1914 Steam Engine Explosion

Boiler shell

The corner of the house where the boiler shell landed. The explosion occurred 150 to 200 feet beyond the shed. Note that all the fittings are stripped clean of the shell.

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It had been many years since I first heard of the explosion that rocked the countryside two miles southwest of Crete, Ill..

On the morning of July 30, 1914, two young men were firing up for a day of oat threshing when their engine exploded.

The two men, Oscar Kuersten and Fred Schmidke, ages 22 and 24, were killed instantly. One body even had to be extracted from a tree. The boiler shell ripped from the engine and landed 200 feet away. The engine frame and flywheel flew over the house landing in the orchard. Many small fittings were never found.

The Henry Ohlendorf farm, site of this tragedy, is deserted now and most of the eye witnesses are gone. But it is still a third generation legend to many folks here about.

Three probable causes have been given as to the failure of this boiler: jammed relief valve to make more steam, a solid plug instead of a fuse and the correct reason as stated by Mr. Albert Dralle and the late Rudy Klemme was that water was added to a red hot fire box.

The late Gustav Haemker remembered on that hot, dry morning of so many years ago that he was helping his father shock oats when the earth trembled and the sky roared. A cloud of steam and dust hung over the site three days after it dissipated.

The engine belonged to the man whose farm it blew up on (Henry Ohlendorf). The make of the engine has been lost to time, but the wheel hub looks like that of an Aultman.

I hope I have added a little history, however tragic it may be, to the age of steam on the farm.

This sequence of photos were reproduced by a set of glass plate negatives, taken by the late Frank Klemme. On the opposite page a group gathers at the explosion site on the Henry Ohlendorf farm.