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It’s full steam ahead —

By Staff | Jul 24, 2009

Katie Holmes works on her steam engine, a 2.1 scale model of a 65-horsepower K steam engine on her family’s farm in rural Clarion. Holmes’ hard work paid off as her steam engine made it to the Iowa State Fair from the Wright County Fair. The engine was built by hand by Holmes’s great-grandfather H.R. Carr in 1957.

EAGLE GROVE – Steam engines are part of the Holmes’ family heritage, and Katie Holmes, of Clarion, continues the family tradition.

The Dayton Lake 4-H Club member restored pieces of a two-inch scale model replica of a 65-horsepower K steam engine.

“I had to rebuild the eccentric, get rid of all the rust, and refinish lost motion in the linkage,” Holmes said.

All of these are small intricate parts of the larger engine that Katie Holmes’ great-grandfather built by hand.

“The model’s been in the family for 52 years,” said Jerry Holmes, Katie’s father. “It’s a very priceless piece.”

Katie Holmes poses with the 2.1 scale model of a 65-horsepower K steam engine on her family’s farm in rural Clarion. Holmes’ hard work paid off as her steam engine made it to the Iowa State Fair from the Wright County Fair. The engine was originally built by hand by Holmes’s great-grandfather H.R. Carr in 1957.

The great-grandfather was a conductor on the Great Western Railroad for decades. Jerry Holmes said his grandfather drove as far as Omaha, Neb., and Oelwein. While his route never seemed far from home, great-grandfather’s job was the ultimate on-call.

“It wasn’t until the end of his career that he was given a regular route,” Jerry Holmes said. “Before that the family never knew when he’d be home. When he was home, they were never sure when he would have to leave again.”

So, in 1957, Holmes retired and concentrated on finishing his own steam engine. It took three years. When he passed away in 1963, Jerry Holmes became the heirloom’s owner.

“We are the fifth generation to work on the engine, and I will hopefully pass it on to Katie,” Jerry Holmes said. “She really likes it.”

Ever since she could walk, Katie Holmes remembers watching her Dad work with the steam engines.

“I started out helping my Dad run the engines by filling them up with water,” Katie Holmes said. “I’d get the hose and fill up the cups whenever I was told, and my favorite was my great-grandfather’s.

“When I was six, Dad steamed it up one day in the yard, and I thought it was the coolest thing ever because it was just my size. It was so easy for me to fill it with water. We called it the Katie-sized engine.”

Over time, use wore on the engine and the Holmes noticed a knocking sound and decided to give it a tune up. Katie thought it would be a perfect opportunity for a 4-H project.

First she completely rebuilt the eccentric, a small piece inside the linkage that deals with the engine’s timing.

“The eccentric is surrounded by two copper pieces,” Katie Holmes said. “It moved too much between the copper and made a knocking noise. So I had to remake it and then retime the engine.”

Katie Holmes then rid the machine of rust and refinished the lost motion in the linkage.

“A couple of pins in the linkage were worn down from years of running the machine,” Katie Holmes said. “So I remachined the pins to proper size which reduces the motion in the linkage and the engine runs more smoothly than before.”

The steam engine can run on either wood or coal. The Holmes said they prefer wood because it is cleaner.

“Anytime we cut down limbs, we use them for steam engine wood,” Katie Holmes said. “We even cut up old seed pallets.”

At the fair, though, Katie Holmes used compressed air to showcase her project. She received a purple ribbon and the honor of qualifying for the Iowa State Fair 4-H Youth Exhibit Building.

While she is thrilled with the honor, Katie Holmes is just excited to continue running her steam engine at shows in the state.

“It’s the coolest thing ever to have this engine,” Katie Holmes said. “I’ve rarely seen this model, and it’s unique in that it has copper boiler and blue sheet around the boiler. I think it’s just the coolest little engine there is.

“Not many people, let alone a teenager, know how to work or run a steam engine, but I can do it by myself. I run them while my dad helps with the water or wood.”

Contact Lindsey Ory by e-mail at lindsey.ory@hotmail.com.

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