ARTISTRY IN IRON

Port Huron steam engine

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News Editor, Iroquois County, Illinois, Times-Republic, 1492 E. Walnut Street, P.O. Box 250, Watseka, Illinois 60970. Reprinted with permission.

Frogge and Stuckey show off the restored Port Huron, the product of four years of patience, attention to detail and craftsmanship.

Call him an artist, an engineer and an historian and you're right on all three counts if you're talking about Gerald Stuckey of rural Martinton.

That's because all of these factors played key roles during the past four years as Stuckey, assisted by neighbor Calvin Frogge, successfully restored a 1911 Port Huron steam engine to a 10-ton masterpiece that looks as if it rolled off the assembly line five minutes ago.

Artistry? Stuckey and Frogge took an aging hulk of antique machinery, pounded out the dents, made everything from bolts to brackets, purchased a few used items, removed the rust and applied the paint to what is now a stunningly attractive work of art.

Engineering? The steam traction engine all the way from its boiler, stack and flues to its pistons, gears, bearings and gauges is a beautifully integrated marvel of working parts, and only someone with Stuckey's skilled understanding of every part could have restored this iron monster to full working condition.

History? The steam engine initiated the mechanical revolution of agriculture, and as Stuckey and Frogge overcame multiple restoration challenges these past 48 months, they knew full well they were bringing to life a priceless piece of history that could otherwise be lost forever.

Stuckey has owned this steam engine since 1945.

'That year, I needed some lumber and I knew a friend who had some timber and a saw, but we didn't have anything to run the saw with,' he recalled. 'So I went hunting for an engine to run the saw and I wound up buying the Port Huron from Joe Hamilton, who had it on a farm about three miles southwest of Iroquois.'

Joe Hamilton was the father of Glenn Hamilton, who is one of the owners of Hamilton Brothers Auto Parts in Watseka.

Stuckey said-that in the years immediately following World War II, he used the steam engine for assorted farm chores.

'I used it to tear out hedgerows by tying cable around the trees and then pulling them out with the engine,' he recalled. 'Of course, in the years before that, the engine could be used for operations such as threshing wheat and oats or shelling corn, but I never used it for these purposes.'

By 1945, combines had been developed to take over the threshing operations that had previously been part of the harvest season.

As the years went by, some parts of the Port Huron began to deteriorate, including the boiler. A large hole had rusted through the smoke box section, so in 1991 Stuckey made a decision: he would attempt to restore the engine to its original beauty.

'My first step, of course, was to locate another boiler, and I remember being told that a fellow who dealt in used parts from Port Huron steam engines had a boiler sitting in his pasture near Alma, Michigan,' said Stuckey.

So Stuckey made the trip to Alma (centrally located in that state's lower peninsula, about 45 miles north of Lansing) and bought the boiler.

'Right off the bat, I needed help from a certified boiler man to do the riveting and John Schrock of another town in Michigan Masondid this work for me,' he added.

One of the more time-consuming chores was getting brackets to fit the old boiler.

'Since the used boiler wasn't identical to the original one, everything didn't fit together just the same way,' he explained. 'Many of the brackets had to have holes reamed out to make them fit, for example.'

During the spring of 1992, Stuckey had finished the work on the boiler and then he and Frogge set about one of the most detailed bits of work demanded by the project: making many of the bolts of those special sizes and with particular threads that can no longer be found in stores.

'Some of the lathe work on the bolts and bushings was done by Kurt Moranz of St. Anne,' said Stuckey. 'He had a machine that helped us get the work done more quickly.'

Frogge recalls that work on the steam engine moved along steadily, but there were also a good number of roadblocks.

'There were a lot of nights that Gerald and I went home frustrated because we had run into some sort of problem we couldn't solve right away,' he said. 'But then we'd go home, think about it, sleep on it a bit, and come back the next day with an idea on how to get it done.'

Frogge described his working with Stuckey as 'a real pleasure. Gerald is the sort of fellow who has a healthy curiosity; if he doesn't know how something works, he's curious about finding out. And that's what he would do as we worked on this steam engine: he'd run across a problem, think about it, try another approach and we'd get it solved and then move on to the next part of the job.'

The bottom line in successfully restoring a steam engine, he added, is knowing how steam-powered machinery works and bringing that knowledge to every step of the restoration project.

Stuckey said he and Frogge did the bulk of their restoration work in the early spring before it was time to start planting season.

Sometimes restoring antique farm machinery involves getting rid of a part that no longer works. Here Gerald Stuckey (left) and Calvin Frogge pose with the boiler from Stuckey's original Port Huron engine that needed to be removed before a boiler in working condition could be attached.

'We wanted to do as much work as possible in the winter, but the cold weather often limited what we could actually get done,' he added.

During the spring of 1995, they completed three final chores: overhauling the engine to be sure all moving parts were in working order, painting, and putting the one-ton rear wheels on the machine.

The rear wheels were sandblasted and painted last year and Stuckey said they feature a noteworthy characteristic: the angle of the lugs on these wheels is the same angle that tire companies adopt today in order to secure the best possible traction.

These wheels, which stand approximately six feet high, are made of cast iron and the lugs are part of the cast itself. That is a contrast to some antique farm machinery tires where the tires featured steel wheels with the lugs bolted on.

'It's interesting that people who made these steam engines back in the early years of this century understood traction so well that their design angle remains the same on tires today,' said Stuckey.

To be technically correct, you'd call the restored engine a Port Huron 24-75, indicating that it owns 24 horsepower on the drawbar and 75 on the pulley.

'We were fortunate in that we didn't have to get very many new parts for this project,' he added. 'If you need parts for the restoration of something as old as a steam engine, you'll need to either make the parts yourself or find a shop to make them.'

When Stuckey stands back and looks at his finished product, his sense of pride is understandable.

'There were more than a few times that I wondered if it would be possible to finish this job, but now that it's done, there is satisfaction in knowing that you have successfully preserved a valuable piece of agricultural history,' he said.

What's his next restoration project?

'I have no plans for any more restoration projects, at least nothing this large,' he concluded. 'I do have a 1954 John Deere Model 70 here on the farm, but I still use it for some of my work.'

Stuckey describes himself as semi-retired, but as Frogge might readily agree, this bit of extra spare time may allow both of them to tackle additional restoration work with some of their spare time in the future.

In the fast-growing hobby of antique farm machinery restoration, this pair takes a back seat to no one.