How to Remove a Tree Stump with a 1/2-Scale Steam Engine

Jim Coyle plays a practical joke with his 1/2-scale Keck-Gonnerman on attendees of the annual Central States Thresherman's Reunion

The 1/2-scale Keck-Gonnerman built by Jim Coyle.

The 1/2-scale Keck-Gonnerman built by Jim Coyle.

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This is a story that happened several years ago. My dad told it to me, and it is about my grandfather Jim Coyle. Jim went to that great sawmill in the sky the last day of 1997, but not before he passed on a legacy of steaming, sawing and having a good time.

How to pull a tree stump with a 1/2-scale steam engine

It was Labor Day weekend 20 years ago, and it was time for the annual Central States Thresherman’s Reunion at Pontiac, Ill. Jim Coyle came in on Thursday, as usual, with his 1/2-scale Keck-Gonnerman and water wagon on the homebuilt trailer that was being pulled by his son-in-law’s 1/2-ton truck. As he lit the fire in the 1/2-scale engine and waited for steam to build, he busied himself with unhooking and placing the 1/2-scale portable sawmill that had been towed over from his home the night before.

“I like this place right here,” he declared, indicating a place among the shade trees that covered the 4-H fairgrounds, which hosted the reunion at that time.

“But Jim, there’s a stump right where your engine will have to sit to line-up with the drive belt!” said another old-timer who was watching the whole scene; secretly hoping he had caught Jim in a mistake.

“Well, you’re right. I’ll just have to yank that stump out with the engine,” said Jim, looking at the large stump that was sited where he wanted to put his engine. With that, he walked over to the truck, pulled out a set of log tongs and some log chains, and started laying them out in anticipation for the moment the engine would have built up enough steam to unload and hook on.

By this time he had attracted a crowd of watchers, all waiting to see him pull out this large stump that would give a full-size engine a tough job with only a 1/2-scale!

“Just watch!” he said. With that, he proceeded to back the engine off his large orange trailer and into place amongst the trees.

The onlookers crowded around, surely believing they would have a laugh at his expense. Their jaws must have dropped as he eased the engine forward and pulled the offending stump out with barely a strain!

How to really pull a tree stump with a 1/2-scale steam engine

The joke was on them, you see, because the year before, Jim had come over on the day after the show with his shovel and chainsaw. He dug around the stump and cut it nearly in two, leaving just enough that the lawnmowers would not knock the stump loose during the year.

Then he filled the dirt in around the stump and hid any incriminating sawdust. After all that he went home, waiting for the next year and the perfect time to put his plan in action. It was nearly 100 miles to Pontiac from his home in Woodland, Ill., but I’ll wager the tow over to the show that year was a little shorter, knowing there was a great practical joke in the works. ST 

Read another story about Travis Brown and his grandfather: “Crosscut-Sawing Contest Proves the Importance of Well-Maintained Equipment.”