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Brian Wayne Wells
(As Published in the March/April 2006 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine)
At the age of 23 years, Jerome Increase Case set out from his birthplace and home in Oswego County, New York in the summer of 1842. He had purchased six (6) groundhog threshing machines on credit. He traveled to Wisconsin with the intent of selling the groundhog threshers along the way. Arriving in Racine, Wisconsin, Jerome began to work on his own design for a thresher. In 1844, he rented a small shop on the bank of the river in Racine and began making threshers. This was the beginning of what would become the J.I Case Threshing Machine Company. The Company became one of the leading manufacturers of threshing machines. To power these threshing machines, the company began the manufacture of a sweep-style horsepower in the early 1860’s. (See the article on the Case sweep-style horse-power in the January/February 2006 issue of Belt Pulley magazine.) The company soon realized the limitations of the sweep as a power source. This was particularly true as Case began to add innovative improvements to the basic design of their threshers. In 1880 Case introduced the Agitator thresher with the vibrating or agitating separator tables. In 1882, Case installed their patented tubular-style elevator on their threshers. Case developed their own straw stacker for the rear of the thresher which could lift stack the straw from the threshing operation into a tall stack behind the thresher. In 1888, a mechanical grain weigher was added to the top of the grain elevator. By 1893, self feeders were becoming a common part of nearly all Case threshers. These new improvements made the J.I. Case Threshing Machine Company, the leading producer of threshers. However, nearly all of these improvements imposed additional power requirements on the power source powering the thresher. At this time, Case offered threshers in a variety of sizes—one model with a 28 inch cylinder and a 46 inch separating unit, a model with a 32 inch cylinder and a 54 inch separator , a 36 inch x 58 inch thresher and a 40 x 62 model. The largest of the Case sweep-style horsepower—the seven team sweep—could produce up to about 28 horsepower. However, even the smallest of the new Case threshers—the 28 x 46 model—when fully outfitted with the new improvements, required 34 hp. to run at top efficiency. Obviously the sweep style horsepower was hopelessly outdated as a power source for these new threshers. Consequently, the Case Company began to look to a new source of power for their new threshers. The Company began to manufacture of steam engines in 1869. In 1876, the Company introduced its first “traction” steam engine, a steam engine that could move under its own power. From this time forward, the Case Company also became a leading manufacturer of steam engines and particularly traction steam engines. Until the 1890s, the J.I. Case Threshing Machine Company operated out of a singe factory located on Bridge Street in Racine, Wisconsin. Then during the 1890s, this building was torn down and replaced with the “Eagle” Building which became part of a new factory complex of buildings known as the “Main Works.” From the Main Works, the Case Company became a leading manufacturer of both a wide range of steam engines and a wide range of wood-frame grain threshers/separators.
In 1904, Case continued its technological innovations in thresher technology. One of the major shortcomings of wood frame threshers was the threat of fire posed by a wood frame machine working in association with a steam engine sitting next to a highly flammable stack of dry straw. Consequently, the Case Company, in 1904, introduced the first “all-steel” thresher. These threshers were sold side by side with the wood-frame threshers until 1906 when production of the wooden threshers was discontinued.
At the beginning of the 20th century, threshers were very much in demand because settlement of certain areas of the arable land of the Midwest was still ongoing. New farming operations were still being formed. One such area was western Blue Earth County Minnesota. The townships of Lake Crystal, Judson, Garden City, Lincoln and Butternut Valley Townships were organized in western Blue Earth County as settlement came to the area. Right in the middle of these townships was the village of Lake Crystal, Minnesota (1900 pop. 1,215). Located on the boundary between Judson and Garden City Townships the village of Lake Crystal is actually divided between these two townships. The settlement that became the town of Lake Crystal was built around a junction of the east/west Chicago Northwestern Railroad line with another Chicago Northwestern line coming up from Iowa in the south. Continue reading Case Farming Part II: Steam Engines and Threshers