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Not Losing Steam

Shannon Wetzel

Steam Tractor

Over the weekend, our family attended a local threshing bee and steam show. Basically, it was a small fair of antique agricultural equipment and steam-powered machinery, many of which were in operation. We watched in awe as steam-powered shovels, tractors, threshers, saw mills, and flour mills puffed away. As my husband took in one of the largest pieces of equipment—a giant Corliss steam engine, he turned to me and without sarcasm said, “Shannon, there’s a lot of castings in here!”

I’m often pointing out castings in everyday use to friends and family, resulting in many eye rolls, but it’s starting to rub off. To the lay person, castings don’t seem that exciting at first. But then you start to notice them everywhere, and the applications they are used in turn out to be fascinating. Throw in a bit of historical perspective—steam power has waxed and waned but the casting process has been around for centuries and continues to be a major building block of our world—and an appreciation for metalcasting is born.

Even though we were looking at antique machinery, the castings we saw made me think toward the future of this industry. In one hundred years, a rural antique tractor club might be holding a fair of equipment circa 2010. Like the steam-powered tractors I saw last weekend, the “antique” tractors a century from now will still feature a signicant amount of castings. In 2112, tractors may run on something other than diesel power. Maybe the internal combustion engine will have been replaced by then. The parts will have changed, and maybe the alloys will have evolved. But I’d bet my house the hard-working machines will have castings.