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Monday, May 15, 2017

Super W-30

Ok all you hawk-eyed experts out there, It’s pop quiz time at the Mule School. This will be a timed exam and you only have until the end of this post to answer the question but since there’s only one, that shouldn’t be a problem. This is not open book so no fair skipping ahead. Ready? You may begin now.
  1. What is it that’s not exactly original equipment on this tractor?  
Hint: It’s not the tires.

International Harvester developed the W-30 in 1931 as an intended replacement for the 10-20, a more powerful 2 to 3 plow tractor but still smaller than the 15-30. Things didn’t work out exactly as planned however since the 10-20 remained quite popular among small farmers and both tractors were produced for a number of years. The W-30 was in production until 1939 with a total of 32,541 sold.

The W-30 was sent to the University of Nebraska at Lincoln where it was tested from July 26 to August 10, 1932 in Tractor Test No. 210 where it posted results of 19.69 hp on the drawbar and 31.31 hp on the belt. During the 43 hours of evaluation it was noted in the report that no repairs or adjustments were required. You can download the complete test results by visiting .

Powered by an International Harvester vertical four cylinder engine with a bore of 4.25” and a stroke of 5” displacing 284 cu inches of Kerosene vapors, the tractor’s 4820 pounds rolled along at 2.5 mph in low gear, 3.25 mph in medium and 3.75 mph in high. Reverse was 2.75mph.

International Harvester’s general catalog for 1935 listed as optional equipment: pneumatic tires, power takeoff, lighting equipment, specialty belt pulleys, a sliding drawbar and a spark arrester ( no doubt a good thing to have if you ran a threshing outfit ). The catalog also highlighted the “roomy driver’s compartment with protection from dust and dirt.”

The 1935 model shown here is owned by Pat Carpenter from Anderson, SC who brought it to the 2016 Dacusville Farm Show and  provides the following about his tractor. It was manufactured at the International Harvester factory in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in January 1935 and shipped to the company sales office in Bismark, North Dakota where it was sold in the Summer of that year. It was used as a tillage tractor in the wheat fields until someone buggered up an engine rebuild after which it was parked for forty years. Pat bought it in 2010 and had it shipped to South Carolina. When he tore the engine down for his restoration he decided that what he had was beyond repair which brings us to the nut of this story.

Pat found himself looking at a pile of useless but expensive junk. What to do now? Rebuilt crate engines for 1935 W-30’s aren’t something you can pick up at your local parts house. Time for some creative mechanicing. “I repowered it with an engine from a Farmall M. The conversion works well, much to the surprise of many skeptics.”

Nebraska Test No. 327 rated the Farmall M at 30.62 HP drawbar and 34.82 HP belt power. With the transplanted M motor purring happily away in it’s new home, Pat decided he now had a new type of tractor hence the Super W-30 designation.

Additional Resources:
Encyclopedia of American Farm Tractors by C.H. Wendell

Monday, May 1, 2017

611 Fired Up

Steam locomotives come to life in a special way at night. They seem to be totally in their element surrounded by darkness. Rolling out of bed at 3:00 am will never make my short list of favorite things but I was glad we arrived at the North Carolina Transportation Museum at Spencer before sunrise. Six o’clock boarding of the Virginian was already underway but I had time to take a few photos before the 7:00 am departure for Lynchburg, Va.

This excursion had its beginning in 2013 when the Virginia Museum of Transportation formed the Fire Up 611 Committee to promote and oversee the restoration and return to the rails of their Norfolk and Western Class J locomotive also known as the Spirit of Roanoke. The 611’s participation in Norfolk and Southern Railroad’s 21st Century Steam project is just the latest chapter in the career of this historic engine.

The 611 is the only surviving example of the 14 Class J 4-8-4 locomotives that Norfolk and Western built at their Roanoke Va. East End Shops between 1941 and 1950. By the time it hit the rails in May of 1950, the switch to diesel engines by most American railroads was well underway. N & W continued steam operation into the late 50’s and the 611, because of a restoration after a derailment in 1956 was chosen to pull the final steam excursions in October of 1959.

The J class represented the pinnacle of steam locomotive development. Operating at 300 psi they produced 5,100 hp and developed 80,000 # of tractive effort. Norfolk and Western used them to power their crack passenger trains like the Cavalier, Powhatan Arrow and the Birmingham Special. They were capable of pulling fifteen passenger cars at 110 mph and averaged 15,000 miles of service per month.

After Norfolk and Western’s “Farewell to Steam” excursions ended, the 611 was eventually donated to the Roanoke Transportation Museum for use as a static display. 1981 saw another restoration for the 611 and it returned to the rails again to power Norfolk and Southern’s steam excursions for twelve years until the program ended in 1994. In 2014 the engine was sent to the NC Transportation Museum at Spencer for a year long overhaul in preparation for it’s current participation in the 21st Century Steam program.

Shortly after sunrise the engineer eased our train forward and we began rolling out of the Spencer Yards headed North.

We arrived in Lynchburg before noon for a three hour layover while the train was turned around and prepared for the return trip. Passengers were invited to take advantage of the free bus shuttle service running through downtown Lynchburg for some sightseeing before the 3:00pm departure.

This was a long train and Norfolk Southern provided a diesel assist just in case. I imagine that this was more for the peace of mind of corporate management than anything else since the crew informed us that the 611 had never needed any help.

Our stay in Lynchburg was a short one. Time to grab some lunch but not much else before we needed to be back on board for the return trip to Spencer. Along the way the rail system’s automatic fault detection system thought it saw something it didn’t like which triggered a mandatory stop while the crew inspected the entire length of the train. This put us behind schedule and it was well after dark when we arrived back at the NC. Transportation Museum. It had been a long day, but one I wouldn’t have wanted to miss.  

2017 marks the third season for 611 excursions and May 29 is the last scheduled trip for the 21st Century Steam program. The 611 will return home to the Virginia Museum of Transportation where fundraising efforts continue to build a permanent shelter to house the 611 and two additional steam locomotives. When will it return to the rails at the head of an excursion train? Only time will tell. Let’s hope the latest retirement will be a short one.


Saturday, April 15, 2017

Fairbanks-Morse Stationary Engines

In the dog eat dog world of corporate mergers and acquisitions, Fairbanks-Morse has to be counted a survivor. The company traces it’s origin back to 1832 when Thaddeus Fairbanks patented a design for a platform scale and formed a company to manufacture and market them. By the time this engine was produced in 1925, the firm was already ninety-three years old and the company is still going strong today.

Fairbanks commercial scales were a success and were marketed around the world. During the 1870’s Charles Morse was an employee who became a partner in the firm as a result of his role in acquiring the Eclipse brand windmills and pumps. Under the banner of Fairbanks-Morse Co. the product line continued to diversify. The 1890’s saw expansion into internal combustion engine production with a naphtha burning engine in 1893, kerosene in 1900, coal gas 1905, semi-diesel 1913 and finally to the subject of this post , the true high compression full diesel stationary engine in 1924.

The model Y semi-diesel engine was offered with one to six cylinders producing 30 to 200 horsepower in 1914. By 1924 the Y-VA, their first full diesel model was in production. It was upgraded and rebranded as the Model 32 in 1925.
This engine is powering a sawmill at the Richland Creek Antique Fall Festival at Saluda, South Carolina in November 2016. The sign mounted beside it describes it as a 50 horsepower diesel that prior to 1940 ran a cotton gin in Chesterfield, SC. That was about all the information that was available since I didn’t see any data plates on the engine but if it was manufactured in 1925 it’s reasonable to assume it is a Model 32.

The Model 32 was available in two sizes: a 1696 cubic inch displacement engine with a 12” bore and 15” stroke producing 40 to 50 horsepower that was offered with one to three cylinders and a 2617 cubic inch version with a 14” x 17” bore / stroke yielding 60 to 75 horsepower in one to six cylinder configurations.
The following weekend I photographed this Fairbanks-Morse engine while attending the Cumming Steam, Antique Tractor and Gas Engine Expo. This example illustrates how the cylinders could be ganged together to meet the horsepower requirements of the application.

These engines were remarkably simple in design which in turn made them very reliable. Economical operation and a long service life made them a popular choice for powering a variety of industrial applications in the days before widespread electrification.

They also saw service powering refrigeration equipment and generating electricity. There is a photograph of a Type Y engine powering an electrical generation plant in Southwest Florida posted at that looks very similar to this engine that is owned by the City of Cumming, Ga.

Finally, here’s a brief video clip of the Richland Creek engine powering a sawmill demonstration.


Monday, April 3, 2017

V. Stands for Victory

Or does it? In an excerpt from his book about the B.F. Avery and Sons Company posted at , Luther “Dan” Thomas suggest that the single plow tractor introduced in 1946 called the Model V was so named because World War Two had just been won. A logical conclusion since the triumphal celebrations were still fresh in everyone’s mind. Or maybe the company was thinking about capturing a lucrative market with their new machine that was targeted at the small family farm that made up more than half of all the farms in the country at that time. That would have been a victory indeed for a small concern like Avery.

The Model V was well suited for that application. Powered by a four cylinder Hercules ZXB-3 engine displacing 64.9 cubic inches that produced 9 horsepower it filled a niche for a farmer who could get by with a single 14” plow and didn’t want to pay for power he didn’t need. Compact with an overall length of 105” by 74” wide and weighing only 1612 pounds it was an agile performer in a small field.Between 1947 and the takeover by Minneapolis-Moline in 1951 Avery produced 7,500 units but some believe a few more  left the factory under the new management.

The nicely restored example shown here was displayed at the Tri-State Antique Power Association’s 23rd annual show at Gray, Tn. in April 2016. No information about the owner was provided so credit can’t be given where due.

Encyclopedia of American Farm Tractors by C.H. Wendel

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Port Huron Engine Number 6166

“I remember that engine as though I had seen it only yesterday, for it was the first vehicle other than horse drawn that I had ever seen.” Henry Ford

If you visit you can find a photo of a 1916  Port Huron Traction Engine in the museum’s collection that very closely resembles this 1914 model. So was it a Port Huron Traction Engine that inspired a young Henry Ford to create his Model T in 1908? We may never know. After tossing out that intriguing quote the very brief article wanders off to other pastures. Ford was a Michigan native but the Upton - Port Huron Traction Engine Company made its first engines in 1882. Ford would have been 19 years old at that time.

Engine number 6166  was making steam at the 15th Annual Cumming Steam, Antique Tractor and Gas Engine Expo. Nov. 11 & 12 2016. Like the one at the Ford Museum, this one,owned by Jake Hubbard, is a 19 / 65, 19 hp on the drawbar and 65 hp on the belt.

Jack Norbeck in his Encyclopedia of American Steam Traction Engines states that the Port Huron-Woolf Compound engines were the best ever developed for threshing due to their economical and reliable operation. Port Huron claimed that their compound engines reduced fuel consumption by 3 to 4 percent compared to other engines.

In essence the compound engine achieves its economy by using the same steam twice. High pressure steam is admitted to the first cylinder then exhausted into another cylinder where it continues to expand, thereby wringing more work out of the fuel and water consumed.

Surf on over to  to checkout the 1914 Port Huron sales brochure they have posted on their site. Within the first twelve pages you will find a series of very nice illustrations of the traction engine line they offered that year: A 16 hp compound,  20 hp “Longfellow” simple, 19 hp “Longfellow” compound, 24 hp “Longfellow” compound, 32 hp compound engine; and that’s just the beginning of the good stuff. Keep turning pages for cutaway diagrams of boiler construction, firebox and boiler tube details, boiler specifications and more. There’s even a cutaway illustration of the Port Huron - Woolf Compound Engine and a detailed explanation of the operation of the slide valve of this engine.

Port Huron claimed that the extended length of the tubes in their boilers made more efficient use of fuel because less heat was wasted up the stack, and that the 28” to 30” smokebox provided a measure of safety by reducing sparks and embers escaping with the exhaust. This extended length of the boiler was the origin of the name Longfellow.

The company was also quite proud of the construction of their operator’s platform, claiming that it could support the weight of the entire rear end of the machine, thus saving many lives and engines. A photograph of an engine that has collapsed one of the rudimentary bridges of the period is included on page 29 and sure enough, the platform is the only thing holding up the back end of the tractor. Since the 19 hp engine weighed in at 17,200 pounds, this was probably not an unusual occurrence.