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The Mysterious Case SI

Author Photo
By Kirk Unzelman | Mar 1, 2003

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Kirk Unzelman's 1948 Case SI, serial number 5212750, after restoration.
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I have restored a wide variety of antique farm equipment in the
last few years, and each project has given me the satisfaction of
seeing a proud and sturdy piece of machinery put back to shape
performing its original function. Except for one item: A 1948 Case
SI tractor.

It’s not that the restoration didn’t go well, because it
did. After a lot of cleaning, fabrication of missing parts,
painting and carburetor and clutch work, the tractor looks and runs
just fine. The problem is I can’t figure out what it was used
for, and I’m hoping an alert Gas Engine Magazine
reader will be able to fill me in on the details. But first, some
background.

The Case SI

I found this tractor in the vicinity of Mt. Rainier in
Washington. The seller had bought it from someone who had tried to
use it as a garden tractor, with understandably poor results. After
getting it home and cleaning it up, I found that it was a 1948 Case
SI, serial number 5212750. It sits on spoked steel wheels, the
rears wearing extension rims fastened with cleats, and it
doesn’t have a three-point hitch or a PTO – and it doesn’t
have a belt pulley, either. Instead, at the pulley location there
is a two-speed gear box, which has this imprint:

A copy of the Case SI’s original build card, which confirms
the tractor was equipped with steel wheels and was shipped to the
Evans winch company.

The Case SI as found. The original silver paint, as well as some
of the original decals, is still visible. Note the adjustable,
two-position pan seat.

A L EVANS WINCHES GLOUCESTER VA ENGLEWOOD NJ

The original paint appears to have been silver, with decals – my
research shows the SI usually shipped with the traditional Case
Flambeau red/orange color, or occasionally olive drab. Further, the
tractor has a very prominent ‘Old Abe’ eagle cast into the
differential housing, and a very prominent ‘CASE’ embossed
into the radiator housing.

I have found mention that some steel-wheeled Case SIs had
winches, but all the ones that I have investigated have had
PTO-powered winches, while mine seems unique in having a winch (or
other accessory) powered from the pulley shaft. In my discussions
with other tractor enthusiasts, I have heard many suggestions about
the possible uses of tractors of this type, including; a lumber
mill tractor, a foundry tractor, a barrage balloon tractor, a
loader tractor, a beach tractor and others. The rear wheel
extensions are sometimes referred to as ‘sand wheels’ and
may indicate the tractor was intended for use on the beach or sandy
or soft soil.

Researching this tractor, I found that while the Case S family
(including the agricultural SC) was quite popular, Case produced
only about 4,800 SIs between 1941 and 1954. In the first few years
of production they had a heavy leaf spring on the front end and a
rounded grille, while in later years they used a rigidly mounted
I-beam axle and a flat grille, like mine. For 1948, production of
this tractor was a mere 450 units.

My research got a real boost after I contacted the Case factory
and the staff there located and sent me a copy of the ‘build
card’ for my Case. The card says that the tractor was
manufactured on May 20,1948, and confirms that it was equipped with
steel wheels when built. It was shipped the following day to the A.
L. Evans Winch Co. in Gloucester, Va. The staff also told me my
tractor was one of 100 identical units shipped to Evans the same
day and on the same order.

In addition, the Case factory was able to provide operation and
parts manuals for this tractor, and the parts list includes page of
parts specific to the ‘Evans’ tractors, but with no
explanation of its purpose. So far, I have not been able to find
any information about the Evans Winch Company.

View of the magneto side of the Case. Note the extension rims on
the rear wheels, which are held on by the cleats only. The tractor
was supplied with a hand crank, in addition to having an electric
starter.

The lack of a 3-point lift and PTO shaft, and the unusual brake
rigging running across the back of the tractor, identifies it as an
industrial type. The absent PTO makes room for a large cast image
of the famous Case ‘Old Abe’ eagle. The dashboard, steering
wheel and fuel tank are identical to the Model SC.

Close up shot of the Evans winch gearbox mounted where the belt
pulley would usually go. The gearbox is a two-speed with neutral.
The original shift lever had a welded extension, which has been
removed.

Close up shot of the belt pulley Kirk fit to the Case SI by
using a chain drive from the winch gearbox. Kirk found an old Case
pulley and used a pair of flange-mount pillow blocks to support the
shaft. A #60 chain and a pair of sprockets transmit the power, and
the two-speed gearbox gives a choice of pulley speeds.

Steel Wheels in 1948?

Now we get to the real puzzle: Why would a 1948 tractor ship
with steel wheels? Why were 100 identical tractors made? If there
was a special application, what was it? Was the winch gearbox used
for a winch, for a sweeper, a loader, a crane or some other
purpose? There was a tractor known as the Case SI Airborne, and
some hard-rubber-tired SI tractors were used as airport tugs. I
have also seen some tractors of this era with winch-operated cranes
mounted on the front end. In addition, Case made a hydraulic loader
tractor they called the Model 30 Powerloader, which used the SI as
the power unit – but none of these seem to match my tractor.

One speculation is that these SI tractors were sent to
Gloucester to be fitted with the winches, and then shipped to a
single, large customer. But 100 tractors seem like too many for a
farm – or even an industrial outfit – and I think these might have
been built for government or military use. There are a number of
Navy installations near Gloucester, and these tractors could have
been destined for one of those bases. And how did this tractor end
up in Washington state? I still don’t know.

The Rest of the Story

I couldn’t stand to see the winch attachment go unused, so I
added a sprocket to the winch gearbox and built a shaft support on
the front of the tractor. The shaft has a sprocket at one end to
carry the chain from the gearbox, and a nice, wide belt pulley at
the other end so I can run any belt-powered implements I have. By
coincidence, the belt pulley is an original Case unit with the
‘Old Abe’ emblem cast in the spokes. I also built up a
safety guard and fabricated another Case logo and eagle emblem from
steel to give it an authentic look.

Now that it’s finished, my Case SI is capable of doing some
useful work again, but I am looking forward to hearing from anyone
who knows the original purpose of the Evans winch attachment.

The Origins of ‘Flambeau Red’ and Decoding Case Serial
Numbers

Flambeau Red

In 1939, the J. I. Case Co. announced a series of new tractor
models carrying a strikingly different color from the previous drab
gray. The new color was called ‘Flambeau Red,’ a name taken
from a Wisconsin river, the Flambeau, which was home to the
legendary eagle Old Abe, who became Case’s trademark. Flambeau
is French for a flame or a type of torch that burns with a bright
red glow. The color remained a distinctive color for Case for over
a decade.

Decoding Serial Numbers

From 1939 to 1956 Case tractors used serial numbers with the
date coded in. For six-digit numbers, decode by using the first and
fourth digits of the number as the starting point, then subtract
three to get the final date. For seven-digit numbers, take the
first two digits of the number as the starting point and subtract
four to get the date. For my tractor, the number 5212750 gives 52
for the first two digits. Subtracting four gives 48, giving the
build year as 1948.

Kirk Unzelman has been, at various times, a cowboy, rancher,
farmer, army medic, truck driver and mechanic. Contact him at: 4635
130th Ave. S.E., Bellevue, WA 98006

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