The Alpha and Omega of Minneapolis Steam Traction Engines

Iowa man builds a life around passion for steam traction engines.

  • Jerred Ruble’s 1893 14 hp return-flue Minneapolis steam traction engine (serial no. 721) is the earliest known steam traction engine made by Minneapolis Threshing Machine Co.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • Minneapolis engines were originally outfitted with canopies fringed in red or blue. “There’s a debate about which color,” Jerred says, “but I went with red.” Later MTMC designs show a changed canopy design.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • Jerred pulls on the throttle lever of his 1893 14 hp return-flue Minneapolis steam traction engine. The barrel-like structure is the engine’s cylinder. All of the power created by steam in the boiler is transformed into mechanical motion by the piston inside the cylinder moving back and forth.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • As a kid, Jerred worked with this 1915 50 hp Case steam engine at his father’s sawmills. The steam traction engine originally belonged to his father’s father.
    Photo courtesy Jerred Ruble
  • The operator’s platform on Jerred’s 1893 14 hp return-flue Minneapolis steam traction engine had to be replaced. Jerred removed the engine’s straw burner as it is more convenient and practical to burn wood.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • The earliest and latest Minneapolis Threshing Machine Co. engines known to exist. The 1893 14 hp return-flue Minneapolis steam traction engine (at left, serial no. 721) and the latest — manufactured MTMC steam traction engine remaining, the 1924 20 hp Minneapolis engine (serial no. 8701). Just seven more were built after this one but none are known to exist.
    Photo courtesy Jerred Ruble

After viewing a demonstration, Jerred Ruble came away thoroughly impressed with steam power — at the ripe old age of 3. “My dad had the Ruble family 1915 50 hp Case steam engine at the Albert Lea (Minnesota) Fair in 1949,” he recalls. “He threshed in front of the grandstand. I remember bits and pieces of that event, so it must have made an impression on me.”

Seven years later, Jerred’s steam education continued close to home. His dad, T.M. “Jim” Ruble, owned a sawmill at the family’s home. “In the early part of his career, he powered his sawmills with steam engines,” Jerred says. “Later he switched to Cats.”

But Jim’s love of steam did not fade. “When his boys got old enough, he switched back to steam engines,” Jerred says of his dad. “He alternated the steam engines: the family’s 1915 50 hp Case and a 1913 22 hp return-flue Minneapolis that he bought in the mid-1950s. Our job was to run the steam engines. I was 10 years old when I started running the steam engines on the sawmills.”

It was a memorable time for Jerred, who now lives in Hanlontown, Iowa. “We were exposed to steam engines early in our lives and grew up with it,” he says, “but it was still very exciting to participate in it.”

Jerred’s father was right by his side when he started out. “He was my mentor and my tutor,” he says. “Being involved with a steam engine is one of those things where you learn enough to run it but there’s always something more to learn. He was down on the sawmill, so if there was any trouble, he would come and explain the different situations that came up.”

Some were on the hairy side, like the time a handhole plate gasket blew out. “That was the first time this had happened while I was around either engine so I got a bit panicky,” Jerred says. “However, my dad was quick to come to my side. We smothered the fire and injected water into the boiler as long as there was sufficient steam pressure. The next day we replaced the blown gasket, steamed the engine up and went back to sawing.”


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