How many engines is enough at a show?


This topic has come to mind in discussions at our show and perhaps several others. More is usually better, but there are other considerations too.

Our parade ground is quite small, and more that five or six full size traction engines would make a tight fit. Larger fairground’s shows have room for upwards of 30 engines and I have been to Mount Pleasant, Iowa and Rollag, Minn., where they have over more than 100 big ones, plus models.

Another consideration is what to do with all those engines at Rollag, as I recall, had three sawmills running and two or three threshers that ran full loads of grain when they threshed. But still most of the engines there paraded around and tooted their whistles.


Another limiting factor would be hauling expense. Trucking heavy enough to haul full size traction engines is not cheap, even when club members donate their time and only charge for fuel.

The way many shows get around that is to store a number of engines at the show site, which of course requires buildings big enough to do so. We counted roof trusses at the one big building had about two and a half acres of roof.

The engines stored at a show site would normally be of a variety of makes, so if a certain company is to be featured one year, several engines will need to be hauled. I think the year that Russell was the feature at National Threshers Association, at Wauseon, Ohio there were about 23 Russell steamers and about five gas tractors, some of which also needed hauling.


An advantage of having a number of engines in line is the possibility of comparing the different details of the various makes and models. By far the most engines one would see at an American show would be side crank and single cylinder style.

That would include most Case engines, and Aultman and Aultman-Taylor and many Nichols and Shepard, Advance Thresher Company, Advance-Rumley, Peerless and many others.

On the other hand, some old Case engines were center crank style, as were most all Frick engines. Nichols and Shepard and Rumley also built double simple engines, as did Twentieth Century, but it, like Avery, was an undermounted style with the boiler above the engine.

As a matter of fact, Avery built all three common styles over the years, namely standard locomotive style boilers with top mounted engines and return flue boilers with top mounted engines as well as the double undermounted, for which they were perhaps best known. I have heard people say they looked like they belonged on rails. C. Aultman also buil all three styles.

Less common

Among the less common engines would be the Westinghouse, with water tube boilers, and Canton Monitor by C. Aultman Company, which was a vertical fire tube boilered engine with the engine hanging on the side.

The Westinghouse had its engine on a frame extending forward from the boiler and over the front wheels. It, like the undermounted style, had the advantage of having the engine and flywheel low and accessible.

A type of engine not often seen in the U.S. is the compound. Most companies made them for a time but they were never popular due to extra first cost, more complication to adjust and an efficiency advantage that was not considered important here in the land of cheap and abundant fuel, coal and wood mainly.


Strawburners were popular out West where the straw was not so useful and coal was scarce and expensive. I have yet to see one, but would like to. By the way compounds were common in Port Huron and Reeves, who tried to compound everything including threshers.

All this is not to say a large number of steam engines is a necessity for a good show. Our own local show started with one engine, a 12-horse Case of 1911 vintage. When it came into the area, a local Case dealer took advantage of the relative novelty to advertise the make at his lot at local fairs.

The owner was a dedicated sawmill man and soon they had a portable sawmill to operate with it. The trouble and expense of maintenance and inspection can also cut into the number of available units.

I well recall the Pioneer Show when at the Meadville Fairgrounds had 10 engines one year, and each a different make. Most of those owners have passed on to their reward and the engines have been sold or laid up for lack of maintenance. Now they are happy to have one or two.

No steam?

Then if you are asking how to have a show without steam engines, the answer is sort of obvious. Gas engines and tractors. In fact some shows are now advertising themselves as tractor shows. Of course there are very few old timers left who actually worked with steam and are dedicated to keeping it operating at shows.

On the other hand most of us have grown up with gas tractors and some kinds of gas engines, even if it is Clinton and Briggs and Stratton.

Tractors are quite capable of running threshers and balers, and even sawmills though that take the larger horsepower machines. And they mostly are painted and shined up to look good in parades and such. They are also much cheaper and more plentiful than traction engines.


And then there are tractor pulls, which are a very major part of many shows nowadays. Pulling a very heavy load to a stall is not often done with traction engines for several reasons. For one they were not made for such strains.

Their clutches and cast gears were set up to move the engine itself and pull the thresher and such, but not a pull to the maximum.

As the old engines age and cost more, models become more popular and common. Some are built up of tractor parts and machinery wheels while others are scratch-built from castings sold in sets and in various scales, from one inch to the foot up to six inches to the foot or half scale and even larger.

The smaller boilers are also easier to find and cheaper to build. We had two of about half-scale at Portersville this year, and the last time I was at Mount Pleasant, Iowa, there were about 25 of them in various scales. One of about quarter scale even pulled a full size engine as a load.

If a gear or shaft breaks it can be replaced or repaired, since it was recently made in the first place.

Those of us who love steam power hope and trust it will always have an appeal to a large number of our spectators, and so be important to shows. Boiler shops and foundries help guarantee that future.

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