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Steam engines a staple of tractor showsSteam engines a staple of tractor shows

Slideshow: The Northern Indiana Power From the Past show highlights the power of these pieces of history.

August 16, 2023

12 Slides

by Allison Lund

A walk through any tractor show leaves visitors thinking about how farming has evolved to what it is today. But those thoughts are typically cut short by the loud blasts of steam being released from the steam engines. These powerful pieces of equipment are still present at most antique tractor shows, and they are sure to draw a crowd.

The Northern Indiana Power From the Past show in July was no exception to this experience. A handful of steam engines stood proudly on display and carried out a variety of demonstrations throughout the four-day show. Volunteers of all ages stayed busy working with these machines to saw logs and thresh wheat — activities that add to those thoughts of how farming has changed over the years.

Tim Shivley of Pulaski County, Ind., devotes most of his free time to caring for his 1915 65-horsepower Case steam engine tractor that he displays at various shows across Indiana and surrounding states. Like many other collectors and enthusiasts, Shivley’s passion for these machines was passed down to him.

“My uncle had an 80-horsepower Case like mine when I was a kid, so that gave me the ‘steam bug,’” Shivley says.

Now that he has owned his current machine for about eight years, Shivley says what keeps him hooked goes beyond the tractor itself. It’s the group of people that comes with it, he explains.

Many hours and miles go into bringing these steam engines to shows so visitors and enthusiasts can continue to enjoy these pieces of history.

“I put 16,000 miles on my pickup in one year, and I would say over 50% of it was steam engine-related,” Shivley says.

Maintenance is key

When he’s not traveling for shows, Shivley emphasizes that regular maintenance is paramount in ensuring that his steam engine stays in good shape.

“It’s a lot of work,” he adds. “Maintenance is huge on these things. If you don’t take care of all the little things, they’re one big thing then.”

The main task is cleaning the machine before storing it over the winter, because ash can eat away at the metal if it’s not cleaned off. Shivley is extremely thorough when it comes to cleaning so he can keep his steam engine in top shape.

“I’ve spent as much as 12 hours in one day making it clean so when I go to bed at night, I know it’s clean for the winter,” Shivley says.

Although steam engines require some time to maintain, Shivley believes it’s important they continue to be passed down for years to come. His reasoning for why the younger generation should care and learn about these machines is short and simple.

“I think it’s history,” Shivley says.

For folks interested in learning about steam engines and possibly learning how to operate them, Shivley says there are a variety of collector’s groups and educational events across Indiana. While a certificate is not required to operate these machines in Indiana, he notes it is useful to have one because many surrounding states require one.

Shivley emphasizes that steam engines should not be feared. They may be big and loud, but with proper maintenance and informed operators, they are safe machines.

“A lot of people are afraid of these, and they shouldn’t be,” Shivley says.

Lund writes from West Lafayette, Ind.

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