Getting Back to Steam

| July 2001

Everett Johnson never forgot what it felt like to drive a steam traction engine. 'When I was a youngster on the farm (in the 1920s and 1930s),' the 80-year-old Pelican Rapids, Minn., native says, 'my dad was a partner in a Northwest steam engine that we used to fill silos. After the day's work was done, and the steam had just about petered out, my dad would let my brother and me drive that Northwest around the barnyard. That's where I first got the bug.'

As he got older, he helped with farm work involving the steam engine. 'I pitched (corn) bundles for the Northwest. We'd pick them up in the field and haul them in a hay rack with horses and throw them into the ensilage cutter.' They would use the steam engine to put ensilage in the silo.

The Northwest steam engine was the only one the Johnsons ever had, but other friends threshed with an Advance steam traction engine, or a Case. 'So those were the engines I grew up with,' Everett says.

Except for those rare times when his father would let him drive their Northwest around the yard, the closest Everett got to a steam engine was pitching bundles for the separator attached to the Advance engine during his teens, and occasionally tending the water tank because the operator was a friend of his.

In those days, a steam traction engine moving from farm to farm was quite a sight, Everett says. 'That was really exciting to youngsters to see this big powerful thing come up your driveway. Everybody was out looking, even the mothers. The smoke and steam that came off the machine had their own powerful and memorable smells.'

Workers needed for filling silos or threshing with the steam traction engines came mostly from neighbors, Everett says. 'In those days there were just plain farm workers, if you want to call them that. They would all come together and work at our place, and we would go back to theirs and help them when their project was going on.'