Friday, January 23, 2015

A Keck-Gonnerman under steam.

Here's a short video of a Keck-Gonnerman steam tractor at the Dacusville Farm Show near Easley, SC at  the end of August 2014. We'll have more from this great show in future post so stay tuned.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Clyde's Amazing Antique Boneyard

In the fall of 2007 I was vacationing in western North Carolina when I stumbled upon what has to be one of the largest collections of unrestored portable steam engines, antique tractors and parts to be found. I won't tell you where these critters go to die because you might too. Clyde doesn't take trespassing  on his property lightly.

I was rolling down the mountain at a good clip when I spotted a gaudily painted engine parked beside the highway. I eventually got turned around and headed back for a look. I pulled off the road and got out my camera to snap a few pictures.

I shot several different views and was about to get back in my truck when I happened to glance across the road. Amazing the whole side of the mountain was littered with old machines. As I stood there looking a state trooper pulled up and asked if I was having car trouble. I told him I was just looking at the old engines and he nodded and drove off. I crossed the highway and walked a short distance up a side road before I spotted the small coffin that served as a no trespassing sign and turned back. I hadn't gone far when Clyde pulled up and wanted to know if I had been on his land. I convinced him that his sign had done it's job and that I was interested in portable steam engines. Like most collectors he enjoyed talking about his hobby and graciously invited me to a tour of his museum. 


I spent more than an hour wandering over several acres covered with rows of tractors. There were McCormick Deerings dating from the 20's and 30's, Fordson's, John Deers and others that I couldn't even guess who made.

There were a number of A.B.Farquhar portable engines and others that I couldn't identify.

There were boilers stripped of their engines and plumbing and in every stage of disassembly. I asked Clyde if he restored or sold them but no, he just collected them. Restoration was pretty much limited to a coat of paint to slow the rust down.

It was a memorable afternoon on a perfect fall day and the high point of my vacation trip to the mountains. I have not been back that way in the years since and couldn't say if the engines and tractors I saw are still there but I hope they are. They seemed to be at home on the side of that mountain.

Text and photos by Steve Ritch all rights reserved.

Monday, January 12, 2015

A roadside Farquhar Engine

Arthur Briggs Farquhar was one of those fortunate individuals born in the right place at the right time to the right parents. Coupled with an aptitude for mechanics and plenty of drive and self confidence he was certain to succeed in his chosen profession. When he was 18 years of age his family arranged an apprenticeship with the W.W. Dingee Company, a manufacturer of farm machinery and tools and young Arthur moved to York Pa. in 1856 from the family farm near Washington, DC. Within about a year and a half with a loan from his father he bought an interest in the company and became a partner. He was now a sales agent whose territory was the agricultural South and the company's name changed to the Pennsylvania Agricultural Works. Shortly before the Civil War the partnership with Dingee was dissolved after the factory burned to the ground and Farquhar became the sole proprietor. Arthur rebuilt the factory and the business and by 1884 it was the largest industry in York Pa. The firm manufactured all manner of farm tools and machinery including the Ajax and Pennsylvania steam engines and boilers. That same year the Scientific American magazine featured an article in their January issue ( which I'm still trying to locate a copy of.) about the company and it's products. The business was growing at 15 to 20 percent annually with a thriving export market around the globe. A branch factory and store was also established in Macon Georgia that produced equipment for the rice and cotton farmers of the south. From the late 1880's until the mid 1920's steam engines both portable and traction engines became the most important product produced by the firm, marketed under the Ajax and Pennsylvania brand. In 1889 the company name was changed to A.B. Farquhar Co. LTD. and engines marked as such may have been produced. After the turn of the century gasoline engines began to make inroads into the market and by 1915 Farquhar LTD. was manufacturing portable engines and tractors that were produced until the tractor line was purchased by Oliver in 1925. A.B. died in March of 1925 and the company passed to his son Francis who had been with the firm since 1900. The late 20's and 30's brought many changes. Electrification of many areas and improvements to the internal combustion engine reduced demand for steam powered engines and production was phased out during the 1930's. The company shifted production to farm equipment and conveyor products for factories and continued as the A.B. Farquhar Company until 1952 when it was purchased by the Oliver Corporation.

The portable engine shown here sat beside highway 74 in Anson County, North Carolina for many years. It may still be there but I haven't been that way for several years. I have never been able to learn much about this machine. You might think that the internet would be a font of information but that is not the case. Aside from a bit of company history, there's not a lot to be found, especially about specific machines. Your local library probably won't be much help either. Since it's marked A.B.Farquhar it was built after 1889. The engine mounted on top of the boiler is marked Ames Iron Works. I have not found any reference to a connection between these two companies so it was probably added as a replacement part at a later date. If you can add any information about this engine please leave a comment.

Sources and resources:

Company History: A.B. Farquhar by Gail E. Knauer

A Short History of the A.B. Farquhar Company by Jack C. Norbeck

York County Heritage Trust


Friday, January 2, 2015

Why a mule?

Greetings and welcome to the Iron Mule. Like most people I'm fascinated by antiques and history. Some say the course of history is defined by military events, I've always found the evolution of technology more interesting. For untold millennium  the burden of work was carried by ox, mule, horse or man himself, then at the beginning  of the 18th century a monumental change occurred, the beginning of the age of the machine. In 1698 Thomas Savery patented a design for an engine that used steam pressure to pump water out of mine shafts and later collaborated with Thomas Newcomen of Dartmouth England on a refined engine that applied atmospheric pressure circa 1712. Fifty seven years passed before James Watt's condensing engine greatly improved efficiency by conserving heat in the steam cylinder. At this point the steam engine was still limited to stationary applications and it remained for Richard Trevithick  to use high pressure steam to power his Pen-Y-Daren locomotive, the first successful steam powered vehicle in 1802. In the United States inventors eagerly joined the rush to find new uses for steam power in agriculture and industry. It was an era that changed the way we live forever. If the locomotive was an iron horse the machines that replaced the beast of burden on the farm and in factories were surely an iron mule.
Today you occasionally find some of these visitors from the past sitting beside the road or displayed at a farm show or other event. For many years I traveled Highway 74 from Wilmington, NC. to Charlotte to visit family . On one trip not far from Rockingham, NC. I noticed an outlandish looking contraption sitting in a vacant lot and stopped for a better look. It turned out to be an A.B. Farquhar portable steam engine. I've been stopping whenever I see one since then. This blog will be a journal of discovery featuring steam engines, antique tractors and more. I welcome your comments and editorial contributions. If you have additional information about any item featured here please pass it along. Many hands and an engine or two make for light work.

Resources and sources:
Yonder Comes The Train by Lance Phillips.
An extract from the Miner's Friend by Thomas Savery (1702)