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 Read 49 of Robert's 181 articles on steam power!

Unless noted otherwise, the following articles were originally published in
Engineers and Engines Magazine and are posted here with permission from the editor.

Obed Hussey and His Ohio Test of the First Successful Reaper
By Robert T. Rhode and Leland Hite, 15 MB, PDF

Robert T. Rhode and Leland Hite’s article breaks new ground on an event that was of tremendous importance to the world: the testing of the first successful reaping machine, which revolutionized agriculture globally in the nineteenth century and started farming down the path toward industrialization. That test, with its far-reaching consequences, took place near Mt. Healthy, Ohio, in 1835. Even though books and articles from the 1800s and early 1900s noted the achievement, it has been largely overlooked in recent times, and it has never been fully researched and described. The authors made it their mission to investigate the matter thoroughly. Over the past year, they discovered many surprising facts that had been forgotten or that had never been brought to light. Their article introduces their findings to an international audience.

See the Lane water conveyance system model in Interactive-3D by downloading the file Water Conveyance System 3D-PDF.pdf and view in Adobe Reader.

See timelines listing the achievements of Clark Lane and Obed Hussey.To Top

The First Cable Suspension Bridge Built in Ohio
By Robert T. Rhode and Leland Hite, 1.6 MB, PDF

On the 12th of December (2014), Leland Hite and Robert T. Rhode, acting on behalf of the Mt. Healthy Historical Society, recovered the last remaining component of the first cable suspension bridge built in Ohio. The 167-year-old iron tripod was one of four that had supported the cables of the 42′ bridge crossing the West Branch of Mill Creek near Mt. Healthy. Built in 1847, the footbridge on the Lane family farm was the brainchild of William Lane, brother of Clark Lane, the noted industrialist whose company of Owens, Lane & Dyer manufactured steam engines and sawmills in Hamilton, Ohio. The ingenious bridge was one of the first suspension bridges in the United States.To Top

Surprises in Hamilton, Ohio
By Mark Ohlde, Neal Simpson, and Robert T. Rhode, 9.7 MB, PDF

Mark Ohlde, Neal Simpson, and Robert T. Rhode’s research into Hamilton’s manufacturing of steam engines for threshing, sawmilling, and hauling has led to an article packed with discoveries, not the least of which is the existence of a traction engine firm long forgotten: the Empire Machine Company. As the title of the article promises, plenty of additional surprises await readers. The authors bring to life the nineteenth century and early twentieth century in Hamilton, and they offer an array of photographs that take readers back in time. One of several connections between this article and “Obed Hussey and His Ohio Test of the First Successful Reaper” is Clark Lane’s involvement in the reaper test and his numerous contributions to the industrial vitality of Hamilton.To Top

“Captain William Edward Cole and His Pole Road Locomotives of the American South”
By Mike McKnight and Robert T. Rhode, 3.9 MB, PDF

Brenda Stant, editor of Engineers & Engines Magazine, writes, “Dr. Robert T. Rhode and Mike McKnight have outdone themselves with their history of pole locomotives in the South. They have spent years researching this subject and we are so glad they decided to let Engineers & Engines print their final product. This is the most comprehensive history on the subject and one that will be used as a reference for generations to come.” The larger, more famous geared logging locomotives should not overshadow the value of pole road locomotives in steam logging. Pole road locomotives were a vital link between animal or human power with their limitations and the tireless power of the largest steam logging engines. The pole road locomotives enabled logging operations to expand far beyond the dreams of only a few decades before.To Top

Early American Circus Engines
By Robert T. Rhode, 17.1 MB, PDF

A dozen years before Ringling Brothers began negotiating with the J. I. Case Threshing Machine Company to build a road locomotive, the major American circuses already featured steam engines. Fitchburg Steam Engine Company was the source of several engines that powered the first circus light shows in America. Half a dozen companies promoted arc light systems that bedazzled and enchanted the public. The first electrical light displays were so expensive as to be novelties that could draw a crowd. In 1880, the Brush Electric Light Company published a catalog that listed four circuses as customers. This article rescues the almost-forgotten stories and illustrations of steam engines and brilliant lights beneath the big top!To Top

Click to Expand A Threshing Sketch by William Allen Rogers
By Robert T. Rhode, 650 KB, PDF

This widely recognized illustration by the well-known artist William Allen Rogers has a fascinating history, which this article fully explores.

Click here to enlarge the art.  21 MB, JPEG

Engines Depicted in Marvels of the New West (1887)
By Robert T. Rhode, 1 MB, PDF

With the expert assistance of Brenda Stant, editor-in-chief of Engineers and Engines Magazine, Robert T. Rhode puts his detective skills to work in identifying steam engines and other machines in two illustrations published in Marvels of the New West in 1887. Who knew that various cuts from the same time period were based on F. Jay Haynes’ photographs of Oliver Dalrymple’s bonanza farms? Further, who knew that Frick & Co. advertised a “plowing engine” and produced gang plows?To Top

George W. Cutter: America’s Poet Warrior
By R. Timothy Herrmann, B. Michael McCormick, and Robert T. Rhode, 2 MB, PDF

R. Timothy Herrmann, B. Michael McCormick, and Robert T. Rhode’s article traces the fascinating biography of George W. Cutter, whose poem entitled “The Song of Steam,” probably the earliest widely disseminated American poem on the topic of the steam engine, became better known than its author. The diligent search into Cutter’s life reveals an impetuous personality often at the center of national events. This Covington, Kentucky, poet offers sophisticated insights into the steam engines that powered the Industrial Revolution.

This article was originally published in Volume 18 of The Journal of Kentucky Studies and is posted here with permission from the editor, Dr. Gary Walton.To Top

An Engine and an Epidemic
By Robert T. Rhode, 3 MB, PDF

Be prepared for ghoulish details! Robert T. Rhode’s story is sure to astonish readers. The decade of the 1870s was dependent on horses, and, when the animals became ill, cities such as Cincinnati, Ohio, experienced a grisly disaster. This article guides readers through a world vastly different from that of today.To Top

The Influence of the Wright Family on Steamrollers”
By Raymond L. Drake and Robert T. Rhode, 8.8 MB, PDF

Researchers Raymond L. Drake and Robert T. Rhode relate the saga of Englishmen Thomas Wright and his sons, Edward T. and Frederick W., all of whom had considerable influence on various aspects of steamrollers in both Britain and America.To Top

Wright ‘Rosetta Stone’ Is Found!
By Raymond L. Drake and Robert T. Rhode, 3 MB, PDF

In a follow-up to their article that appeared in the January 2007 issue of Old Glory and that was reprinted in the June–July 2008 issue of Engineers and Engines Magazine, authors Raymond L. Drake and Robert T. Rhode reveal more details relating to the design of American-built steamrollers and the influence of British-born Edward T. Wright on such machines.To Top

“Facts and Questions About Harrisburg Steamrollers
By Raymond L. Drake and Robert T. Rhode, 8.3 MB, PDF

This article focuses on the Harrisburg Car Company and related firms. The manufacturer primarily built railroad cars, but a large portion of its business was devoted to the production of portable engines, traction engines, and steam-powered rollers. Martin E. Hershey designed one of the earliest American steamrollers for Harrisburg. Although the authors have discovered many facts about steamroller production in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, several tantalizing questions remain unanswered.To Top

“The Kelly Empire: The History of One of the True Giants of the Compaction Industry: [Part 1]”
By Raymond L. Drake and Robert T. Rhode, 9.3 MB, PDF

In mid-nineteenth-century America, many a young man sought to make his fortune in the development of America’s mineral and oil resources. Like such men of his generation, Oliver Smith Kelly left behind his carpenter’s job in Springfield, Ohio, and traveled to California, where he participated in that state’s famous gold rush. He devoted most of 1852 through 1856 mining “placers,” or gravel deposits containing particles of ore. Kelly was successful in his quest for gold, and, when Kelly returned to Springfield, he was wealthy. He had sufficient capital to establish a series of industries. The Kelly name came to be associated with threshers, steam engines, road rollers, pianos, trucks, and tires. This article is the first of three devoted to the fascinating story of Kelly’s success.To Top

“The Kelly Empire: The History of One of the True Giants of the Compaction Industry: Part 2: The Kelly–Springfield Era”
By Raymond L. Drake and Robert T. Rhode, 7.1 MB, PDF

The 1891 Engineering News foretold the arrival of a new steamroller produced by the O. S. Kelly Company of Springfield, Ohio. The ensuing decade witnessed vast growth in the Kelly enterprises, which had their roots in the manufacturing of agricultural steam engines and related implements. At the beginning of the twentieth century, changes took place in what had become the diverse empire created by Oliver S. Kelly. As there were many different and unrelated businesses owned by the Kelly family, it only made sense to split them off from the parent company as separate entities. At the time of O. S. Kelly’s death in 1904, this process was virtually completed.To Top

“The Kelly Empire: The History of One of the True Giants of the Compaction Industry: Part 3: A Gallery of Kelly Illustrations”
By Raymond L. Drake and Robert T. Rhode, 10.5 MB, PDF

In their two previous articles on the O. S. Kelly and Kelly–Springfield firms, Raymond L. Drake and Robert T. Rhode included a considerable amount of text detailing the empire that Oliver S. Kelly built in Springfield, Ohio. After many years collecting images, the authors present in their third installment a gallery of illustrations depicting various facets of the Kelly businesses.To Top

The Happy Farmer of Harrison Machine Works and His Evil Twin
By Robert T. Rhode, 1.4 MB, PDF

The cover of Leslie’s Weekly for August 5th, 1909, carried a political cartoon by E. N. Blue and this caption: “The only man who is undisturbed by panics. The happy farmer whose bank account is yearly swelled by the sale of big crops at good prices.” Blue’s drawing satirized a well-known trademark of the threshing industry, and it was created during a time of national gloom.To Top

The Buffalo Pitts Dynasty: A Majestic History from Threshers through Traction Engines to Steamrollers
By Raymond L. Drake and Robert T. Rhode, 11.8 MB, PDF

If longevity in the thresher manufacturing business is a mark of a company’s distinction, Buffalo Pitts is one of the most illustrious firms in farm traction and road compaction history. The story of Buffalo Pitts begins with the birth of twins John Avery and Hiram Abial Pitts in Clinton, Maine, on December 8th, 1799. John and Hiram Pitts manufactured one of the earliest successful threshing machines and established agricultural works that grew into diversified industries of lasting importance. Readers interested in Buffalo Pitts are encouraged to visit Brian Szafranski’s excellent site, Top

“The Compaction Industry Colossus, Buffalo–Springfield: From the Twilight of Steam to the Twenty-First Century”
By Raymond L. Drake and Robert T. Rhode, 6.3 MB, PDF

The biggest name in the annals of steamroller history is indisputably Buffalo–Springfield. Part of the firm’s colossal success arose from serendipity: a fortunate concurrence of events. In 1913, the federal government announced the ambitious project of constructing more than fifty thousand miles of highways, and, in early November of 1916, the Kelly–Springfield Road Roller Company of Springfield, Ohio, and the Buffalo Steam Roller Company of Buffalo, New York, merged. The union of such thriving firms at a time when the building of roads had become a national priority spawned the titanic Buffalo–Springfield Company.To Top

“The Agricultural Steam Engine Manufacturers of Dayton, Ohio”
By Robert T. Rhode, 7.7 MB, PDF

When people think of Dayton, Ohio, they remember the extraordinary Orville and Wilbur Wright and 1903, the year of the first sustained and controlled heavier-than-air flight in the airplane that the brothers designed and built. People seldom recall Dayton’s contributions to America’s agricultural legacy, even though the city boasted no fewer than three manufacturers of portable steam engines for farming purposes. While the Wright brothers deserve a prominent chapter in the history books, names such as Brownell, Marshall, Graves, Woodsum, and Tenney also merit consideration.To Top

“The Kingery Manufacturing Company of Cincinnati, Ohio”
By Robert T. Rhode, 7.4 MB, PDF

Since the late 1800s, peanut roasters and popcorn machines have been familiar sights at fairs, on city street comers, in candy shops, in general stores, and in motion picture theaters. The C. Cretors Company of Chicago, Illinois, was a well-known builder of such equipment, but the Kingery Manufacturing Company of Cincinnati, Ohio, began earlier and gained prominence through supplying the trade with a broad line of products. The small steam engines that powered many of the popcorn machines caught the public’s attention. Kingery catalogs asserted that the motion of the little steamers fascinated patrons and helped guarantee sales of popcorn and peanuts.To Top

“Update on Woodsum Portable Engine”
By Robert T. Rhode, 1.1 MB, PDF

In the February–March 2010 issue of Engineers and Engines Magazine, Robert T. Rhode said that a Woodsum portable steam engine was depicted in The Iron-Men Album Magazine in 1966 and 1969. Rhode recently found that another photograph of the same engine appeared on the first page of the Album for May–June 1999. A typographical error in the caption caused the engine to be identified as a “Woodgum,” and, for that reason, Rhode had overlooked the picture.To Top

“The Woodsum Traction Engine and Victor Clover Huller”
By Mike McKnight and Robert T. Rhode, 1.7 MB, PDF

Mike McKnight and Robert T. Rhode’s article expands what has been known about the Woodsum Machine Company of Dayton, Ohio, and the Victor Clover Huller, originally of Hagerstown, Maryland, and later of Newark and Columbus, Ohio. Brian Szafranski, who has posted the website on the history of the Buffalo Pitts firm (, has suggested a clarification and an update for the information presented in the article. First, it is difficult to prove that John A. Pitts was ever in Illinois. Page 223 in the 1954 book A History of Maine Agriculture 1604–1860 says, “Pitts Brothers ... dissolved partnership and went West to larger fields. Hiram located in Chicago, where he and his son after him made the Chicago Pitts machine; while John went first to Rochester and afterward to Buffalo, where he made the Buffalo Pitts thresher.” For several years before Hiram established a factory in Chicago, he made threshers in Alton, Illinois (near St. Louis). Pages 64 and 65 of the book The Manufacturing Interests of the City of Buffalo (1866) contribute these details: “The late Mr. John A. Pitts came here in the year 1851; he had already established several small works: the first one in his native State, in the town of Winthrop, Maine; in Albany and Rochester N. Y. and in Springfield, Ohio ... .” The update is that John Beman Pitts died of cholera at age 33 in Dayton, Ohio, on the 22nd of October in 1866; his illness and death prompted the sale of the thresher works to Stephen F. Woodsum and Lucius A. Tenney. Thanks to Brian for these important details!To Top

“John C. Hoadley’s Engine Trials at the Cincinnati Industrial Exposition in 1881”
By Bruce E. Babcock and Robert T. Rhode, 1.1 MB, PDF

A careful reading of John Chipman Hoadley’s report of the engine trials that he conducted at the Ninth Cincinnati Industrial Exposition of 1881 discloses a remarkable number of unfortunate incidents and inappropriate conditions that plagued the event. In the Ohio Mechanics’ Institute report, Hoadley refers to “all of the adventures and misadventures of each of the engines,” but it appears that there were many more misadventures than he acknowledged. The magnitude of the list detracts from the credibility of the trials and of the individuals who were involved in conducting them. Many of these conditions and incidents are serious enough to invalidate important elements of the trials, and collectively they discredit the results of the trials in their entirety. Hoadley tellingly remarks, “Too much was attempted.”To Top

“Part II: John C. Hoadley’s Engine Trials at the Cincinnati Industrial Exposition in 1881”
By Bruce E. Babcock and Robert T. Rhode, 7.1 MB, PDF

John Chipman Hoadley provided a detailed description of the Prony brake that appears to have been assembled specifically for use at the Cincinnati Industrial Exposition trials. (See the illustration of Hoadley’s Prony brake that is based on his description.) Hoadley said, “The whole apparatus being new, neither the concavity in the brake-beam nor the maple blocks in the binding strap fitted perfectly to the pulley, and the surface of the pulley was somewhat rough, so that a little wearing away of both the wood and the iron was constantly going on ....” As well-lubricated wooden blocks on a Prony brake do not wear perceptibly, Hoadley’s description indicates that the Prony brake in the 1881 engine trials had insufficient lubrication, unless the surface of the pulley was extremely rough. Reliance on such a rough pulley does not reflect well on those who allowed its use. This article by Bruce E. Babcock and Robert T. Rhode closely examines the various tests that Hoadley supervised. Hoadley may have found himself obligated to supervise trials that he privately considered so flawed as to be ridiculous.To Top

“A Note on Engines with Bevel-Gear Drives”
By Robert T. Rhode, 1.1 MB, PDF

In the August–September 2010 issue of Engineers and Engines Magazine, Thomas G. Downing asked which companies used the bevel-gear drives that the Cooper firm in Mt. Vernon, Ohio, licensed to other builders of farm steam engines. In this article, Robert T. Rhode begins to answer Downing’s question.To Top

“A Further Note on Engines with Bevel-Gear Drives”
By Robert T. Rhode, 1.2 MB, PDF

In the August–September 2010 issue of Engineers and Engines Magazine, when Thomas G. Downing asked which companies used the bevel-gear drives that the Cooper firm in Mt. Vernon, Ohio, licensed to other builders of farm steam engines, Downing quoted a source as stating that five firms held licenses. He said that Russell & Company and Aultman & Taylor were two of the five. In the October–November 2010 issue, Robert T. Rhode added to Downing’s list the J. I. Case Threshing Machine Company, the Nichols & Shepard Company, and the Birdsall Engine Company. Rhode wrote that the “Birdsall mechanism is distinctly different from that of Cooper, Case, Nichols & Shepard, and Russell,” and Rhode questioned whether Birdsall paid a licensing fee to Cooper. In this article, Rhode examines ambiguities surrounding licensing arrangements.To Top

“H. & F. Blandy of Zanesville and Newark, Ohio”
By Robert T. Rhode and John F. Spalding, 5.5 MB, PDF

H. & F. Blandy is counted among the significant builders of engines in the early period of steam power in the United States. From locomotives to portable engines, Blandy produced a variety of machines during the firm’s colorful existence. In competition with other manufacturers, such as Griffith & Wedge of Zanesville, Blandy traced a course that wove in and out of courts of law. This article assembles the disparate pieces of the Blandy story in a coherent narrative.To Top

“Update on Newark Machine Works”
By Robert T. Rhode, 1.6 MB, PDF

In the article entitled “H. & F. Blandy of Zanesville and Newark, Ohio,” which John
Spalding and Robert T. Rhode authored and which was published in the February–March 2011 issue of Engineers and Engines Magazine, the authors included a detail from a photograph that Thomas Norrell collected. In a caption on page 9, they said that the image might show a prototype of the Newark self-propelling engine of 1858. It does not. John H. White, Jr., well-known author of numerous books and articles on locomotives and other forms of transportation, historian for many years at the Smithsonian Institution, and now a faculty member at Miami University, recently gave Rhode a sharper copy of the Norrell photograph. Rhode can see that the agricultural engine in the image is a portable engine after all. With the exception that the flywheel is on the right, the engine is identical to the 1857 model in the cut from the Ohio State Board of Agriculture report—a cut that also appears on page 9 in the February–March issue of Engineers and Engines Magazine. The rear wheels are in the same position on both engines. The angle of the machine in the Newark photo gives the optical illusion that the wheels are farther back than those in the cut. Evidently, the rear wheels were spaced at a wide distance from the sides of the firebox. There is no chain and there are no gears for traction.
To Top

“Mimicry Among Farm Steam Engine Builders”
By Robert T. Rhode, 10.2 MB, PDF

In nature, one species often resembles another. Biologists call this mimicry. Among farm steam engines, the product of one firm often resembled the product of another firm. Robert T. Rhode calls this mimicry, too. Did the similarity result from theft of a good idea, or was there a mutually beneficial relationship between two or more companies? From the vantage point of the twenty-first century, it is usually difficult to tell. This article is about wishing for answers to mysteries surrounding engine mimicry.To Top

“More Mimicry Among Farm Steam Engine Builders”
By Robert T. Rhode, 7.4 MB, PDF

Engineers and Engines Magazine for February and March of 2012 carried Robert T. Rhode’s first article about mimicry among farm steam engine builders. Rhode mentioned wishing for answers to questions about why an engine by one manufacturer looks so much like an engine by another manufacturer. His second article on the topic of mimicry prolongs the wish for answers. Since publication of his articles on mimicry, Rhode has solved a few of the mysteries and has published his findings in additional reports reproduced here. To Top

“Traveling Back to the Indiana State Fairs of 1884 and 1885”
By Robert T. Rhode, 8.3 MB, PDF

The magnificent scenes and brilliant colors of a poster announcing the 1885 Indiana State Fair entice readers back to the nineteenth century. The Indiana State Archives has graciously permitted readers to view scans of the original poster. Noteworthy in the enlargement of the lower right corner are three steam engines. A book with the improbably long title of the Thirty-Fourth Annual Report of the Indiana State Board of Agriculture, Volume XXVI, 1884, Including the Proceedings of the Annual Meeting, 1885, and Meetings of the Cattle Breeders, Swine Breeders, Wool Growers, Cane Growers, and Bee Keepers, 1885, to the Governor identifies the builders of engines that were displayed at the State Fair in that year. The artist that designed the 1885 poster most likely consulted photographs taken in 1884.To Top

“What Really Happened in Wichita in 1907”
By Bruce E. Babcock and Robert T. Rhode, 14.1 MB, PDF

The year was 1907. It was the afternoon of April 4th, the third (and final) day of the gathering of threshermen billed as “The Wichita Convention.” Steam traction engines were on display at the Haymarket, an open area on South Water Street not far from the Arkansas River. Earlier, Wilson R. Balderson had run a 16 HP Baker engine belted to a five-foot fan that the A. D. Baker Company had built. Balderson had spun the fan 693 RPM. He and John W Albeck challenged representatives of other manufacturers to try to spin the fan faster with their engines. The events that ensued have been debated ever since. Bruce E. Babcock and Robert T. Rhode employ the skills of detectives to get at the true story of Wichita.To Top

“Why Watertown, Wheeler & Melick, and Butterworth Engines Look Alike”
By Robert T. Rhode, 11.9 MB, PDF

Several readers expressed appreciation for Robert T. Rhode’s articles on mimicry among farm steam engine manufacturers, which appeared in Engineers and Engines Magazine in 2012. In his stories about duplication, Rhode indicated that the Watertown portable and the Wheeler & Melick portable were exactly alike. In this article, Rhode explains the similarity and introduces yet another builder of farm steam engines: Butterworth.To Top

“Butterworth of Trenton, New Jersey: The Rest of the Story”
By Robert T. Rhode, 2.4 MB, PDF

In Engineers and Engines Magazine for August and September of 2013, Robert T. Rhode explained the similarity among the Watertown, Wheeler & Melick, and Butterworth portable engines; in this sequel, Rhode and Mike McKnight further disclose a significant connection between Butterworth of Trenton, New Jersey, and Tanner & Delaney of Richmond, Virginia.To Top

“The Battle Creek Grudge Match”
By Robert T. Rhode, 11 MB, PDF

This story begins quietly with small, friendly shops in the 1840s in Battle Creek, Michigan, and ends with a grudge match pitting two factories against a gigantic manufacturing firm. In this article, Robert T. Rhode exposes many connections among agricultural steam engine companies of Battle Creek and Port Huron. To Top

“Gaar Family Celebrates Fifty-Year Anniversary: Solving the Mystery of a Photograph”
By Robert T. Rhode and Mike McKnight, 3.2 MB, PDF

A rare photograph has come to light. Seen here for the first time is an image that depicts Abram Gaar and Agnes Adams Gaar and that probably depicts John Milton Gaar, William G. Scott, other members of the Gaar family, and company representatives posing in front of a portable steam engine and a threshing machine manufactured by Gaar, Scott & Company in Richmond, Indiana. The occasion is most likely the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the business that eventually became the Gaar–Scott enterprise. Perhaps the house stood on the farm of Abraham Gaar (1769–1861), Abram’s  grandfather. How can so much be deduced from a photo purchased from an antique dealer with no accompanying history? Read on.To Top

“Gaar Began Portable Engine Production in 1857”
By Robert T. Rhode and Mike McKnight, 2 MB, PDF

A respected source of agricultural history says Abram Gaar began building portable steam engines in 1852. In 1907, Lewis G. Rule gave 1857 as the year. He cited detailed circumstances that lend his story credibility. In this intriguing article packed with several significant illustrations, Robert T. Rhode and Mike McKnight explain why they trust Rule’s date.To Top

“The Checkered Career of J. O. Spencer” 
By Robert T. Rhode, 4.6 MB, PDF

In this article, Robert T. Rhode presents the story of J. O. Spencer, an overlooked builder of farm steam engines and related implements, and traces the difficult path Spencer followed.To Top

“The Buffalo Birdsall” 
By Brad Vosburg and Robert T. Rhode, 18.9 MB, PDF

Brad Vosburg reports that, one evening while looking through the Farm Implement News of January 1889, he came upon an ad that referred to a Buffalo Birdsall. The engine in the drawing slightly resembled an Auburn Birdsall but did not look like anything Vosburg had ever seen before. With the exception of the front axle and auto steering, it appeared to be an entirely different machine. In this article, Brad Vosburg and Robert T. Rhode solve the mystery of the Buffalo Birdsall.

To Top

“Old Abe for Children”
By Robert T. Rhode, 3.2 MB, PDF

Of all the trademarks adopted by companies that manufactured farm steam engines, none was better known than Old Abe, the eagle of the J. I. Case Threshing Machine Company, which produced the largest number of agricultural steam engines in history. In 1861, Chief Sky captured the eagle in Chippewa County, Wisconsin, and traded it to farmer Daniel McCann for a bushel of corn; McCann then sold the eagle to the 8th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Company C for $2.50. Named Old Abe (after President Abraham Lincoln), the eagle took part in many battles of the Civil War. After the conflict, the bird resided in the Wisconsin State Capitol Building. A small fire in the basement choked the bird with smoke in February of 1881, and the eagle died in March. A taxidermist stuffed the eagle. In February of 1904, the Capitol burned and the stuffed eagle was destroyed. Numerous articles and books have been written about Old Abe the eagle. Robert T. Rhode has discovered a long-overlooked source: a children’s book with a spectacular full-color cover depicting Old Abe.To Top

William Medcalf’s Iconic Painting of a Case Steam Engine
By Robert T. Rhode, 5.1 MB, PDF

In 1955, the J. I. Case Company of Racine, Wisconsin, first advertised prints of a colorful threshing scene that has since become iconic. William Edward Medcalf (1920–2005) created the original painting. Medcalf is known for Christmas scenes and nostalgic illustrations resembling those of Norman Rockwell (whose work Medcalf idolized), as well as vibrant sketches often depicting sports such as baseball and football. But Medcalf is best known for his paintings of pin-up girls! His pin-ups command tens of thousands of dollars at auction. This article sketches Medcalf’s career and presents information about his popular painting of a Case steam engine, threshing machine, and crew.To Top

“William Medcalf's Iconic Painting of a Case Steam Engine, Episode 2”
By Dale Noel and Robert T. Rhode, 650 KB, PDF

This article by Dale Noel and Robert T. Rhode is a follow-up to Rhode’s story in the April–May 2015 issue of Engineers and Engines Magazine. Minnesota artist William Edward Medcalf (1920–2005; often called “Bill Medcalf”) produced at least one additional work of art similar to the iconic painting he created for the J. I. Case Company while working for Brown & Bigelow, the promotional products firm. Dale Noel bought the painting a dozen years ago from a person who received it from his grandparents. Dale’s work of art is oil on board and signed by the artist. The work is reminiscent of the threshing scene commissioned by Case but with obvious differences. A painting by Les Kouba is similar to Dale’s; like Medcalf, Kouba was associated with Brown & Bigelow. It is fascinating to trace the resemblances among all three paintings.  To Top

“Lane & Bodley’s Sawmill of 1860”
By Robert T. Rhode, 1.0 MB, PDF

Mary Hammill, originally from the Greater Cincinnati area, was looking for a home for a cut (or engraving) of a Lane & Bodley sawmill and discovered company information archived on the Cincinnati Triple Steam website. Subsequently, Mary and her husband, James “Jim” Hammill, found me because of my association with Leland Hite, with whom I have written articles and with whom I have worked on various historical projects. Lee is the author of the Cincinnati Triple Steam website (, which features the Cincinnati Water Works’ River Station, home to four of the world’s largest triple-expansion, water-pumping steam engines. As tour guide, Lee is the voice of River Station. From their home in Hopkins, Minnesota, the Hammills mailed me the cut, which appeared on page 346 of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper for October 20, 1860. As Sandra Seidman has published the definitive history of the Lane & Bodley firm and made it readily available to readers through Lee’s website, I forgo the temptation to tell about the company. (Click here to scroll to Sandra’s article.) I focus on what the cut and the accompanying story on page 345 have to offer. The artist was the renowned Albert Berghaus, a significant illustrator from the 1860s through the 1890s. Having learned the engraving trade in his home country of England, Frank Leslie built a publishing empire that would outlive him in New York.To Top

“Did Lane & Bodley Build Traction Engines?”
By Robert T. Rhode, 2.1 MB, PDF

For some forty years, people have assumed that the Lane & Bodley Company of Cincinnati, Ohio, built agricultural traction engines, with “traction” implying that the engines were capable of pulling themselves under their own power. In this article that was researched over many years, Robert T. Rhode questions the long-standing assumption and traces its origin. Could it be that Lane & Bodley built only portable engines, with “portable” suggesting that horses pulled the engines from place to place? To Top

“The Panic of 1873 and Farm Steam Power”
By Robert T. Rhode, 1 MB, PDF

Of particular interest to readers of Engineers and Engines Magazine is the financial downturn of 1873, known as the Panic of 1873. It initiated the Long Depression, which caused the decade of the 1870s to be called the Black Seventies. The panic occurred simultaneously with a rapid upswing in production of steam engines for purposes of farming. Could the Panic of 1873 have somehow instigated development of such engines and related implements? This article attempts to answer that question by combing nineteenth-century sources while examining the findings of twentieth-century authorities.To Top

“Why So Many California Engines Look So Much Alike”
By Robert T. Rhode, 6.3 MB, PDF

Several center-crank agricultural steam engines in California in the late 1800s closely resemble one another. This article explains the similarity, which has its roots in the time when the Transcontinental Railroad was planned and completed. While offering an explanation, this article also details the fascinating stories of manufacturing and marketing steam engines for California’s farms. To Top


“The Sumner Steam Engines of Everett, Washington”
By Robert T. Rhode, 265 KB, PDF

Brothers Frederick W. Sumner and Thomas B. Sumner were born in Waupun, Wisconsin, and they attended school in Waupun and in Hutchinson, Minnesota, where their family moved in 1867. Hutchinson was a village of log cabins. Thomas apprenticed as a machinist; Frederick, as a molder. Both learned their craft in an iron foundry. The brothers rented a shop in Hutchinson, producing plows, harrows, portable engines, and sleighs. In 1892, Frederick and Thomas took the advice of legendary railroad executive James J. Hill and moved their business and their employees to Everett, Washington. Everett was barely a city back then. Soon, Thomas and Frederick had built a molding room, machine shop, and casting factory. After struggling through the Panic of 1893, the brothers found business so booming that they added buildings. During the 1897 Gold Rush, the firm sold steel mining equipment. The Sumner Iron Works rapidly became one of the largest of its kind on the Pacific Coast. The Sumner Iron Works built saw mills, shingle mills, and donkey engines, as well as machinery to make boxes. The donkeys bore the trade name Miller’s Giant. They had horizontal return-flue boilers from the Oil City Boiler Works of Oil City, Pennsylvania, which, incidentally, was the same company that built the boilers for Erie City Iron Works engines. The yarders had vertical boilers and one or two drums. To Top

The American Patent System and Farm Steam Engines The American Patent System and Farm Steam Engines
By Robert T. Rhode, 4.2 MB, PDF

This article explores four answers to the question of why American farm steam engine manufacturers held relatively few patents: (1) the essential parts of such machines were already in the public domain, (2) builders sought patents only for inventions or significant improvements that distinguished their products from those of their competitors, (3) some builders might have decided not to seek patents so as to keep the precise functions of their inventions out of the public domain, and (4) some few builders might have felt dissuaded to seek patents because of pressures against perceived monopolistic practices.
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Avery Never Brought an Injunction Against A. W. Stevens for Patent Infringement Avery Never Brought an Injunction Against A. W. Stevens for Patent Infringement
By Robert T. Rhode, 1.7 MB, PDF

After exhaustive research, an anecdote that appeared in the Iron-Men Album for July and August of 1956 is proved false. Involving an extraordinary turn of events in the early 1900s, the anecdote has been repeated frequently, but now we know that the alleged events never happened.

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