiting: