Sunday, July 15, 2018

Book Review: Classic American Locomotives by Charles McShane

If you’re looking for what’s often called “a good read”, the type of book you start at breakfast and turn the last page at 2:00 am and realize you have nothing to show for your day but a dog eared novel, don’t buy this book. You will probably be happier curling up with Inspector Poirot………? That didn’t turn out the way it was supposed to.

I guarantee that you won’t read Classic American Locomotives at one sitting, chances are, you’ll put it on the shelf and walk away for a month or two or more. To give you some idea of the style in which it’s written, Charles McShane’s other runaway best seller was titled; One Thousand Pointers for Machinist and Apprentice Boys. All that having been said, if you have an interest in steam locomotives, you will find yourself going back. There’s just too much information packed into the 695 pages of this book not to. 
As McShane states in the Preface to the 1899 edition, the book was written for “the railway public”. It was intended to serve as a shop manual and introduction to the trade for the upcoming apprentice, not to entertain the casual reader. What the twenty first century reader will get, is a glimpse out the window of a railroad shop superintendent’s office at the work in progress on the floor below. I suspect that the window belongs to Mr. McShane but that’s just conjecture. He seems to be a man who left no biographical information behind. That he was an accomplished machinist is not in question. An early edition of One Thousand Pointers that I found at carries an endorsement from the “Progressive Lodge No. 126, International Association of Machinist. Chicago, Ill.” of which, he was a member. Beyond that testimonial, I’ve not found anything about him, not even which railroad he worked for. I believe he must have occupied some management level position because his general knowledge of railroad operations seems too broad for someone occupied with operating a lathe or milling machine all day. 
A quick look at the Table of Contents gives a sampling of subjects covered in this book.  After a very brief history of the locomotive, he jumps into the heart of the steam engine, the slide valve. Topics covered include; how the valve works, it’s construction, the various types of slide valves, lead, lap, cut-off and how to set the locomotive’s valves.  Next up, link motion followed by steam injectors, lubricators, steam and air gauges, metallic packing and the ever popular, locating blows and pounds. There’s more: compound engines are covered in detail from the bewildering array of compound engine design to how they work. A section titled Combustion covers the elements that control the production of heat from the fire box until the exhaust exits the smokestack. Devices and methods for cleaning the boiler are explained in a section titled Incrustation. If you have a question about the operation or maintenance of a steam locomotive from the late 19th century it’s probably addressed in this book.
I could go on with the list of subjects he covers but I’ll leave that for you to discover. Few people today realize how labor intensive the operation of a railroad was in the age of steam. If you read this book you will have a better appreciation for what went on inside the round houses and shops that dotted the countryside every few hundred miles. You will also appreciate why railroad management so eagerly embraced diesel technology when it became available. 
This reissue of Classic American Locomotives is presented by Skyhorse Publishing . It can be ordered at a number of places online including my personal favorite source for such items, Edward R. Hamilton Bookseller Company, where at a catalog price of $5.95 plus shipping that I paid for it, I think it really is a bargain history book. 

Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Minneapolis 27-42

There are more twists and turns to the corporate genealogy of Minneapolis-Moline associated tractors than there are on the serpentine belt of a modern automobile, so I’ll leave the telling of that story to the pros, like I do with working on the one under the hood of my truck. For this post, just touching on a few of the relevant highlights will suffice. 

This tractor was a product of the Minneapolis Threshing Machine Company of Hopkins Minnesota, that traces its roots back to 1874 when it was known as the Fond du Lac Threshing Machine Company, but only just barely. In 1929, the year it was produced, MTM merged with Minneapolis Steel & Machine Co. and the Moline Implement Co. to become Minneapolis Moline Power Implement Company. See how complicated this is getting? 

 Minneapolis Threshing Machine was a well established tractor manufacturer by 1929 with a solid reputation for building a quality product. The name on the badge may have changed but the tractor remained  in production until  1934 according to C.H. Wendel in his Standard Catalog of Farm Tractors. I’ll just have to take his word for that because I haven’t found a list of serial numbers anywhere. The closest thing to a confirmation is a mention in a publication called The Tractor and Implement Blue Book that was printed in 1932.

The one thing that is certain is that the 27-42 was in production in 1929 because it was tested at the University of Nebraska from May 28 to June 11 of that year in test # 162. The information provided by that test report is just about all that I’ve found that’s available online.

MTM built its own motors, in this case, a four cylinder vertical I head that was mounted crosswise to the frame. Bore of each cylinder was 4 ⅞ “ by a stroke of 7” for 522.6 cubic inches displacement. Turning at the rated rpm of 925 it produced the claimed 27 hp on the drawbar and 42.3 hp on the belt. Power take off was by way of a 15 ½” diameter belt pulley with a 7 ½” face that also turned at 925 rpm. 

Ignition was by an American Bosch Magneto. Gasoline was metered by a Stromberg model UTR carburetor and a flyball governor controlled engine speed. Air was filtered through a Donaldson Simplex oiled fiber air cleaner. 

A Madison-Kipp force feed oiler provided lubrication to critical surfaces. Once the engine was running the oil was pumped automatically. The hand crank handle was for providing a few drops of lubricant before starting the engine. 

Power was transferred to the 53” diameter rear drive wheels by way of an enclosed gear system. The disc clutch was hand operated. Two forward speeds were provided; low, 2.6 mph. High 3.4 mph , reverse, 2.5 mph. Fifty-four spade lugs on each of the rear wheels helped the tractor’s total weight of 8373 pounds get a grip. 

The tractor shown here is owned by Bobby Cartner and was exhibited at the 2018 Tractors and Trains Festival sponsored by the North Carolina Transportation Museum  at Spencer, NC.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Back by Popular Demand

Due to the interest that visitors have shown in the David Bradley Tri-Trac post I decided that a closer look was in order. You don’t see them at every show, fact is, I’ve only seen one of them, so this year I made tracks for the 28th Annual Power from the Past Show held just outside Greer, South Carolina. Sure enough, the Bradley was there, sitting on a trailer near the entrance to the show.

Iber Tripp isn’t your average collector.  He doesn’t own dozens of tractors and this is about the only show he attends. What’s even more unusual is that he is the original owner of the Tri-Trac. He bought it new in 1953 along with a plow, cultivator, mower and a few more items for about a thousand dollars. His father had to cosign for him because he wasn’t old enough at the time to execute the contract. The Tri-Trac served faithfully on the family farm until about twenty years ago when it was replaced by newer equipment. Iber is a member of the Foothills  Antique Power Association so he brings it to the hometown show once a year. 

Locked inside a plexiglass covered display case were several of the original documents that came with the tractor that include the owner’s manual, the setup and operating instructions, parts list and an assortment of photocopied sales brochures and flyers. This is the type of documents that usually provide the most accurate information available and they provided most of what’s reported in this post. Needless to say, I was eager to have a look. 

The Tri-Trac could be purchased from the factory for $395 cash which didn’t include freight, or from the Sears mail order house for $409 cash or $41 down and monthly payments of $18. Two 27 pound weights for the front wheels were included . If you wanted to run a sickle-bar mower attachment the necessary PTO pulley would set you back another $2.75. 

Like most of its competition, a full complement of accessories were offered to make the Bradley as versatile as possible. In addition to the sickle-bar mower a 58” cut belly mower attachment with 3 overlapping 20” rotary blades was available for $152.95. There was also a three gang reel-type lawn mower that would cut 57 ½” offered for $198.50. A bulldozer blade for grading and terracing could be had for $32.45. By spending another $17.95 you could own a conversion kit that would turn your dozer blade into a snow plow. 

The farmer and gardeners weren’t neglected either. Accessories included: moldboard plows, disc harrows, dump rakes, spike tooth harrows, spring tooth harrows, middle busters, cultivators and two row planters.  

A one cylinder, air cooled Wisconsin engine was the prime motorvator. A bore of 2 ⅞” by 2 ¾” stroke displaced 17.8 cubic inches to produce six horsepower and a maximum torque of 10.7 foot pounds at 3200 rpm. It was fed 70 octane regular gasoline from a 3 ¼ gallon fuel tank through an up-draft Zenith 87 B 5 carburetor. Clean air was provided by an oil bath downdraft air cleaner. Sales flyers claimed it would run for 4 hours minimum on a tank of gas.  

The clutch was described as being the single plate-dry type-rotating ball wedge engagement type. Power was transmitted by way of a B-42 belt to the variable speed changer and to the transmission via a 53” B belt. Transmission : all spur gear with sliding gear forward , neutral and reverse.

Tri-Trac dimensions were listed as: total length, 102”, maximum width, 80”, Minimum width, 56”, height, 48”, wheelbase, 68 ¾ “.  

In this near operator’s view you can see three of the Trac’s controls. In front of the steering wheel is the draft adjusting screw crank. On the left in front of the saddle is the throttle control lever, To the right is the clutch control lever. Iber pointed out that the original seat upholstery was smooth. He said that the upholsterer decided to add the seams because that’s the way he does motorcycle seats.

The wide stance of 80 inches at maximum adjustment, plus the extra weights on the front wheels don’t lead you think that the Tri-Trac was a particularly unstable machine  yet if you do much research online, you soon find suggestions that tipping was such a problem that it led to a short production run. With that in mind I decided to ask someone who should know. Iber gave me a strange look and replied, “You soon learn what not to do on a Tri-Trac.” So there you have it from an expert. 

For information about next year’s show visit: . 

Friday, June 1, 2018

1936 Farmall F-30

International Harvester marketed the Farmall tractors as a new system of Farming, and so it was. The McCormick - Deering product catalog for 1935 went so far as to claim that nothing since the McCormick Reaper had done so much to revolutionize agriculture.  Ten years in the design stage, the Farmall line was intended to be a single power source to perform every task required for row crop farming. Not just a tractor for plowing and belt work, it could cultivate as well as a team of horses and it didn’t have to rest or be fed. Ole Dobbin could finally be put out to pasture, or sent to the dog food factory for a tidy profit. Fortunately for Dobbin, most farmers considered him at least a business partner and chose the pasture over the cannery. 

It really was a comprehensive farming system, with attachments to perform every operation required by the average farm, and the F-12, F-20 and F-30 provided three levels of power to match the size of the farm. The first Farmall was a two plow tractor which by 1935 had evolved into the F-20 model. The F-12 was basically the one plow version while the F-30 was rated for three plows and marketed to farm operations of about 300 acres. It could pull four row planters and cultivators, power two row corn pickers or potato diggers or run a 28 inch thresher on the belt. International Harvester claimed it would plow from 8 ½ to 13 ½ acres in a day. 

The F-30 was in production from 1931 to 1939 with 28,902 units built. Serial numbers run from 501 to 30026. Regular equipment included: belt pulley and PTO, 42” X 12” steel wheels with 5” spade lugs, combination kerosene / gasoline manifold, oil and air filter and IHC made magneto. Optional extras: pneumatic tires, rear wheel fenders, electric lighting and a cushion seat. A wide front axle and wheel kit option was also available to convert it to a four wheel tractor. All farmall engines had replaceable cylinders that eliminated the need for reboring. This feature made it possible to rebuild the engine without removing it from the tractor. 

The F-30 was powered by a four cylinder water cooled vertical I head engine produced by International Harvester in house. Bore and stroke measured 4 ¼” by 5”  for a displacement of 283.7 cubic inches. A twenty - one gallon kerosene tank supplied the Zenith  K5 carburetor and a one gallon gasoline tank facilitated starting. Turning over under load at 1150 rpm the engine produced a maximum drawbar horsepower of 24.85 and 32.8 hp on the belt as recorded in Test Number 198 at the University of Nebraska in October 1931. Forward speeds were: 2, 2 ¾, 3 ¼, and 3 ¾ mph with  2 ½  mph in reverse. 

Total length of the tractor was 147 inches with a wheelbase of 94 inches. Width was recorded as 89 ¼ “ and 97 ½ “.  Shipping weight was listed as 5300 pounds. By braking hard on one of the rear wheels a turning radius of 8 ⅔ feet could be obtained, which was pretty handy at the end of a row. The drawbar could be adjusted 12 inches vertically and 43 inches horizontally. 

The 1936 F 30 shown here is owned by Wayne and Pam Estes and was participating in the 2017 WNC Fall Harvest Days Antique Engine and Tractor Show at the Agricultural Center located just outside Asheville, NC. The striking dark gray, almost black color of the paint begs the question: was this ever a factory color? That’s one I can’t answer. What I did gather from looking through the Paint Committee Decisions documents was that you could have any color you liked, as long as it was Harvester Red. They did offer one grudging exception stating that if some highway maintenance department insisted on being a pain, it might be ok to ship some yellow tractors. You can view these documents along with hundreds more in the McCormick - International Harvester  Collection of the Wisconsin Historical Society at . 

Additional resources:
Encyclopedia of American Farm Tractors by C.H. Wendel 

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

15 HP Superior Gas Engine

This 15 hp Superior oilfield engine was parked just outside the entrance to the Bob Julian Roundhouse at the Tractors and Trains Festival back in April. When I get the opportunity to talk to the owner of an exhibit, one of the questions I usually ask is if they know of a good source of information that's available online. The owner of this engine allowed as how there just isn’t much information out there. After spending several evenings looking, I’m inclined to agree.

What you can locate is a bit of history about the company. Gas Engine Magazine published a couple of articles, The Superior Engine by Harold R. Keller in the Dec. / Jan. 1998 issue and A History of the Superior Gas Engine Company by Russell Farmer in June / July 2004. Throw in a couple of Youtube videos showing an engine running and an article at and that’s it. has all of four paragraphs about the subject.  

What I learned was that by the late 1800’s Ohio was enjoying an economic boom due to oil production. After learning his trade working as an apprentice machinist for several railroads, Patrick Shouvlin opened his own machine shop in Springfield Ohio to serve the nearby oil fields. At this time steam engines powered most oil drilling and pumping, but Shouvlin had a better idea. Why not develop an internal combustion engine that would run on the natural gas that was a nuisance by product of oil wells? He set to work designing one and the result was the Superior Engine Company. He sold the first engine to the Ohio Oil Co. , better known today as Marathon Oil, and his company prospered. 

The usual sales, mergers and acquisitions followed as the Superior Engine Plant turned out its products, all the way up to 2001 when the operations in Springfield were shut down. That’s a long run to be sure so there ought to be a major paper trail left behind; but where is it?   

When a company goes to that big receivership in the sky, somebody has to sort through all those documents. Fortunately, that task often falls on some longtime employee or other person with ties to the firm who just can’t make themselves send everything to the landfill. A local museum or historical society is a logical choice to preserve them, so that's where  I direct my next search.

And Bingo! The Clark County Historical Society is where they went. A visit to their website, reveals that the museum received a donation of forty-three boxes of documents when the plant closed. According to a volunteer who processed the collection in 2009 the contents included; company newsletters and employee handbooks, sales literature, operators instructions for various engines and an assortment of technical documents. 

At this point you’re probably thinking,” Wow!, that’s great!”, but don’t get too excited just yet. After duly recording a brief inventory, said volunteer repacked the boxes and carried them back to the vault and that’s as far as it went. The collection has never been digitized so you can’t access them online. Unless you live within a reasonable distance you will probably never have the opportunity to examine the content of those boxes. 

The Clark County Historical Society Heritage Center is located at 117 South Fountain Ave. in Springfield Ohio. Maybe someday a collector or other interested individual will copy some of those documents and make them available on the web. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Jeddo Coal Number 85

You can’t go wrong with a visit to the Tractors and Trains Festival. Even if you don’t see something you like at the tractor show ( that’s not likely to happen ) for the six dollars you pay for admission you also get to spend the day checking out the exhibits at the North Carolina Transportation Museum and wandering the grounds of the historic Southern Railway’s Spencer Shops. This year there was a triple treat as the April 14 show date coincided with the Museum’s At the Throttle : Steam program featuring a saddle tank switch engine, Jeddo Coal No. 85. Rail fans can buy a half hour operating a steam locomotive for $160 ; not a bad deal when you consider what it would cost to own and operate your own engine. I would have liked to take a turn at the throttle myself, but the available slots sell out quickly. You can’t wait to see what the weather will be like if you want to get one.

This 0-4-0 tank engine was built in 1928 by the Vulcan Iron Works for the A.E. Dick Construction Co. of Scranton, Pennsylvania who used it in their stone quarry until 1933 when they sold it to the Jeddo - Highland Coal Company located near Hazelton, Pennsylvania. Jeddo named it Engine No. 85 and used it in their mining operations until 1964 when they sold it to a collector who moved it to Horseheads, New York. It pretty much sat there until 2007 when it was purchased by the Gramling Locomotive Works.

The name conjures images of a giant industrial conglomerate but don’t be deceived. The Gramlings are a father and son team of dedicated hobbyist and the works occupy a repurposed pig barn on their farm located near Ashley, Indiana. These guys have a wry sense of humor! All that aside they accomplish some amazing things at the “Works”. Restoring a machine that’s powered by a steam pressure vessel occupies a whole different dimension from an internal combustion engine project. To return one steam locomotive to operation is a major feat. The Gramlings have restored three of them.

The Jeddo Coal project was ten years in the making from 2007 until 2017 when it returned to service. It joins the Gramling’s other two engines; Flagg Coal No. 75 and Lehigh Valley Coal No. 126 as they tour the country for events at railroad museums and tourist railroads. The great thing about the tank engines is that they can be loaded on a trailer and transported by truck. Just imagine how far you would get if you were asking a major railroad for permission to travel on one of their mainlines!

Back in the day before mega horsepower diesel power was commonly available, the size and relative affordability of the “dinky” class engines made them the motive power of choice for a wide variety of applications. Companies like Vulcan and H.K. Porter produced 0-4-0 and 0-6-0 engines for a global market from North and South America to Europe and on to Australia. Any venture that moved a lot of material was a potential customer. The list included: large project contractors, steel mills and foundries, mining operations, factories, plantations, logging , freight switching and even passenger trains. 

Vulcan Iron Works was founded by Richard Jones in 1867. The plant located in Wilkes - Barre, Pennsylvania consisted of a machine shop, foundry, boiler shop and office.  Vulcan bought its way into the locomotive business with the acquisition of the Wyoming Valley Manufacturing Co.  in 1888. Over the course of the years that followed they built more than 100 different steam locomotive designs ranging from 7 to 70 tons on the drivers. The contractor size engines were Vulcan’s  primary market but they also custom built locomotives up to the 2-8-0 and 2-6-2 class to meet customer specifications.

In the years following World War 1 Vulcan expanded production to include gasoline powered engines and battery powered electric machines intended for use in mines. By the late 1920’s diesel - electric switch engines had been added to their product line. After WW2 dieselization was in full swing and demand for steam locomotives dried up. Vulcan was never able to compete in the new marketplace with big name companies like Baldwin. Vulcan only sold 54 diesel locomotives during the period leading up to 1954 when they declared bankruptcy and closed shop. 


Sunday, April 15, 2018

John Deere Model 420 Crawler Tractor

Deere & Company was a Johnny come lately to the track layer market. It was the early 1940’s when they sent some GP model tractor frames to the Lindeman Brothers in Yakima, Washington for developmental work on a Deere crawler. The experiments that followed resulted in the Model B Orchard version Crawler; so loved by collectors today. Deere bought out Lindeman in 1947 and in 1949 introduced a crawler version of the Model M that was built at factories in Dubuque, Iowa as well as the Yakima location. More than 10,500 copies of this crawler rolled off the assembly lines.

The 40 C models were next with production beginning in 1953 and continuing until 1955. A total of 11,689 examples of this version were sold. In 1956 the 420 crawler superseded the 40 model which brings us up to the tractor featured in this post.  

Production of the 420 crawler spanned the the years from 1956 to 1958 during which time a total of 17,882 were produced, all but 92 of which were gasoline engine powered. For some reason Deere referred to them as belonging to phase 1, 2 or 3; the phase corresponding to the year built. The 1956 phase used a 40 model engine block that had been bored out by ¼” to 4 ¼” X 4” for a boost in horsepower that also boosted temperature. The 40 had a thermosyphon cooling system which proved inadequate so a water pump was required to deal with the extra heat. The engine block casting was modified to accommodate the added water pump for the 57 model production phase and a five speed transmission was offered as an option. Phase three units had more minor engine modifications and cosmetic alterations that involved changes to the dash and the steering mechanism. 

The 420 series was produced in a variety of configurations that included: S - standard model, T - tricycle, U - utility, W - row crop utility, H - hi-crop, I - industrial and C - crawler version. All together a total of 46,450 units were sold. The crawler version was advertised as a 3 or 4 plow tractor with speeds listed as: first, ⅞ mph. Second, 2 ¼ mph. Third, 3 mph. fourth , 5 ¼ mph. Reverse, 1 ¾ mph. It was available as a 4 roller model weighing 4150 pounds or as a 5 roller weighing 4700 pounds. 

The 1958 price quoted varies according to the source you consult  ranging from $2316 to $3267. This example offered for sale at the 2017 WNC Fall Harvest Days Show had a sticker price of $4000. After fifty nine years of hard work, I’d say it has held its value pretty well. 

The 420 C was evaluated at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln in Test Number 601 from October 15, to Oct. 25, 1956 with the following specifications noted. Engine: John Deere vertical 2 cylinder with 4.25” bore x 4” stroke displacining 113 cubic inches. RPM 1850. Maximum observed horsepower 23.53 drawbar, 28.76 on the belt. Total weight, 5079 pounds. 

University of Nebraska - Lincoln Tractor Test 601 

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Panzer Attack, 1959 Model T 50

Inquiring minds want to know, “ What does COPAR stand for anyway?”. In an article published in Farm Collector Magazine in May 2013 titled The Panzer  tractor through the years, Sam Moore offered the following explanation.

On a sweltering summer day in the early 1950’s James Clark was toiling in his yard under a blistering sun trying to control a walk behind garden tractor when he had one of those revelations common in such situations. Suddenly, he realized that he wasn’t enjoying what he was doing, at all! Being an engineer by profession he started looking for a solution to the problem. After trying several of the riding tractors available at the time he decided that he could design a better one and before long he approached the management of the company where he worked  with his ideas for a new riding garden tractor. 

Ahrendt Instrument Company of College Park Md. was primarily a defense contractor with no experience or connection to the lawn and garden industry whatsoever but they liked what Clark presented and surprisingly gave him a green light to develop his project. By 1954 they were in the garden tractor business and expanded into a renovated factory  in Laurel, Md. early in 1955. The first Panzer was a three wheel design powered by  a eight and a half horsepower Briggs & Stratton engine. It sold well and the product line soon expanded. 

By 1957 they decided that a smaller Panzer was needed and introduced the T 50 Model. It was powered by a four horsepower Clinton Model A 1200 engine that developed a reputation for vibration and being hard to start. The fact that the engine was bolted directly  to the frame only made matters worse. Some T 50’s were equipped with a Kohler K 90 4 hp. Engine that may have been an attempt to address the vibration issue. The T 50 production run turned out to be a short one. By late 1958 it had disappeared from COPAR sales literature. A flyer from that year listed a Model T 55 with a 4 hp Briggs & Stratton and a Model T 60 with a 5 ¾ hp Briggs but the T 50 was gone, never to return. Copar continued small tractor production with the T65 model until 1960 when small tractors were permanently discontinued.

Virginia Metalcrafters bought the Copar production facilities from Ahrendt in January 1960 . Three years later they acquired the Pennsylvania Lawn Mower Co. and combined them into the Pennsylvania Lawn Products Division. At this point the COPAR name was dropped and the tractors became Pennsylvania Panzers. Paint colors also changed  from red with yellow wheels to blue with white wheels and the tractors became “ Pennsylvania Panzers”. Production continued as Pennsylvania Lawn Products until 1970 when Schenuit Industries bought them out. One year later Schenuit went bankrupt and Pennsylvania Products was shut down for good.

The Model T 50 shown here is owned by Scott Ogle and was exhibited at the 2017 Fall Harvest Days Antique Engine & Tractor Show at the WNC Agricultural Center - Fairgrounds near Asheville, NC. Oh yea, about the name, almost forgot! COPAR is an abbreviation of College Park. When the first tractors were ready to go into production, Ahrendt held a name the tractor contest for the employees at the factory. The winner was, you guessed it, Panzer.