The Big Engine COMES HOME

Crew of movers

The crew of movers.

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PO Box 447, Maple Plain, MN 55359

The huge piston slid silently in and out with a faint whisper of sound; its 84 tons of metal was an awesome sight to behold. But, even more inspiring than this giant source of power is the story of its travels from Fairmont, Minnesota, to the White Pine Logging and Threshing Show via Wausau, Wisconsin, and Besemer and Wakefield, Michigan.

This behemoth, a 250 HP Nordberg, was designed and built for the City of Fairmont, sometime between 1901 and 1907 to provide power for their community. It was used until 1944, when it was retired and sold, finally ending up at the Connor Forest Industries, Inc. at Wakefield, Michigan in 1951. It was stored there until 1957 when it was set up and used to generate power for a sawmill.

It was in June, 1985, that the Langenbachs first heard of this engine that now resided at Wakefield. The owners, Connor Forest Industries, were willing to donate it to the Langenbach Museum if they were willing to undertake the moving of it. Bill and Sylvia made many trips to look at the gigantic hunk of power and wondered how they would ever get it apart and moved. Their sons were willing to tackle the job which was a real challenge to them as they had never attempted anything of quite this scale before.

The big adventure finally got underway in October of 1985, after Bill and Sylvia had gone to the shipyard in Duluth to buy a 65 pound wrench taken from a boat in a junkyard there. This was needed to remove the four flywheel bolts which weighed 125 pounds each.

Bill, Sylvia, son John and Steve Kari, a friend, arrived in Wakefield on Friday and were joined by Mike Mahnke, who lived near there. They started work at noon and kept at it until 10 PM. John Gustafson, a fork lift operator from Connors, helped move the pieces out of the building. Another son, Todd and his wife, Diane Langenbach, arrived on Saturday as well as another son Doug, and grandson Steve, who were accompanied by David Haas. All hands worked again until 10 PM. They resumed work on Sunday morning and had all of the pieces out by 4 PM, including the 20 ton flywheel.

Arrangements had been made for a trucker to haul the dismantled engine to the show grounds near McGrath, but he backed out of the agreement after he arrived to pick up the first load on Sunday. So, early Monday morning, John headed for Mora, hoping that Jim Greskia, who had often hauled antique engines for them, would be willing to haul this one too. Jim agreed, and Bill Langenbach accompanied him on the first of the three trips needed to accomplish the move. In the meantime, Doug and John each hauled a trailer load home. The round trip was 424 miles and the last load was delivered just one week from the day the dismantling had begun.

Much of the summer of 1986 was occupied with the challenge of reassembly, pouring the 54 yards of cement, and erecting a building over the big engine. In 1987, they got a boiler from Robert Soule of the Princeton Minnesota Creamery and mounted it. The engine was finally in operation just one week before the show opened.

The Langenbach family consists of over 32 members, headed by Bill and Sylvia, and range in age from 2 months to 71 years. Among the thirteen grandchildren are Robbie and Jeremy, sons of John and Nancy. Like all of this family, they carry their share of the work load of maintenance and organization, from helping with the engines, driving tractors, serving as guides for exhibits, tending booths; and running errands. I remembered the fascination of watching my dad tune his Model T Ford and wondered how these children felt about their family owning this wondrously uncommon source of power to which a Model T was only a very small mosquito in comparison. I called the John Langenbach home one evening, and Jeremy, age 11, answered. I asked him what he thought of the big engine.

'It's pretty neat.' he said in a very matter of fact voice.

Then I asked if he was aware that not many families had the opportunity to own an engine of that size and if he would tell me how he felt about that.

'I guess we are pretty lucky.'
'What do you call it?' I asked. 'Do you have a special name for it?' 'Oh, just Big Engine.'

I talked with him a little bit more and hung up, wondering how many kids would have taken it so much in stride. But then, I thought it was to be expected as the whole family seems to have the attitude that they are just lucky to have it. I think the word to describe it is humility.

For those of you who want to know more about the details of this engine, we submit the following data:
Engine250 HP Nordberg18' wide, 31'long. Flywheel 12' diameter and approximately 18' x 20' thickness. Piston21'. Stroke3'. RPM 150Operating on 150 pounds of steam. Alternator375.3 Amp. 480 Volts, 3 Phase, 60 Cycle. Built by Allis Chalmers of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Wrenches used23/8, 2 5/16', 2, 2' and 5' (weight 65 pounds).

These wrenches were brought by the Langenbachs to use in dismantling the engine. After it was removed from the building, a complete set of wrenches for the engine was found in the pit.

This engine can be seen at the White Pine Logging and Threshing Show 21/2 miles from McGrath, Minnesota, on highway #65, just 28 miles north of Mora on #65, each Labor Day Weekend.