Rural Delmont man will show off restored 1916 steam tractor at Wagner paradeDELMONT — At first look, Allen Villmow’s 1916 Case 80-horsepower steam tractor looks like a steam locomotive without rails — which is pretty much what it is.
By: Ross Dolan, The Daily Republic
IF YOU GO
WAGNER — Allen Villmow’s steam tractor will be one of the entries in Monday’s 112th annual Wagner Labor Day Parade. The parade is the climax of a busy three-day weekend that features everything from a pedal pull to cage fighting. The parade, with the theme “Leisure Times,” will feature honorary parade marshals Jim and Shirley Leines and parade emcees will be Dave Isebrands and Ken Cotton. The keynote event will be preceded with a flyover by Dakota Aircare.
Other Monday events include:
• 12-2 p.m., “Show and Shine” car show, Wagner Lake.
• 1-4 p.m., Historical Society hospitality, one-half block west of the National Guard Armory.
• 1:30 p.m., Kids Money Sand Pile, Wagner City Park.
• 2-4 p.m., Wagner Labor Day Cruise, Wagner Lake.
• 5 p.m., Season Racing Championships, Wagner Speedway.
More info: cityofwagner.org.
DELMONT — At first look, Allen Villmow’s 1916 Case 80-horsepower steam tractor looks like a steam locomotive without rails — which is pretty much what it is.
In its first public appearance, the 14-ton Case — repainted, restored and resplendent — will be a towed entry in the Wagner Labor Day Parade on Monday.
The revamped Case will then be a working, fire-breathing featured attraction in Delmont’s Sept. 8-9 Old Time Harvest Festival. The festival combines two events: the 16th annual Kuchen Festival and the ninth annual Twin Rivers Old Iron Association Festival.
A long-time resident of the Delmont area, Villmow spent the better part of this year putting the final restoration touches on the Case, which he purchased last September.
“It took longer to finish up than I thought,” he said.
It’s everything he hoped it would be: big, dignified, powerful and impressive.
Villmow, 63, won’t say how much he paid for the Case, but he gave a hint.
“Let’s just say I could have gotten a brand new pickup for what I paid,” he said. And that’s not counting the costs of accessories and a lowboy trailer to haul it.
But this is romance, not dollars-and-cents logic. For Villmow, working on the tractor has been a labor of love.
Case steam tractors are a part of farming history. The wood-burning behemoths crisscrossed the Great Plains in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, cutting their own tracks through the thick prairie sod.
The tractors, depending on their size, were powerful enough to pull a five- to 10-bottom plow at a top speed of 2.5 mph. Being able to plow a field 10 rows at a time was a revolutionary concept at the time.
Villmow, who has lived and farmed near Delmont for nearly four decades, said he’s admired the giant tractors for years and finally decided to take the plunge into steam power when a collection of Case tractors went up for sale in the small, central Minnesota town of St. Stephen, about 15 miles northwest of St. Cloud.
The owner assembled a hoard of 50 Case tractors prior to World War II and went to extraordinary lengths to preserve his collection.
“My tractor had been partially restored, but before that restoration, it had sat outside since 1930,” Villmow said.
And there it was, in an open field, exposed to the elements, its 74-inch high, 24-inch-wide rear drive wheels buried up to their hubs in mud and silt, until the tractor’s reclamation nearly a century after it was built.
The owner kept his collection of Cases intact, Villmow said, by citing false mortgage papers as a ploy to keep iron mongers at bay during World War II. The iron scavengers prowled rural areas, aggressively seeking scrap metal for the war effort. Refusing the collectors was seen by some as unpatriotic.
The old Case tractor looked like just the sort of junk they needed, Villmow said, but the collector assured them the tractors were mortgaged assets and could not be sold. The scheme worked.
Steam tractors eventually were replaced by their more convenient gasoline-powered counterparts early in the 20th century. Gas tractors are ready for work in minutes, but it takes time to collect wood and water, fire up the boilers and build a head of steam.
To Villmow, however, it was worth the wait.
South Dakota boiler inspectors used ultrasound technology to check out the thickness and condition of the nearly 100-year-old boiler, which is made from riveted 7/16-inch iron plates.
“They said the boiler was in excellent condition, especially for the age of the machine,” Villmow said.
It’s more than a big kettle, but the principle is the same. The boiler creates steam that drives a piston, which in turn moves the tractor.
From the outside, the tractor’s boiler is just a horizontal black cylinder with a smokestack, but the inside, which is lined with 53, 8-footlong flue tubes, is a huge heat exchanger. The tubes are surrounded with water. Heat from the firebox flows through the tubes and boils the water surrounding them, creating the needed steam to make things go. Water is supplied from a 250-gallon water tender attached to the rear of the tractor.
South Dakota and Minnesota require regular boiler inspections, but Minnesota also requires people who operate steam-powered equipment to attend steam school.
In June, Villmow attended a two-day steam school in Rollag, Minn., and he’s glad he did.
“I really felt like I needed it,” he said. “I didn’t know much about steam, and they really stressed safety and what to do if something goes wrong.”
The important thing,” Villmow said, “is to not let the boiler get too low on water.”
The steam boilers on tractors, if not correctly maintained and operated, can become bombs on wheels. With the help of a buddy he met at Rollag, Villmow fired up the restored tractor for the first time this week.
He promised the tractor will be running Sept. 8 and 9 for parades at the Twin Rivers show grounds, just west of Delmont.
As a rookie steam engineer, he will be doing only basic maneuvers.
“I’m pretty green,” he said with a smile. “I’m going to hold off on plowing and thrashing demonstrations until I’ve had more running experience.”