Auburn Family

I’ll bet you don’t know “Old Nancy”?

She is one of the college of agriculture’s best kept secrets. “Old Nancy” is a 1905 J.I. Case steam tractor, currently housed in the Seed Technology Building.

Above: "Old Nancy" at work; Whatley on the tractor.

She was bought and cherished by Dupree Whatley from Beauregard. Whatley admired the same model tractor displayed at the 1905 world fair in St. Louis. After the fair, he wrote home about it on a postcard with a picture of the tractor. In 1906 he bought one himself and went to work.

Whatley named her in honor of Nancy Hawkins, the steam powered passenger train, which ran between Atlanta and Columbus.

The “Steam Age” antique was passed down through the Whatley family and used to run a sawmill until the 1950s. After a few years of sitting in the Whatley’s field, Auburn's Dr. Gene Rochester frequently noticed the aged tractor and spoke with the family about donating it. The treasured engine was soon donated to the University in the mid-1970s.

When “Old Nancy” was donated, she was dissembled, cleaned and restored by the Student Branch of the American Society of Agricultural Engineers (ASAE) under the guidance of professors. The entire renovation process stretched from January 1974- February 1978.

To this day, the historic tractor is seen as an icon for the Agricultural Engineering Department. 

Above: Walter Clemons, local steam engine professional, and AU students dissembling the tractor around 1974.

"Old Nancy is an excellent reminder of our past and how engineering and technology advancements have improved the life of rural society," said Dr. Steven Taylor, P.E., Professor and Department Head of Biosystems Engineering.

Dr. Taylor said that the student's help in restoring the tractor was a great way for them to learn while participating and being involved.

In its time, the Case steam tractor was one of the most powerful pieces of equipment around. Just as our cars and the tractors today are run on gasoline, the Case steam tractor was run on a steam engine.

The steam engine was powered by a furnace, which in "Old Nancy's" case used wood or coal. The furnace heated the water to its boiling point, then steam built up in the steam chest. Pressure from the steam chest was directed to a piston, causing the fly mill to spin. A band connected the fly mill on the tractor to another fly mill on a different piece of machinery to generate power. In the Whatley’s case it, was a sawmill. 

Below: Displayed at '99 Ag round-up

There are very high dangers of running a boiler because pressure can build up, causing an explosion. On account of the safety issues, the state's boiler regulations call for certain guidelines to permit the tractor to run.

“Old Nancy” is annually on display at Ag round-up. ASAE will also be hosting a rally of regional schools on April 4-6; showing the tractor the first evening.


Interested in attending Auburn University? Please visit the Future Students page. Also, consider visiting Auburn for a Tour. We want you to join the Auburn Family … so Apply Now.

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