The Harrison Jumbo Steam Engine

A rare 1911 Harrison Jumbo plays a star role in beer-making demonstrations across the western U.S.

| January 2019

  • The Jumbo’s name and bright colors regularly draw a crowd.
    Photo by Nikki Rajala
  • Greg Smedsrud with the Harrison Jumbo.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • The 1911 17hp Jumbo, manufactured by Harrison Machine Works in Belleville, Ill.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • The Jumbo’s original boiler was replaced. The new boiler is rated for 175 pounds of steam pressure.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • The Harrison Jumbo is driven by a single piston.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • The Jumbo’s worm gear uses chain steering.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • An ornamental touch added to a bracket by the Jumbo’s previous owner.
    Photo by Nikki Rajala

More than 130 years ago, an elephant promoted as the largest in the world caused a sensation during an American tour. This winter, a Minnesota man and his girlfriend hope to re-create a bit of that excitement when they haul a rare steam traction engine named for that elephant – and a portable, working brewery – to California and back.

Greg Smedsrud, Battle Lake, Minnesota, and his girlfriend, Sue Martinson, plan to load a 1911 Harrison 17hp Jumbo steam traction engine and what is basically a portable brewery on a specially designed 53-foot semi-truck trailer. Setting out on a one-of-a-kind snowbird adventure, the two hope to make stops in California, Utah, Colorado, Oregon and Arizona.

“We’ll be going to breweries along the way and doing some exhibition brewing using this operation,” Greg says. “We’re most excited about the possibility of stopping next May at Golden Spike National Historic Site at Promontory Summit near Bingham City, Utah, to coincide with the 150th anniversary of driving the golden spike in the transcontinental railroad.”

In the brewing demonstration, steam from the Jumbo will be run through a line to a separate, freestanding boiler. That boiler contains what brewers refer to as beer wort made from malted barley, essentially the starter liquid for beer. Using steam as a heat source, the wort is boiled for a few hours before it is pumped into a keg, where yeast is added. The mixture is fermented for a week or so – and then it is beer.

Manufacturer Capitalizes on Famous Name

The Harrison Jumbo got its name from a renowned circus elephant. In 1882, famed circus master P.T. Barnum bought an elephant, “Jumbo,” said to be the largest elephant in the world, from a London zoo. A consummate promoter, Barnum launched a media barrage, complete with souvenirs. By the time Jumbo crossed the Atlantic, enormous crowds greeted the elephant at every appearance.

Meanwhile, Harrison Machine Works, Belleville, Illinois, whose main product had been grain separators, began producing steam traction engines and wanted a memorable name for their engines. Owner Lee Harrison asked Barnum if he could use the name “Jumbo” for his new steam engine, and Barnum, figuring it couldn’t hurt his cause, agreed.


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