SHERIDAN — For nearly as long as he can remember, Kory Anderson wanted to see an original Case 150-horsepower steam traction engine road locomotive. Only a handful of the rare, powerful engines were built in the early 1900s.
“It was my goal to one day see one,” Anderson said. “Then as I got older, I realized probably the only way to see it was, ‘We’re going to have to build it.’”
Now, Anderson and Sheridan residents Gary and Mike Bradley have recreated the machine, the largest and only one of its kind in the world. They fired up the engine for the first time Saturday afternoon. The locomotive will soon be taken to Andover, South Dakota, for an exhibition Sept. 7-9 and will remain there indefinitely after the show.
J.I. Case Threshing Machine Company developed and built the first 150-horsepower steam engine in 1904 in Racine, Wisconsin. Steam engines were popular from about 1900-1925 for farming and use in saw and lumber mills.
The 150-horsepower engine was only built for two years because it was too bulky to work effectively. It is a two-speed machine capable of moving a little more than 5 mph in high gear and 2.2 mph in low gear.
Saturday marked the culmination of more than a decade of work for Anderson. The process began in 2006 when he traveled to Case headquarters and received copies of the original 150-horsepower blueprints and began studying how to replicate the century-old machine.
For about the next seven years, Anderson, the owner of Anderson Industries, an engineering and manufacturing company based out of North Dakota, designed the pieces in his spare time using a computer program. He then cast them in a foundry in Webster, South Dakota, before bringing them to Sheridan to be machined and assembled. Anderson said he made between 15 and 20 tons of castings over the years for the contraption, which weighs about 34 tons total and cost a little more than $1 million to create.
Anderson machined a few parts in March 2017 in Gary Bradley’s shop. Shortly after, Bradley said to keep bringing the parts, and the entire machine was assembled in Sheridan. Anderson resides in Fargo, North Dakota, and drove to Sheridan once per month over the past year-and-a-half, staying for about a week at a time. He’d stop at the foundry, load up the castings, then come to Sheridan to machine the parts.
Assembly began about six months ago and continued nearly nonstop until completion. Gary Bradley estimated he worked on the project for about 3,000 hours over the years. The Bradleys said the process went smoothly thanks to Anderson’s precise designs and castings. The colors even match the original design for the tractor. Everything was built from scratch except the machine’s boiler. The steam traction engine stands about 25 feet long and 12 feet wide, with front wheels 5 feet tall and back wheels standing 8 feet in the air.
The duplication of the ancient machine entailed a labor of love, born out of a passion for a hobby that was passed down by families and friends.
Kory Anderson’s father, Kevin Anderson, started teaching Kory about the engines the day he was born. Kevin Anderson became interested in the topic because his neighbor had one.
“I’d sneak out of school and go play on that engine and always got in trouble with the teacher, and my mother,” Kevin Anderson said. “There just was a natural attraction to them, always loved them.”
Jack Beamish hails from Manitoba, Canada, and was always fascinated by steam engines as well. He said his ancestors began working with steam engines in 1879. Beamish learned how to fire an engine at age 8 with help from his father and uncle, and he passed that onto his son, Colin. The two were on hand to help fire up the engine Saturday.
Gary Bradley’s father, Don Bradley, is 96 and one of the oldest people alive who made a living using steam engine vehicles. Gary passed down the interest to his son Mike.
Mike Bradley said it will be cool for older engineers to see the powerful old machine in-person.
“[The 150-horsepower] was almost a myth,” Mike Bradley said. “It took all the advanced technology of today to reproduce this. It blows my mind what they were able to do back in the day.”
Anderson said the older generations were his main motivation to see the project through.
Jack Beamish certainly appreciated the efforts.
“I never thought I’d live long enough to see one of these,” Beamish said. “This is the Titanic of the steam engines. That’s quite a thing to resurrect one of these. Very few people would ever be able to do something like that. I’m sure it’ll never happen again.”
The completed steam traction engine signifies a dream come true for Anderson and many family members and friends, and a piece of history was reborn in Sheridan.