‘Old Nancy’ a living legend, piece of East Alabama history


By Morgan Bryce

From participating in Opelika’s Centennial Celebration in 1954 to being a prominent display on Auburn University’s campus for decades, the 1905 Case steam traction engine known as “Old Nancy” has never ceased to grab the public’s attention.
Opelika native Steve Sasser shared the steam engine’s story in a recent interview with the Observer.
Purchased in 1906 by Sasser’s uncle J.W. Dupree, the engine was transported from the Case Corporation’s (now known as CNH Global) Racine, Wisconsin headquarters to Beauregard. Sasser’s earliest memories of the engine are seeing the train rusting away in the yard of his aunt Jimmie Whatley, who lived in the Marvyn community.
The steam engine derived its nickname of “Old Nancy” from a steam railway locomotive called “Nancy Hanks,” which traveled along a railroad line between Atlanta and Columbus. For two generations, Old Nancy provided power for the family’s sawmill operation.
In the mid-1950s, the steam engine participated in Opelika’s Centennial Parade and back-to-back July 4 celebrations.
Years later, the steam engine was decommissioned and fell into a state of disrepair.
In the early 1970s, Whatley family members approached Auburn University about lending the steam engine to the institution for repairs and to display on campus, symbolic of the school’s original focus on agriculture. The parties signed a two-page agreement that the engine would be restored and be on public display for a minimum of 25 years on Auburn’s campus. Later, the steam engine was restored, a story spotlighted by several publications.
“‘Old Nancy’ is the story of steam power, engineering and agriculture in America. She also represents the love shared by family and the professors and ag engineer students at Auburn,” Sasser said.
Old Nancy was on display on Auburn’s campus for several years, but later moved to the E.V. Smith Research Center in Tallassee, where it is in present day. Sasser said he is attempting to convince the school to honor its original agreement and return it to campus.
For more details or information about the engine, visit www.stevesasser.me/oldnancy.


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