High Country Adventure for Antique Gas Engines

Jordan Meeker scours mining camps in British Columbia’s backcountry for antique gas engines

| May 2012

  • Fairbanks-Morse 12 hp
    A Fairbanks-Morse 12 hp hoisting engine was found at the site of this deteriorated shack. Abandoned mining camps sometimes offer a trove of relics. “Miners were transients,” Jordan says. “They just walked away from things.” Ironically, the things they left behind are now Jordan’s most cherished possessions.
  • 1899 Fairbanks-Morse 22 hp
    Just beginning to dig an 1899 Fairbanks-Morse 22 hp compressor engine out of a tailing pile. Note the crankshaft standing at back.
  • 1899 Hercules 6hp engine
    The base of this 1899 Hercules 6 hp engine was located at a silver mine’s blacksmith shop, where it was used to drive a line shaft.
  • Altitude 7,000 ft
    At 7,000 feet elevation, Jordan found a Fairbanks-Morse 12 hp sectionalized hoisting engine (at the snow line in the center of this photo). The engine’s flywheels were manufactured in sections so that no piece of the engine weighed more than 300 pounds, the weight limit for transport by mules.
  • 1897 Weber 5 hp
    The 1897 Weber 5 hp as Jordan found it when he came around a bend in the trail. “I let out a cry like a little girl who dropped her ice cream cone, dropped my trusty Winchester and proceeded to dig like a man possessed,” he recalls. “It was just like Humphrey Bogart in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. I had to stop myself to take pictures and document it.”
  • Packing the 1899 Hercules 6 hp
    Retrieving the 1899 Hercules 6 hp at 7,500 feet elevation, Jordan had no option but to pack the cylinder about 1-1/2 miles to his truck.
  • Loading 1939 Fairbanks
    Loading a 1939 Fairbanks-Morse 150 hp diesel engine. An extensive network of logging trails over southern British Columbia provides relatively easy access to the backcountry. “The trails are everywhere,” Jordan says. “It’s a curse and a blessing.” 
  • Truck and Trailer
    Who needs a trailer anyway? Getting a truck and trailer up a logging trail proved impossible, so this 1912 Fairbanks-Morse 60 hp Type N was loaded directly on the fifth wheel and the truck was backed down the trail to the roadway.
  • 1897 Weber
    Hauling out the 1897 Weber on an old trail: “I stuck a wheel and handles on the base and it made a handy wheelbarrow,” Jordan says.
  • Crankshaft Remnants
    The 1899 Fairbanks-Morse 22 hp, showing the crankshaft attached to the large gear wheel and remnants of governor-side flywheel. “That took three hours of backbreaking digging,” Jordan says. “My friends have given huge amounts of time and labor helping with retrievals. It really is something, the labor these guys have put in.”
  • Rigging Across Keene Creek
    It took about four hours to set this rigging, which was then used to get Jordan’s ATV across Keene Creek. Jordan’s backcountry jaunts are conducted as day trips. Bears and high altitude cold nights rule out camping. He squeezes every minute out of every day. “I’m very cautious,” he says, “but I push myself to my limit.”
  • Spine-Tingling Adventure
    Figuring if the rigging was good enough for the ATV, it was good enough for him, Jordan went airborne. “Two minutes of spine-tingling, seat-of-your-pants adventure,” he says.

  • Fairbanks-Morse 12 hp
  • 1899 Fairbanks-Morse 22 hp
  • 1899 Hercules 6hp engine
  • Altitude 7,000 ft
  • 1897 Weber 5 hp
  • Packing the 1899 Hercules 6 hp
  • Loading 1939 Fairbanks
  • Truck and Trailer
  • 1897 Weber
  • Crankshaft Remnants
  • Rigging Across Keene Creek
  • Spine-Tingling Adventure

It’s grizzlies that worry him, not snakes, and he’s armed with a Winchester, not a bullwhip — but otherwise the persona is unmistakable: Jordan Meeker is the Indiana Jones of the antique gas engine fraternity. Trekking through British Columbia’s Slocan Valley and West Kootenay region, Jordan is an engine archaeologist constantly on the prowl for old iron remnants of the Silvery Slocan, the silver and lead mining era in the late 1890s.

“I’m not a regular guy,” he readily admits. “I don’t follow hockey or football. I don’t want to go golfing or boating. The thrill for me is standing on top of a mountain, thinking about the last guy to see what I’m seeing. It’s the thrill of touching history. It’s knowing that the last guy to touch that engine died 70 or 80 or 90 years ago, and he’s a guy like me,” he muses. “I can stand there and think about what it was like for him on top of this mountain, all alone, thousands of miles from home, just trying to make a go of it. You start to understand that it’s not just a trinket lying on the ground.”

A passion for history drives his hobby; century-old antique gas engines are the tangible reward. In 23 years, he’s found five rare engines in the backcountry of British Columbia. “The history of my area is important to me,” he says. “When I’m dead and gone, everything I’ve owned will be gone, but these engines will be preserved. People will know I was a guy who cared about this place and this stuff.”

Wintertime research for antique gas engines

In the long Canadian winter, Jordan plots his attack. Through online resources, he delves into annual mining camp reports and newspapers dating to the 1890s. Historic newspaper accounts were colorful and enthusiastic, meant to attract the attention of investors across North America and in the U.K.



“Those writers and editors were all boomers, promoting the town or the mine,” he says. “They actively sought information about the mine for their articles and they included every detail. Because of that, I know the name of the mechanic who set up one of my engines on the mountain.”

Packed with geological data, government and shareholders’ reports tend to be dry reading. “But they’d get into the detail at the end, tell what the camp consisted of — listing structures and machinery, even down to what size the machines were and whether they were steam or gas or diesel,” he says. “Really, it’s just about everything you could hope to know.”