A mother of a farm show in Pawnee, Okla.
Oklahoma Steam and Gas Engine Show by the numbers
1968 – The Waukomis Steam Threshering Association held its first show at Waukomis, Okla.
1974 – The club reorganized as the Oklahoma Steam Threshers and Gas Engine Association, moving its show grounds to Pawnee, Okla.
1987 – The club held its first Case Expo, expanding its grounds to the south to give the tractors and steam engines more room. Chaddy Atteberry started the steam engine incline, which became the event’s signature event and has been held every year since.
Mother's Day weekend in May is always a much-anticipated moment for plants and animals alike. It's that short-lived moment in the Midwest between the dreary winter and scorching summer when all of Mother Earth's forces seem to align in unity to throw the well-watered vegetation into a growing frenzy and encourage the birds and other animals to sing their intricate songs of courtship. On this weekend, the celebrations of humans almost imitate their wildlife counterparts as families and friends convene to socialize and honor their own mothers.
The second weekend in May is also a celebration for Oklahoma-bound old-iron lovers because it's that short and rare weekend of the year when steam and gas seem to align in perfect harmony in Pawnee, Okla., for what's billed as the largest antique power show in the Southwest, the Oklahoma Steam & Gas Engine Show. While it doesn't garner the kind of high-profile attention as the Portland, Ind., engine show, the Pawnee show is a hidden gem of the show circuit, and its springtime appeal adds to the delight of everyone who attends.
About 8,000 people attended the 2004 Pawnee show, which featured about 323 exhibitors, 200 tractors, 150 gas engines, 16 steam engines and 20 antique airplanes circling above. The show also featured a saw and shingle mill, a blacksmith, horsepower testing on a prony brake, plowing with a 110 HP Case steam engine and the highlight of every year, the steam engine incline. Gas engines were also on prime display and came in as many different shapes and sizes as their owners. Scale models were represented as well, but oil field engines were more prevalent, reflecting Oklahoma's storied history in the oil boom era of the 1920s and 1930s.
Engines of the Three Amigos
Among the oil field engines was a late-1920s-era 35 HP Superior located in the show ground's power house and owned by Jim Tullis, Steve Dunn and Dale Wolff. The trio of engine collectors found the Superior in a Cushing, Okla., junkyard. At first, Dale wasn't sure he wanted such a big engine, but Jim had a convincing argument for the purchase: The owner wanted to part with it for a mere $200.
The Superior was in great shape, sparing just a little maintenance. But when Dale, Jim and Steve had it shipped on Dale's Mac truck and lowboy trailer, the movers stunned everyone by dumping the engine off the back of the trailer, busting the governor and main bearing cap.
Since acquiring that first Superior engine, Dale says, he's practically knee-deep in them.
"I got seven or eight more Superiors in the works right now," Dale says. "This [area] used to be littered with them out here. These days you mainly just find bits and pieces, but they're out there."
Finding Superior engines is just a perk of Dale's job in the oil industry. He picks up raw crude from various oil sites in Oklahoma and transports it to refineries. In the process, Dale occasionally happens across various old oil field engines. These engines are increasingly hard to find, however.
"At the time I found most of the Superiors, no one was interested in them, but now everyone wants them," he admits. "Now I got people calling me all the time wanting to buy one."
Another beautiful oil field engine located just outside the power house at the Pawnee show was an extremely rare 10 HP Marion Machine Foundry & Supply Co. oil field engine, serial no. 169. Not much is known about the engine firm as it's not listed in C.H. Wendel's American Gasoline Engines Since 1872, and Dale only knows of one other, in Kansas. Produced in Marion, Ind., in the late 1920s, this beauty was in almost perfect condition when Dale happened to find it in a Perry, Okla., oil company's pipe yard. Its deep, brownish patina makes it especially attractive among other newly painted, old oil field engines.
"I knew about that Marion engine for 10 years before I got it," he recalls. "I asked those guys over and over if they wanted to sell it, and finally they did."
Overall, the engine was in very good shape, but the piston was tight. "We kept pulling on it, and eventually it freed up. I wish I could find them all that way." Otherwise, all Dale did was clean it up and attach it to the skid it sits on today.
The new addition to the power house this year was Dale, Steve and Jim's completely restored 65 HP Bruce-Mac Beth Engine Co. vertical two-cylinder, four-cycle engine. It has a bore and stroke of 11-by-14 inches, and runs on natural gas or propane. The engine originally powered an ammonia compressor in a Tulsa, Okla., ice-producing plant beginning in the 1920s. According to Dale's wife, Cindy, the trio of engine collectors burned the midnight oil to get it ready for this year's show.
The three helped pull four of these engines out of the old Tulsa ice plant in 1989. The Oklahoma Steam & Gas Association bought this engine, serial no. 2453, but it sat around for four years until the association sold it to the guys. The engine continued to sit around until last year when they decided to get serious about restoration.
"It was in pretty terrible shape," Dale says, "not because of its time in the factory, but because it sat outside after it came out of the factory. We had to bore the cylinder and make new pistons for it. But the show was motivation to get it done."
John Burgoyne, who immigrated from England in 1965, brought a beautiful British-made 4 HP 1919 Petter Jr. The engine runs at 400 rpm, John says, and is from the first production batch following World War I. Because of this, “Victory” is cast in the cylinder, making it a very special and unique model.
Now a resident of Fort Worth, Texas, John says this year’s show was his third visit to Pawnee and is the biggest show he travels to each year.
John also brought a 1/3-scale Monitor vertical built from plans furnished by Pacific Model Designs of Bend, Ore. As a mechanical engineer, John has plenty of access to his own CNC machinery, which he uses to create computer-exact scale models based on kits. This little Monitor looked about as sturdy as any scale model can be; no doubt it’s the result of a great model builder and some quality machinery.
The Monitor’s plans came courtesy of John’s buddy Bill Keen, who brought his own fleet of full-sized Monitor engines to Pawnee. Bill and John (and three or four others at the Pawnee event) are members of the Granbury Flywheelers, located in Granbury, Texas.
Another treasure in John’s trove is his 4 HP Reeves Pulley Co. gas engine. Most known for its huge prairie-breaking steam-traction engines, the firm concentrated on the pulley business but also produced farm-type stationary engines from about 1910 to 1916. Today, these farm engines are very rare to come by, but John and Bill both own some great examples of the short-lived but quality Reeves Co. engines.
John says his Reeves engine was damaged when he got it, and it required some “innovative thinking” to repair it. The cylinder was completely broken off from the base, so he shaved off the bottom of the cylinder and attached a flange that now is attached to the base. Luckily, that damage occurred early in the engine’s life, and other than a minor problem with the cylinder head, the Reeves was in great condition when John purchased it.
Birds of a Feather
Walking along the rows of engines at Pawnee, a sense of community and familiarity pervaded the atmosphere. Nowhere was this more evident than along the scale-model engine area informally led by veteran model builder Leroy Mayfield of Sand Springs, Okla. Known by many of the scale engine guys as the most talented builder among them, most of his models are the result of his creativity and his drive to do things differently.
“These ideas just start in my mind,” he admits. “I just start drawing them, not in very detailed form, then I refine them as I go. They’re not scale models, either. They’re just ideas.”
One of these ideas included building engine cylinders from Lunkenheimer valves. He says for all practical purposes the valve engine is just like any other engine, but it’s his own personal stamp on a four-cycle engine. “It’s not difficult to understand, just difficult to get everything in the right spot,” he says.
Leroy was joined by his longtime friends Chris Yates, Sand Springs; Darrell King, Jenks, Okla.; Charlie Ripslager, Catoosa, Okla.; and Glen Stevens of Kellyville, Okla. They all set up their tables near each other, often commenting on the others’ collections. A few engines on Leroy’s table were the result of ideas and challenges from his friends. One of them is a four-cycle Atkinson engine that another friend, Charlie Kirker, insisted Leroy build. The Atkinson, in fact, was the engine that hooked him on the scale model-building hobby. Another engine is a Corliss engine kit that includes a three-phase electric generator Leroy modeled after the real thing in Pawnee’s power house.
“Darrell came up with the idea to base it off the power house engine,” Leroy says. “That generator took more time to build than the engine, six months. To get something to turn that slowly and make electricity was extremely hard.”
Leroy doesn’t keep all the engines he makes, nor does he sell them. Instead, he’s given many away to his friends at Pawnee because they all work together on these projects and challenge each other in one way or another. These days, however, Leroy’s hesitant to do too much.
“I know why these surrogate mothers hate to give up their kids,” he admits. “These guys want me to make a compressor engine, but I tell them to do it themselves. I just can’t go through all that heartache just to give it up. They keep coming up with these ideas, but I don’t want to do it. But I probably will end up doing it after all.”
Speaking of compressor-engine conversions, Leroy’s buddy Glen displayed a stunning conversion of his own. Made this last winter after he was inspired by the February 2004 Gas Engine Magazine article about Robert Best’s Au-To air compressor, Glen’s compressor reflected the bright sun light off its polished brass, demanding the attention of most anyone who happened by. Glen cast the flywheels and fabricated the head with the help of Leroy and Chris, and the results are pleasing.
Chris exhibited his own spit-polished brass beauty as well. It’s a 1/2 HP Standard Cream Separator engine that he fabricated many parts for, including the flyball governor, gears and latch-out mechanism. The original engine was throttle-governed, Chris says, but he and Leroy couldn’t find a picture of the engine’s governing system, so the pair decided to make it their own version of a hit-and-miss engine. Another buddy, Ron Meyers, did the engine’s pinstriping based on experience from his years working on street hot rods. The finished product is nothing short of eye-popping.
“All the real fancy work came from Leroy,” Chris admits. “Leroy can build anything and everything.”
The two friends have known each other for 15 years, and the elder engine statesman admits he’s preparing his younger protégés to replace him some day.
“I’ve built some stuff for these guys,” Leroy says. “In the beginning, I had the knowledge and the other guys had the strength. But I showed them how to do it. I’ve done a bunch of teaching for the other guys.”
Leroy, who says he’s been coming to Pawnee for 16 or 17 years, worries the day is coming when he’ll be too old to make the annual trip. His interest in teaching his Pawnee friends partially stems from the realization he’s getting older, and he wants to pass on what he knows so the next generation retains his knowledge.
“Leroy keeps saying every year will be his last, but every year when show season starts he gets antsy, just like we all do,” Chris jokes.
Maybe it’s the beautiful spring weather and the festive Mother’s Day attitude that makes this event such a joy to attend, or maybe it’s the great variety of steam and gas that draws people each year. In any case, if it can continue to draw the likes of master model builder Leroy, an English engineer and rare oil field engine collectors such as Dale, Steve and Jim to this event each year, Pawnee will continue to be a “Mother of a Show” for many years to come.
Contact the Oklahoma Steam & Gas Engine Association at: P.O. Box 472, Pawnee, OK 74058; (918) 762-3881; www.oklahomathreshers.org