Steam Engines I Ever Saw!


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P. O. Box 476 Jamestown, ND 58402

I think the smallest steam engine I ever saw was in a creamery at Hannover, North Dakota. I didn't see the boiler, as it was in a separate room. They were near the lignite beds so I assume that was their fuel. I have no idea of the horsepower, but the engine looked as if, unbolted from the floor, a man might be able to lift it.

I believe the largest was an engine used to run the sawmill on the Red Lake Reservation at Redby, Minnesota. It had a flywheel I would guess was ten or twelve feet in diameter which ran a belt at least 12' wide. I believe that the engineer said it was fifty years old at that time. They ran green sawdust off the chain to the fire. Injector hose, presumably, hung in the lake. With the large diameter flywheel the engine ran so slowly the spokes in the flywheel could be counted. Engineer's wages and some steam cylinder oil was what it cost to operate.

There was work for several men on the mill. It has since been torn down and replaced by an all electric modern mill. It cost thousands of dollars and did away with jobs.

At a later date, I went to a thresher's show in Western Minnesota. The halves of a flywheel were there. The halves were bolted together. I mentioned that I had seen an engine like that at Redby, Minnesota. The man said, 'That is the one.' I never went back after they had it set up.

J. F. Ramage used to be a steam thresher at Langdon, North Dakota. I've heard much of his threshing rigs. I asked Walter, his oldest boy, how many machines his father had run at one time. Walter said four.

Pat Lajisnodiere of Olga, North Dakota, was one of his engineers. One fall there was so much rain the straw got too wet to burn. Jack didn't know how to finish the run. Pat said to go to Olga where they had cleared land to get stumps. He said he knew it would work. They had large racks and three horses each. Pat said there were teams strung out for half a mile. A man was put at each engine to work the stumps down to a size they could put in the firebox. They were oak and ash stumps. The one trip furnished the run. Pat said there are stumps around Ramage's yet.

I will never forget one evening in 1924. I was straw-monkey on Jim McLean's straw burner. There was a dead calm, and the smoke from the engines went straight up, I don't know how high. I was sitting on the tender. I have no idea how far away, somewhere between what I could count in Cavalier County in North Dakota and across the line in Manitoba I counted thirty smokes. It could have been a little either way as counting in that matter I could easily count one or miss one.

One Sunday afternoon Monassa Myers, owner of an undermounted Avery, went west, I presume to saw in Turtle Mountain. East of Hamsboro there is a shallow lake but quite wide. A bridge crossed the lake. I wasn't there, but I believe it was Myers attempting to cross the bridge. The weight of the engine must have driven the pilings deeper. I think he must have backed off. The east end of the bridge would remind a person of a camel's back. Many years later I saw a smaller undermounted Avery. I didn't know they made more than one size.

In 1930 I moved a house out of Turtle Mountain to St. John. It was not too big and a nice looking house. The main part was built of logs with a frame addition on the north side, lathed, plastered and stuccoed. We loaded it. It was in the spring and water came near the surface. We planked the wheels and called for power. Pete Jeanotte, owner of the house, was furnishing that. A fellow came out with two old Minneapolis tractors that looked like they were ready for the junk pile. We were at it all afternoon. We would start, then it would roll back when the planking would sink. We would pick it up and he would try again. The following morning I went to see Pete and asked if there wasn't a bigger tractor or steamer we could use. Went quite aways in the back to Paul Streitzel's. Got Paul out of bed and it didn't take long to make a deal. By the time the boys got water from the lake, Paul had hand holes packed. Where the engine was left, there was lots of dry wood and stumps. Got her steamed up and Paul started out. We had loaded some cord wood to use as fuel. The roads were still soft and the road was narrow. He slipped into a ditch. Had block and tackle in the truck, so we anchored to a tree and soon were back on the road. I don't know how many miles we had to go, but we got to the house about sundown. Paul said we would try her on solid ground, and the next morning we took her in. Paul seemed to run with very little steam pressure. Once, when going up a hill, it stopped and Paul said, 'We'll have to steam her up a little.'

I haven't seen Paul since that one time at his place. His son had the boiler. I mentioned about the steamer. He believed it was a Minneapolis. Looked as if run very little. He said he bought it in Rolla for $ 100 and used it on the farm. He said it costs just 30 cents per day for cylinder oil. I was told much later, by a neighbor of Paul's, that he had an awful time getting home. Bill Leonard, the neighbor, said it took about a week. I don't know why he didn't come to see me. I could have possibly gotten him out as the first time.

Christ Estensen was pulling a house for us. It was higher ground where we had to go, and when the front of the engine got on the higher ground, it started to foam. He threw in a snatch block and cable and put the steamer onto level ground. There was a good woven wire barrier we didn't want to cut, so we had to make short hauls and shorten the rigging. My dad was boss. Fellows from town were offering advice as to better methods. Dad didn't pay much attention and he went to Christ. Christ said, 'We are doing it this way. It is going pretty good and we will keep on this way.'

Henry Henricken ran an engine one fall. There had been rain so he went home. One morning it looked to be fine but they were going to steam the engine. Things went good at first but then they couldn't get more pressure. They were firing with bundles as well as straw. Henry came walking across the field and was told of the problem. He stepped to the side of the engine, opened a valve and could see there was lots of steam. He said, 'I think I would quit firing, boys.' This took the fireman's fork. He tapped the pop valve, it opened. Then he tapped the steam gauge and it flew to an awful pressure. It was so long ago I don't remember the figures. The men started to run. Henry said, 'You don't have to run now. The danger is all over!'

Once I saw an upright marine diesel two cycle. The man who owned it said they hadn't run it lately. Once I ran a sawmill and edger. Hung on a planer, but that was too much. I don't remember horsepower but it was under ten.

A mechanic, Billy Pollock of Dorian, Ontario, bought it. He had a sawmill but an industrial Ford engine. Haven't seen Bill since.