STEAM ENGINE JIM

Garden Grove

Content Tools

306 W. Anthony, Corydon, Iowa 50060

Garden Grove, Iowa is a friendly little country town about 70 miles south of Des Moines, Iowa. This little town was one of the spots along the Morman trail to Utah where the bands of Mormons put out crops for the next band of Mormons to harvest as they made their long trip from Navoo, Illinois to a new location.

Sometime in the early 60's, I was out for a Sunday afternoon drive and drove through Garden Grove. While browsing around I spotted a yard with 2 model trucks, a Model T sedan and a T coupe. I knew here was someone I had to meet. In a short time I met Jim Smith. In later years, Jim and I were to have a good cry over this meeting. I don't remember what Jim priced these Model T's to me for but I cry because I didn't buy them and Jim cries because he sold them. It didn't take much time in visiting with him to find out he was a steam engine man without a steam engine.

A few years later Jim came into the store where I work and said he had at last got a steam engine, a Case that had been sitting in one spot for 22 years. It was a 60 HP, serial number 30301. It didn't take Jim long to get this engine in shape with new water tank, coal bunker, etc. Jim has been very generous in helping out celebrations around the neighboring towns by bringing his engine and threshing or just driving in parades.

On Labor Day 1975, I heard Garden Grove was having a celebration and Jim was using his engine for the celebration. I drove up to get a few pictures and a write-up for the Iron-Men Album. The day was hot and I found Jim sitting in the shade taking it easy while son, Bob, and grandson, Lyle, were getting the engine ready. Later I did get a picture of Jim and a log cabin he had built within the last year or so. This little one-room cabin is equipped with old time stove, bed and items you would expect to see in such a cabin. Then Jim took me out to a shed to see a gas engine he had bought. It had originally been on an orchard sprayer. Jim thinks the engine is a 'Rin Tin!' Anyway, he needs a magneto for it and says the magneto runs anti-clockwise.

Jim said he started his steam career when a small boy firing an old Northwest steam engine. During his lifetime he has owned 5 steam engines, all Case, two 12 HP, one 50 HP, one 65 HP and the present 60 HP. He said that one of the 12 HP he owned, he never run. Back in the depression 30's he had a sawmill and said a farmer came to him one day and wanted some logs sawed. Jim said the farmer had no money but told him he would swap an old 12 HP Case engine he had on the farm for the log sawing, so Jim traded. He said he went over to the man's place and he took the steering chain because he could make it into a log cabin and a steam gauge. He didn't even think about the whistle and finally a junk man came along and offered him $4.00 for the engine and Jim laughed and said the junk man couldn't even pay the $4.00 until he had wrecked the engine and sold the iron.

Down through the years I have really enjoyed my visits with Jim. In his 78 years, he has seen a lot and heard a lot. While we were sitting in the cabin spinning yarns, he told a humorous story that happened not too many years ago and not too far from here. The story was of a cemetery on a hill that the ground was so hard the grave digging was quite a chore. On this particular occasion, the people who were digging the grave were having so much trouble they decided to call in a local dynamite man to help, thinking that a shot of dynamite would loosen the soil. The man decided it would take two sticks to do the job. Jim said it did but it also did in the brand new tent the undertaker had erected over the grave. Jim is full of yarns like this.

Over the past few years, he has furnished the engine for steam threshing shows for the Decatur County Historical society as a fund raising project. This show in the past has been on farms, but this year it was moved to the fairground north of Leon and 3 more steam engines showed up and it was a good show. I think much credit can be given to Jim for the success of this due to the fact he has had an engine over these past few years and it was always available. Jim's sons and grandson all help him with this engine so all of us steam threshing fans are content that we are going to be able to continue to see steam threshing for many years to come with the help of the Smith family.