Category Archives: Steam Engines

Case Farming Part II: Steam Engines and Threshers

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J.I. Case Company Part II: Steam Engines & Threshers

by

Brian Wayne Wells

(As Published in the March/April 2006 issue of

Belt Pulley Magazine)

John Hiniker standing on his restored 80 hp. Case steam engine
John Hiniker standing on his restored 80 hp. Case steam engine

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.

A Wooden Case Thresher Fitted with optional Dakota Elevator
A Wooden Frame Case Thresher Fitted with optional Dakota Elevator

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

Case Farming Part I: Sweep-Style Horsepowers

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J.I. Case Company Part I: Sweep-Style Horsepowers

by

Brian Wayne Wells

(As published in the January/February 2006 issue of

                         Belt Pulley Magazine)

           Food, clothing and shelter are well known as the three basic requirements of human beings. Agricultural is generally concerned with the production of the raw materials i.e. plants and animals, that become the food for mankind. To a lesser degree, agriculture also is concerned with the production of raw materials for clothing for mankind e.g. cotton and wool. To a still lesser degree, agriculture may be said to be involved in one of the most basic building materials used in providing shelter for mankind i.e. wood. This is especially true in recent days when forests are replanted after harvest in preparation for another harvest of trees in the future.

Just as the development of the mechanical thresher/separator revolutionized the threshing small grains, so too did the sawmill revolutionize the lumber industry. In the early days of the settlement of the upper Midwest of the United States and Canada, homes were made from logs. However, a log house had a tremendous tendency to shrink or “settle” over the years. This settling was especially pronounced in the first couple years after the construction. Settling meant that windows and doors would not remain square and, thus, tight fitting doors and windows were impossible in traditional log homes. Only frame-built houses would allow for tight fitting windows and doors. As civilization came to the Midwest with more people settling in the towns and on the farms of the Midwest, the frame house became the rule in home construction.

This tremendous growth of frame house got under way in the period following the War Between the States—the golden age of American agriculture. This boom in frame built housing created a vigorous demand for sawn lumber. Thus saw mills sprung up all over the Midwest. Usually, these sawmills were located at the falls of a particular river. This would allow the sawmill to use the power generated by the falling water and a water wheel to power the saw. Additionally, the river would be used as a transportation medium for the logs as lumber camps cut the native timber of the watershed up river from the sawmill and floated the logs down the river to the sawmill. The water might be captured by a dam on the river just above the sawmill to provide a reservoir of water to power the sawmill through any dry spells. This “mill pond” above the sawmill also served as a storage place for all the logs that came floating down the river.

The wood most in demand for building construction was pine. Pine is a straight grained, light but strong wood. It is easily worked with a handsaw and/or a plane. Furthermore, it tends to maintain its proper dimensions and shape,once it had been properly seasoned. (Robert C. Nesbit and William F. Thompson, Wisconsin: A History [University of Wisconsin: Madison, 1989] p. 297.)   However, pine was not available in all areas of the United States.

Because of these desirable characteristics, pine could be transported a considerable distance and compete economically with any lumber found locally in any hardwood community. (Ibid.) Any person that has tried to hammer a nail into a “native” hardwood board will recognize why this is true. Pine tree forests were discovered to be most abundant in two belts of land in the United States. First was the wide belt of land that reached from New England through the Great Lakes area, with Lake Erie representing the southern most fringe of this belt, and extending on to present-day northern Minnesota. (Ibid.)   Secondly, there was the Southern pine wood belt which started in eastern North Carolina (Hugh Talmage Lefler & Albert Ray Newsome, North Carolina: The History of a Southern State [University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, 1973] pp. 100-101.) and arched to the south and including nearly all of South Carolina (David Duncan Wallace, South Carolina: A Short History [University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, 1951] pp. 3-4.)southern Georgia ( Kenneth Coleman & et al. A History of Georgia), northern Florida (Charlton W. Tebeau, A History of Florida [University of Miami Press: Coral Gables, Florida, 1971] pp. 42 & 52.), southern Alabama and southern Mississippi (Nollie Hickman, Mississippi Harvest: Lumbering in the Longleaf Pine Belt 1840-1915 [Paragon Press: Montgomery, Alabama 1962] pp. 3-11].

scene-of-an-early-american-sawmill

Lumbering of the northern pine woods began in Maine and followed the virgin forests of this band of land westward. The market for all this lumber was south of this belt where civilization in the form of towns and farms arose along the upper Ohio River valley during the early nineteenth. The cities of Pittsburg, Cincinnati, Louisville and Evansville were all build with pine wood harvested from the northern pine woods.

Scene from an early American steam- powered sawmill.
Scene from an early American steam- powered sawmill.

Continue reading Case Farming Part I: Sweep-Style Horsepowers