North By Northwest Part II

A Twisted Road Leads to Northwest Thresher Mfg. Co.

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Opposite page: This 1913 photo shows a 30 HP Northwest steam traction engine. This is part of August Berg’s threshing rig working near Fort Ransom, N.D. (Photo from the Richard Birklid Collection.)

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Editor's note: This is part two of a two-part series on the Northwest Thresher Co.

Northwest Thresher Co. became the successor to Minnesota Threshing Machine Co. in July 1901. In 1902, the size of the plant was increased, as was the capitalization, from $500,000 to $700,000.

A 1903 advertisement in The Thresher World and Farmers' Magazine touts "The New Giant Engine," the successor to the Giant steam traction engine. The advertisement says there was excessive rain in most localities in 1902, which tested the engine as never before. The result: "It was hard steaming, hard threshing, hard pulling, hard on the flues, hard on the engine and hard on the engineers. The New Giant came through the ordeal without a single failure - without a single defeat. No waiting for steam, no lack of power, no stuck in the mud; nothing but complete satisfaction of all demands made upon it."

The New Giant was claimed to be the most durable boiler on the market. According to Jack Norbeck in Encyclopedia of American Steam Traction Engines, the steel boiler was of 60,000-pound tensile strength per square inch.

The 18 HP and smaller boilers had shells 1/4-inch thick, main flues 5/16-inch, flue sheets and dome sheets 3/8-inch thick. The 20 HP and larger had vital statistics of shells 5/16-inch, main flues 3/8-inch and flue sheets 7/16 inches thick. The 25 HP simple and 30 HP compound boilers were made in three sections, the center 13/32-inch thick and the end sections 3/8 inches thick.

According to Norbeck, "The company made no extra charge for jacketing. The jacket of the New Giant had an extra covering of Russia iron, which made it indestructible, and gave it a fine finish. This prevented the condensation of steam in cold weather and added to the durability of the boiler."

BOILER TESTING

One of the peculiarities of this series of companies was that they required every boiler to be state-tested. A letter signed by a Northwest Thresher Co. employee and dated Jan. 7, 1905, and written to John A. Johnson, governor of Minnesota, says, "It won't make one cent's difference with me who is appointed (steam boiler inspector) beyond the desire to get the best man for the lace, the property and even the lives of citizens is involved in this matter and to this extent it should be every good citizen's privilege, and aim, to do what little he can toward the desired end."

The letter adds, "I understand that Mr. M.E. Mathews and Dr. Conway have endorsed one Lloyd Champlin for this position. Now Governor, what presumption it would be on my part to attempt to try one of my friend Mathews' cases in supreme court, or do a job of tooth carpentering for my friend the Dr., and yet I would be just as well qualified for either job as they are to pass on the man whom they endorse for this appointment."

The letters continues, saying even though the writer doesn't like a certain man, he endorses him for steam boiler inspector because he's very good at it: "Thoroughly posted, thoroughly honest and thoroughly energetic with a pretty good opinion of himself." This man was appointed.

Northwest Thresher Co. engines were steamed up four consecutive days to test them while the boiler inspector looked them over. They were also tested at 50 percent over their steam test, so for the New Giant, which carried 150 pounds steam, boilers were tested at 225 pounds of cold-water pressure.

Standard equipment included sight-feed lubricators, grease cups for bearings along with grease, small tools, poker, scraper, flue cleaner, combination and cast wrenches, chisel, oil cans, packing, and a funnel for filling the boiler. A canopy could be bought.

Norbeck says, "A special safety plug at the forward end of the crown sheet was fitted in the end of a large plug in such manner that the soft metal became exposed while there was still 2 inches of water over the crown sheet, thus assuring absolute safety."

As gasoline and kerosene tractors became a greater part of the market, Northwest bought Universal Tractor Co. in early 1911 for their Universal tractor, "and the business will be carried on hereafter under the name of the Northwest Thresher Company," said the Feb. 28, 1911 edition of Farm Implements, "which will continue to manufacture threshing engines and separators but in addition will make the gasoline traction engine heretofore made by the tractor company."

On February 1912, "Eastern interests" bought Northwest Thresher Co. A Farm Implement News report from 1912 stated, "Since the recent transfer of stock, there has been unusual activity at the plant, and it is reported that the new owners intend to greatly increase the manufacturing facilities." The Stillwater (Minn.) Gazette said, "C.W. Folds of Chicago, the new president of the company, stated that he, with other associates in the east, had acquired control of the Northwest Thresher Co., believing that they could, by greatly increasing the output of the plant, make the enterprise more profitable than it has ever been before." One of those ways was to sell company products in Canada through American-Abell Engine & Thresher Co. of Toronto, "in large quantities." "This arrangement contemplates about doubling the production of the plant at once and making a steady market for the engines produced."

In 1912 a Farm Implements article said, "A dispatch from Stillwater says the Northwest Thresher Co., of that city, are rushing the construction of gasoline tractors to fill big orders, and at the same time are turning out the usual quota of steam tractors and thresher separators. During the winter several hundred gasoline tractors were made for the Minneapolis Threshing Machine Co., but the product now is for the Rumely Products Co., Ltd., of LaPorte, Ind., and will be shipped to Canada. A train of 17 cars left the factory March 13. The dispatch further says that the Rumely Products Co., Ltd., now own the Stillwater plant. Plans are being made for the enlargement of the factory and additional machinery has already been installed in the old buildings. Four gasoline tractors a day are now being turned out."

Six months later, in October 1912, Northwest Thresher Co. was sold to M. Rumely Co. of LaPorte, Ind., and Rumely GasPull tractors were manufactured there for a year until the plant was finally shut down permanently, as far as these companies were concerned, in 1913.

Contact Bill Vossler at: Box 372, 400 Caroline L, Rockville, MN 56369; (320) 253-5414; bvossler@juno.com