Sunday, March 1, 2020

It's hard to move a train

Way back in 2007, Wilmington, NC. was experiencing unprecedented growth thanks to the credit bubble that led to the Great Recession / Depression. Any parcel of land next to a mud puddle was deemed to be waterfront property that was worth a King’s ransom. The old industrial brownfield sites that lined the banks of the dark and ominous water of the Cape Fear River were a hot item for new development and in great demand. It was time for the old residents to move along and get out of the way of progress.

The Wilmington Railroad Museum had occupied the building that was formerly the freight office for the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad since 1983. Now the site was coveted by developers for a new project , so move they must. Relocating the small artifacts was easy enough but the old Baldwin locomotive parked outside was a different story.

The 4-6-0 engine weighed in at about 150 tons but that was just the beginning of the difficulties. ACL 250 made steam for the last time in the early 1950’s. The years that followed were not kind to the old engine.  A lot of damage had been done by botched preservation efforts. An inspection revealed that it was probably too weak structurally to be lifted by a crane. On top of that the drivetrain was frozen solid. The wheels refused to turn. 

Options for the move were running out. Someone suggested levitating it to the new location. This plan was rejected when inquiries revealed that the Siberian Shaman’s  Union had called a general strike that was expected to last indefinitely.  It was time to fall back on Plan B. A heavy lift moving contractor was contacted and a crude but workable plan was soon in place.

When I learned of the upcoming event I knew it would be worth watching, so on a fine Saturday morning in early April I was there, camera in hand. The contractor’s crew had arrived on Friday afternoon and started unloading sections of temporary track and other equipment that would be used for the job. By ten o’clock the sections of track had been spliced together and a John Deere excavating machine that would provide the motive power was in place.  

The plan was to drag the old locomotive along the temporary track into the parking lot across the street, then angle the tracks back toward the new location that was on an adjacent lot a short distance away.  The engine, tender and a box car would then be dragged backwards to the new location for the museum. 

When all the sections of track were securely in place it was time to apply the magic ingredient that would make the plan work. Lots of thick, heavy grease.  Steel cables were attached to the locomotive and connected to the bucket on the excavator. With all preparations completed, it was time to cross your fingers and hope the entire engine would move, not just parts of it.

The operator pulled back on the bucket arm, the cables tightened and old 250 lurched forward with little puffs of smoke emerging from the wheels where they contacted the rails. It was a process that would be repeated all afternoon as the engine and tender inched toward the parking lot on the other side of the street.

Sunday morning; time to reverse course and pull it backwards toward the new museum location. The day passed with a slow replay of Saturday afternoon but by the time the sun was low in the West, ACL 250 was securely in it’s new home, none the worse for it’s latest journey.  

You can find information about hours of operation today at the Wilmington Railroad Museum’s website. 

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Simplicity Model VA Garden Tractor

It's February so it’s time to head back to the Steam Expo. and take a look at another gem from the Kahler Collection. Visitors that have been hanging around for a while might remember the Snappin Turtle post from Feb. 15, 2017 and the N.M.P. Hurricane Jr. post from Feb. 14, 2019. This year we’ll continue the tradition by featuring his Simplicity Model VA walk behind garden tractor with a reel mower attachment.

Simplicity can trace its roots back to 1872 when The Western Malleable and Gray Iron Manufacturing Co. opened a foundry to produce castings in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Sometime around 1900 they began building gasoline engines that they marketed using the Simplicity trade name.  In 1911 one L.M. Turner bought the firm and renamed it Turner Manufacturing Co.  He continued to build gas engines and added farm tractors to the product list. The company changed owners again in 1920 when William Niderkorn bought the Simplicity name and produced machine tools using the brand name.   

Simplicity got into the garden tractor business in 1937 with the introduction of a two wheel, walk behind model. Montgomery Ward was the principal distributor for the tractor and the implements they supplied for it. In 1939 they added a sulky to their list of accessories that converted the walk behind to a riding garden tractor. 

More attachments were added as the years passed, and by the early fifties the list was impressive indeed. For the gardener they offered: 6 ½”8”, and 10” plows, rear hitch cultivators, spike harrows, compressors and sprayers, front hitch rotary cultivators, seeders and specialty cultivators.

Say you don’t have a green thumb, just a yard to maintain? Not to worry, Simplicity had that covered with: reel mowers and rotary weed cutters, a 30” sickle bar mower, lawn rollers, seeders and fertilizers. For colder climates they provided snow plow and bulldozer blades in two sizes: 30” and a 42” model. A 26” rotary snow plow was also offered. If all that wasn’t enough to keep you busy, a power take off kit was available so that the things you could find to do was limited only by your imagination. It was a truly versatile machine. 

The model VA made its debut in 1954 and would remain in production until 1957. It was powered by a Briggs and Stratton model 14 engine that produced a respectable five horsepower. Three forward speeds plus reverse were provided to turn the 6” by 12” tires.  

The mid to late 50’s was a busy time for Simplicity. They introduced their first riding lawnmower in 1957. This model was so well received that it remained in production until 
the 1970’s. In 1959 they added a 7hp. 4 wheel garden tractor followed by a 6 hp lawn tractor in 1963. The last walk behind garden tractor they built was the eight horsepower model W that would remain in production into the 1970’s.  In 1965 Simplicity was acquired by Allis-Chalmers who owned the brand until 1983 when it was spun off and returned to being the Simplicity Company. 

Simplicity had a longstanding relationship with Briggs & Stratton, using their engines almost exclusively on the machines they built. In 2004 Briggs & Stratton bought out Simplicity and added it to the Briggs & Stratton Power Products Group where it remains today.  You can see the Simplicity products that are available today by visiting . The snow blower on that website looks to me like it might share some DNA with the Model VA from back in the fifties. What do you think?

Sources: company 

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

1918 Waterloo Boy Model N

It’s good to be number one. The Waterloo Boy was the machine that put Deere & Company in the tractor business. It was also the first tractor evaluated at the University of Nebraska Tractor Test. Now it’s the first post of the new year on the Iron Mule.

John Froelich wasn’t an engineer; he wasn’t even a mechanic but one day in 1892 he had a better idea.  John was a businessman who owned a grain elevator and ran a contract threshing business during the harvest season. Apparently the steam engine that he used to power his threshing machine lacked a spark arrester or a sufficiently long stack pipe. After one especially hectic afternoon of frantically trying to put out a fire that his engine had started, John decided that there had to be a better way to power his rig.  

With the help of an assistant named William Mann , Froelich set out to adapt a gasoline engine to power a traction engine.  It was a long trial and error process but it resulted in a self propelled machine that powered production of 72,000 bushels of grain that season. John declared his effort a success and started looking for investors to back his venture. 

The Waterloo Gasoline Traction Engine Co. was created to build the Froelich tractor and a factory was constructed in Waterloo, Iowa. Pulling a belt is one thing, and pulling a plow is quite another. Froelich’s tractor just wasn’t up to it. Only two copies were sold and both were quickly returned to the factory. 

Froelich’s  financial backers were not pleased and a falling out ensued. In 1895 the company was reorganized as the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Co. Tractor development was put on the back burner while the firm concentrated on producing stationary engines and John Froelich went his separate way.  Manufacturing engines proved to be a more lucrative endeavor. Within a few years they became one of the largest engine builders in the United States, with a line of engines ranging from 1 ½ to 12 horsepower. 

It took until 1912 to develop a functional tractor design that went into production designated the model LA. Only twenty of these were sold, but it was a prototype for the Model R that followed in 1914. This was the first of the Waterloo Boy tractors. Over eight thousand copies were sold between 1914 and 1919. In 1917 an improved version was developed that incorporated a two speed transmission, ½” larger pistons in the two cylinder engine and an improved steering system. This version was designated the Model N. The Model N was produced from 1917 to 1924 with 20,000 units sold.

During this period Deere & Co. had been trying to develop a tractor of their own design but were having little success. In March of 1918 they arranged to buy out Waterloo for $ 2,100,000 and were in the tractor business overnight. The deal brought them the rights to the Waterloo Boy tractor and a factory that was producing 100 engines and 20 tractors per day. Deere built Waterloo Boy tractors until 1924 when it was replaced by the Model D. 

In 1919 the Nebraska State Legislature passed the Nebraska Tractor Test Act that required all tractors sold in the state to be tested to verify the performance claims made by the manufacturers. Deere & Co. was quick to get in line and their Waterloo Boy had the distinction of being the first tractor evaluated at the new tractor test laboratory at the University of Nebraska Lincoln.

Tractor Test #1 was conducted from March 31 to April 9, 1920 on the Model N 12 - 25 . Rated brake horsepower was reported as 25.51, Drawbar: 12.10 hp. Rated speeds listed as: low gear, 2.34 mph. High gear, 3.02 mph. Total weight of the tractor as tested was recorded as 6183 pounds. 

The tractor shown here is part of the Berry Collection that was displayed at the 2019 Richland Creek Antique Fall Festival. For information about the 2020 show, visit: . 


Sunday, December 15, 2019

David Bradley Suburban Tractor

Is this a David Bradley Suburban? The short answer is; kinda, sort of.  As the owner explained it to me, he had a frame of a Bradley that he wanted to restore, but no hood. Not being able to locate an original, he used a hood from a DB walk behind garden tractor instead. It might best be described as customized, or maybe as a concept garden tractor. I think it looks pretty neat. He also pointed out that there was an authentic suburban on a trailer, parked a short distance away so I headed that way to have a look.

I can’t say with any certainty what year this tractor is, but it looks to me like an illustration on the cover of a Sears publication called Service that has a date of January 1959. This appears to be an in-house publication for Sears and Roebuck service departments that also served as an owners manual for owners of the Bradley Suburban. This publication describes the Suburban as being “new” in 1959.

The copy reads: “ Here is the new David Bradley “Suburban” riding tractor. As the name suggest - this new tractor has been custom built for the “Suburbanite” and the estate owner.”

A generous selection of attachments were offered to enhance the utility of the Suburban. A 43 inch, three blade rotary mower, a front mount snow plow blade, an insect fogger, a general purpose sprayer attachment, a generator, a 32 inch lawn roller, a fertilizer spreader and a cart for hauling. 

For the weekend farmer, a plow, a disc harrow, a drag harrow, a planter and  a cultivator were available. A three point hitch provided a connection for them. 

This publication provides information that is sure to be of interest to anyone who owns or is considering restoring one of these Bradley machines. A downloadable PDF copy is available by visiting: . 

If you would like to learn more about the history of the David Bradley Company I would recommend a visit to where you will find a two part history by Brian Wayne Wells that was published in the Sept. / Oct. 1999 issue of Belt Pulley Magazine.  

The tractors shown here were exhibited at the 2019 WNC Fall Harvest Days Antique Engine and Tractor Show. For information about next year’s event visit:  

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.