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.

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.”