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6/1/2009
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Restoring old engines, Part I
Steam traction engines on TV? Could be, at least if the desires of an independent British programming company come to fruition. I've been approached before by would-be TV producers expressing interest in building a show around the subject of old farm equipment, but the few who have contacted me in years past seemed intent on trying to apply the sort of story line used in popular shows like Jesse James' "Monster Garage" to vintage farm equipment. Not much of a fit, if you ask me.

But recently, I received a phone call from Helen Crocombe in England, expressing interest in finding individuals to help their development company produce a program for U.S. TV centering on the very equipment we all collect and restore. What made her different was a stated desire to find equipment that's not only interesting, but, importantly, that has an interesting story behind it. More than just a 65hp Case, her company is looking for a Case with real history, history that brings it alive and relates it to a specific place and time.

That makes the idea a lot more compelling to me, because I'm hard-pressed to believe the average person will tune in to watch one of us as we work through restoring an old Wood Bros. thresher or Keck-Gonnerman traction engine. But if the thresher or engine has a real story, if it can be placed in time doing specific jobs for an identifiable family, then it becomes a living link to the past, a figure in our social, cultural and technological history.

Helen told me they're interested in more than just steam engines, looking for suitable subjects from antique steam boats to vintage buses and cars, and once I brought up the subject, vintage farm engines. Importantly, they want to buy the equipment they showcase, and they're also looking for individuals who can restore equipment and talk about the process in front of a camera. Does that sound like you or someone you know? Contact me directly and I'll be happy to see what we can make happen; it could be a very exciting opportunity.

Restoring old engines, Part II
Just as I finished my conversation with Helen, I was contacted by one of our ad sales folks, who asked if we might know anyone who would be interested in restoring some old engines for Echo-USA, the folks who make chainsaws and other gas-powered equipment for home and commercial use. Turns out the they want to set up a small museum of sorts at their corporate headquarters in Lake Zurich, Illinois. At present they've identified about eight small engines they want to prepare, including a 1958 Kyoritsu Seto-7 (Kyoritsu is the original parent company, founded in Japan about 1950; the Echo name was established in 1978, with U.S. production starting soon thereafter). The Seto-7 is an interesting little engine, as the picture shows, and would make an interesting restoration project. There's also an early Echo chainsaw pegged for display. Contact me directly if you think you're interested in a unique project such as this. -- Richard Backus

Kyoritsu Seto-7 engine
The folks at Echo-USA are looking for someone
to help them restore this engine for a planned mini-museum

Early Echo chainsaw
They're also interested in getting this early Echo
chainsaw restored.



2/2/2009

Ritzman-1971
The man who started it all,
Iron-Men Album founder
Elmer Ritzman, 1888-1971

It’s been a long time coming, and it’s finally here, the new SteamTraction.com website and a new beginning for an old friend.

While old timers are aware of our rich history, many people only recently introduced to the steam hobby and the history of steam on the farm don’t realize that our roots go back to 1946 and Rev. Elmer Ritzman’s first steam hobbyist magazine, The Farm Album. In 1950, Ritzman went from quarterly to bimonthly publication, and The Farm Album became The Iron-Men Album, a name change that underscored his intention to celebrate not just the machinery of the old days and the culture of the farm, but the people who operated that machinery of yore, the Iron Men.

Ritzman’s interest in steam traction engines and the culture of the farm was more than a passing fancy; it was an abiding passion that guided his life. In 1966, his interest in farm machinery drove him to launch Gas Engine Magazine, still America’s only publication for collectors and restorers of gas-powered farm engines. Although Ritzman passed away in 1971 (he was born in 1888, the heyday of steam traction technology), his passion continued to drive the spirit of The Iron-Men Album, and in 2003 it became Steam Traction magazine to increase focus and interest on steam traction engines. Although Steam Traction ceased regular publication in December 2007, it remains today as SteamTraction.com.

With the launching of the new SteamTraction.com, steamers and fans of vintage farm equipment can search through the extensive archives of The Iron-Men Album, Steam Traction, Gas Engine Magazine and Farm Collector for past stories on the history of steam and farm equipment, plus find regular updates on engine and farm shows. We’ll be running regular exclusive features on engines and owners across the country, plus linking to steam traction stories run in the pages of Farm Collector, which you can get to immediately by clicking the “In This Issue” button.

While we have literally thousands of pages of stories loaded into this site, we’re actively adding more. To that end, I’m encouraging everyone in the steam hobby to send us their photos and recollections on steam traction engines. Whether it’s a note and photos from a show you went to 30 years ago or just three weeks ago, we’d like to hear about it so we can share your experiences with the rest of the steam community.

If you’re currently restoring a steam traction engine, we’d like to know about that, too. We can create entire pages dedicated to the engines you’re restoring, and the rest of the steam community can follow along as you pour new babbit or repaint a wheel. You’ll have to supply the photos and the words, but we can do the rest.

We also want to learn about engines in your collection, and we want to hear your questions about steam traction engines. And we’re particularly interested in any pictures you might have of unidentified engines. We might not always be able to identify an engine, but it’s a good bet that somebody in the wider community can, and we’ll all benefit from sharing information and keeping the stream of knowledge flowing.

With your knowledge and help, we can make SteamTraction.com a meeting place for steam traction enthusiasts across the country and around the world, so check back regularly, and don’t forget to sign up for our e-newsletter and editorial advisory boards, two easy ways to stay informed and to have a voice in what we do as we move forward. – Richard Backus





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