A Trip to Remember

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703 Curtis St. Mason, Michigan 48854

Several years ago, I made a trip to Alberta, Canada, and purchased a boiler for a 110 Case steam engine. About a year later, my good friend Vic Johnson purchased a 25 HP Gaar Scott engine from the Reynolds Museum. Now after these two trips, we had to make one more to get these objects home. Vic and I got to discussing this with some friends from Ontario. Finally after many phone calls, we decided to leave on the third of March.

On the day arranged, Elmer Robinson, Ralph Henderson, and Ralph's brother Donald, showed up at my place and after lunch we left for Vic Johnson's. Now Vic has a real nice 1964 Peterbilt semi tractor and a drop deck trailer, which is what we were going to use. When we got to Vic's, he had a new truck loaded up on the trailer, which he had agreed to haul to Oregon, Illionis to have a spray tank mounted on it for the Napoleon, Ohio company he works for.

We left Napoleon at about 3:00 in the afternoon. I was riding with Vic, and Elmer, Ralph and Donald were following in Elmer's car. It was a dreary afternoon, with some rain and snow; however, with our high spirits and anticipation of another good trip, we knew everything would be okay. We got to the turnpike and headed west. By the time we got to Chicago, we decided we should stop and eat some supper. Now some people don't take the time to eat when they are traveling, but meals are one thing we do not miss. We got quite a laugh out of Elmer because when we pulled into the truck stop, Elmer followed us into the truck lot. When he got out of his car, he decided his was the only car among 200 trucks, and I believe he was right.

After supper, we started west again. This time Ralph rode with Vic, and I drove Elmer's car. We got to Oregon, Illionis sometime shortly after midnight. We had a bit of a problem finding a motel room, but after the third one we tried, we got rooms for the night.

The next morning when we got up, everything was covered with ice, and it was still raining and freezing. Well, the boys from Ontario thought we should hold up until the weather straightened up, but Vic and I decided we should go on. We told them that we would go and unload the truck, and they should meet us at the restaurant for breakfast.

When we got to the plant to unload, we found out that we couldn't get in until after 7:00, so we decided to go back and eat breakfast. When we got turned around, we found that it was so icy, that we couldn't get up the driveway. We just sat there until they let us go to the dock and unload. After we got the truck unchained we had to carry some fine limestone and threw it on the trailer deck so the wheels could get enough traction to get the truck unloaded. By the time we got the truck unloaded, driveway had been salted, and we went for breakfast.

During breakfast we decided that we would go north and stop at Freeport, Illinois to see friends Ron Pieper and Mike Altoff, and Mike's dad Louis. I was still driving Elmer's car and Ralph was riding with Vic. By the time we fought the freezing rain and ice to get to Freeport, it was lunch time. During lunch Vic said that his tractor was breaking traction and he needed some weight on the drive wheels. After throwing around some ideas, we decided to go to Farm and Fleet and purchase a large tarp, which we laid on the trailer over the drive wheels. We bought 2700 lbs. of sand from a ready-mix company, and had it loaded onto half of the tarp, we used the other half to cover it up to keep it from blowing.

We then said goodbye to the Freeport folks and started west and north. We left Freeport via US 20. Now for those of you who are familiar with Route 20 between Freeport, Illinois and Dubuque, Iowa, you know this is not the nicest road to travel when it is icy. We got to Dubuque all right and headed north on US 52. Still driving Elmer's car, I was following Vic in the truck. It was raining so bad that the shutters would freeze shut on the truck, and it would overheat, so Vic would stop and knock the ice off. While we were stopped, we would also clean the ice off the windshield, which the defrosters could not keep up with. After a long day of fighting ice and snow, we finally got as far as Rochester, Minnesota.

The next morning, it was cold and snowing when we started out. We went to Montgomery, Minnesota and waded through about three feet of snow to look at steam engines. By now you realize that there is nothing that a died-in-the-wool steam engine man will not do to get or look at engines. This day the wind was blowing at about 35 or 40 miles per hour, and it was still snowing as well as blowing snow. We would sometimes get into blowing snow so bad that I couldn't see any farther than the back end of Vic's trailer.

We finally got to the Twin Cities and headed west on Interstate 94. When we stopped for lunch at a truck stop, Vic got stuck in the parking lot. I went out to help him, and after a lot of shoveling, we got him out. While we were eating, we decided to go to Forman, North Dakota to look at some more engines. This time I took the lead with the car, because I had been there before.

It is flat across that part of Minnesota and there's not a tree within a hundred miles to slow down that wind. The snow was blowing across the road at about a height of four feet. This made it almost impossible for me to see, so after awhile Vic passed me. Because he was sitting so much higher in the truck, he could see much better. When we finally got to Interstate 29, we decided that we had better forget about going to Forman, and stay on the interstates. We went north to Fargo and then west on 1-94 again. Before leaving, Vic had installed new belts on the truck, and now the belt drives, the water pump, and alternator started to slip.

When we got to Jamestown, North Dakota we stopped for fuel. While we were there, we also tightened the belt. After supper we started northwest on US 52, towards Carrington, North Dakota. We didn't get ten miles until the belt gave us more trouble. Vic decided that the belt had slipped enough so that it glazed over and we would have to put on a new one. We found the little bar that had a good sized parking lot, we parked the truck and went inside. We ordered a drink, and asked the owner if we could leave the truck there until morning. He said there was no problem, so we got into the car and went back to Jamestown. We got hold of the Cummins dealer, and he said they had a belt for us. After we dropped Elmer, Ralph, and Donald off at the motel, Vic and I went and got the belt.

Next morning when we got up, it was clear and cold, about 29 degrees below zero. We ate breakfast and then left to replace the belt on the truck. When we got there, we hooked jumper cables from the car to the truck batteries. While we were letting the batteries charge, Vic and I were changing the belt. When Vic hit the starter, it was so cold it wouldn't release, but before I could get the ether can to give the engine a shot, it did release. The next time I was ready, and the engine started without any problem. It was so cold that the engine oil could not pass through the lubrafiner filter, and started forcing its way past the gasket. It dripped onto the running board, and built up like a stalagmite, to the height of about four inches. After the engine got warmed up and quit leaking, we started on our way.

This time Vic was alone in the truck, and I was driving the car. After awhile I noticed that Vic was rolling along at a pretty good clip. I mentioned this to the rest of the boys in the car, and Elmer wanted to know how fast we were going. I told him we were going just about 80, and he didn't think that was such a good idea. However, we were headed for Crosby, North Dakota to look at more engines, so nothing more was said.

Well, soon Mother Nature intervened again with more snow, and once more we had to change our plans. We decided to forego Crosby, and headed north across the border into Saskatchewan, Canada. As we went through customs, the young lady could not understand why I was driving a car that belonged to Canadians, or why they would go all the way from Ontario to Michigan to get me to come back into Canada. We explained to her that they were from southern Ontario, which is just to the east my Michigan home.

As we were going up through Saskatchewan, we decided we had better split up due to all the bad weather, we were now somewhat behind schedule. Again we got into another one of those blowing snow storms, where you could hardly see.

All of a sudden, Vic pulled over to the side of the road and stopped. We pulled up behind him and I got out and walked up to the truck. About the first thing that I said was, it sure is quiet, and Vic said it's not running, either. I asked him what he thought it was, he said he didn't know, but all he had done was turn on the lights, and the engine died. The first thing he did was crawl under the truck and short across the starter. We found that the engine would crank over, so we knew that the batteries were all right. Now we knew we had lost contact in the main power lead into the cab, and that had caused the fuel solonoid to shut off.

I told him what we had decided about splitting up, with us going on towards Saskatoon, and Elmer and the others going towards Piepot, as there was a boiler there he wanted to look at. Vic thought this was a good idea, so while he was getting some wire to fix our problem, I went back to the car and got my luggage and shaving kit. I worked under the truck, and hooked up the new wire there, and Vic was on the inside of the cab hooking it up there. Elmer had pulled the car up in front of the truck and parked.

All of a sudden, I heard something and looked up in time to see them leaving us sit. Now, here we are sitting along the road, it's snowing and blowing, and still about 20 below zero, not a house in sight, and the truck not running. When we got the wire hooked up, the truck did start without any trouble, so away we went. We got as far as Saskatoon that night. We got a room at a motel, and plugged the truck in, so it would start the next morning. The sand that we had put on in Illinois was one solid chunk of frozen material and there was about two inches of ice and snow on everything. The mirror brackets were about three times bigger than normal.

The next morning you could tell there was a change of weather in the air. It was a little warmer, and you could feel a real dampness in the air. After we crossed over into Alberta, we started to see some ice fall off the truck.

We had a pleasant drive into Edmonton, where we stopped for lunch. When we climbed out of the truck, we didn't even put our jackets on, quite in contrast to the previous few days. After we ate, we went out to load my boiler. We gave the boys who loaded the boiler the sand from Illinois possibly the only Illinois sand in Alberta. When we got the boiler loaded and tied down, we headed for Wetaskewan, where we unhooked the trailer and headed for a motel, and some well deserved refreshment.

The next morning Elmer and the boys met up with us again out at Reynolds Museum, and boy did we razz them about letting us sit along that road when the truck quit.

The boys at Reynolds started up a D-7 Cat, and loaded the engines on the trailer for us. Vic and I then went to a scales and shifted the engine until we were legal, weight-wise. After several tries we were satisfied, and went back to Reynolds, where we slid the engine sideways on the trailer until the left wheel was even with the left edge of the trailer. We then proceeded to remove the right wheel and stub axle from the engine. This enabled us to get the load under eight feet in width, which makes it so much easier than having to get over width permits.

When we were about done tying things down, Elmer, Ralph and Donald bid us goodbye and started for home. Vic and I left soon afterwards. We decided to go back as far as Saskatoon to spend the night. Well when we got there, another surprise they were having a curling tournament in town, and you couldn't get a room within a hundred miles of the place. We reinforced ourselves and started on east; about 2:00 we finally found a motel with a vacancy sign and got ourselves a room. We literally fell into bed, but were kept wide awake by a freight train switching cars. Finally it left town and we slept until 6:30 when we got up and left.

That afternoon we got to Jack Behmish's place. We spent some time with him and his family, then left, getting stuck in the driveway. He had to help us out.

We got as far as Bob Anderson's and stayed there with Bob and his wife that night. The next morning they gave us breakfast and Bob took us to the show grounds at Austin. We looked at all the engines, then hit the road again. We had no trouble getting through customs, as everything was in order.

That night we got into Fargo, North Dakota where we stopped at Larson Welding and had a good visit with Jim and the rest of the boys. Jim loaned us a vehicle so we could go to a motel without having to take the truck. After breakfast, we headed out again. Our goal for that day was to reach Sumner, Iowa and Randy Schwerin's place. We got there in late afternoon, and had supper, and stayed the night. We left there the next forenoon, and we were going to try to reach home that night.

We were making real good time, and everything was going fine, so I thought I would get a nap while Vic was driving. You guessed it, I hadn't been in the sleeper long, when we blew a tire, and I had to get up and help change it. After changing the tire, we headed on down the road towards Chicago again. We stopped on the south side of Chicago, got some fuel and supper, and once more headed down the road towards home. We got to Vic's place at midnight just ten days and 4,000 enjoyable miles since we left. We have had many trips since, of which I will write someday.