Steam Engines Buried Here

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The following article is reprinted with permission from The Farmer/The Dakota Farmer. Elmer Swanson of Larimore, North Dakota 58251 is the author.

If they were to do it today, they probably wouldn't. That is, bury 28 abandoned steam engines as footing for a road across Stump Lake.

But, back in 1930-31, the behemoth machines that once powered threshing rigs and pulled huge plows to turn the prairie soil were plentiful. Those abandoned were rusting in groves and junkyards. Gasoline or kerosene-burning tractors were fast taking their place.

Saving 13 miles in a trip to town was something to consider, though, in those days. That was the distance that could be saved between Lakota, north of Stump Lake, and Tolna, south of the lake, if a road could be built across Wheeler's Pass (also known earlier as Dutch Point and Spoon hill Pass).

Farmers in this area of Nelson County, North Dakota, as well as those living in the towns on either side of the 18-mile-long (east to west) lake, wanted the road built.

So, in the fall of 1929, farmers and merchants gathered in Lakota to lay plans. The road would be built across the narrow, shallow stretch of the mile-wide lake Wheeler's Pass.

Horse teams, pulling Fresno scrapers, would work from either side, pulling gravel and dirt toward the center of the lake. Farmers were to be paid for one of each two days worked.

Then there were the huge steamers volunteered as footing for the road in the deeper part of the lake bed.

The 28-steamers, plus other worn-out machinery, were hauled out on the ice of winter (1930-31). In spring, they rested on the lake bottom. The crews went to work, hauling in dirt and packing it solid over the old machines.

When completed, the road was christened the 'Dutch Point Highway.'

Later, it became a county road and was widened and graveled. The road still serves those who travel through the area13 miles less than the route around the lake. Though the lake area west of the road has been dry during drought years, it fills during the wetter ones.

But how about the antique value of those old steamers? One must remember that, 50-60 years ago, there was no antique market for steam engines. Had there been, the farmers and others in the Lakota and Tolna North Dakota area would have thought more than twice about dropping them into Stump Lake. Reconditioned steam engines, in good shape, now sell upwards from $25,000. A year ago, at Rollag, Minnesota auction, one brought $50,000.00!

Few motorists on the road across Stump Lake, near Lakota and Tolna, North Dakota, realize they are driving over buried steam engines.