Adding a Minnesota Giant Steam Engine to the Family

An Ohio woman's passion for steam expands with the purchase of an 1891 Minnesota Giant steam engine.

| November 2016

  • The seat at the front of the boiler was for pulling the engine short distances with horses when the boiler wasn’t fired.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • Joyce Hoffmaster at the wheel of her 1891 14 hp No. 16 Minnesota Giant steam traction engine.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • The No. 16 Minnesota Giant’s smokestack folds down for transport.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • The No. 16 Minnesota Giant (serial no. 3806) is a single-cylinder, return-flue engine.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • The old and the new: A Minnesota Giant steams up just behind the wagon at the right, while a Minnesota New Giant faces the camera.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • Back view of the 1891 No. 16 Minnesota Giant steam traction engine. Since this photo was taken, Joyce has added a water tank, a receptacle for fuel, a toolbox and a handhold plate, all similar to those shown in an original catalog. “We’re just trying to spruce it up and get it mechanically better,” she says.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • A period photo showing a Minnesota Giant steam traction engine at work in the field.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • An illustration of a Minnesota Giant steam traction engine from early company promotional materials.
    Photo by Bill Vossler

When Joyce Hoffmaster adopted a small steam engine contingent at the Midwest Old Threshers Reunion as family, it came as no surprise to anyone. After all, she comes from a family of steam engine enthusiasts. “My great-grandfather had steam engines. My grandfather had steam engines, my father and mother met because of a steam engine, and I had my first ride on a steam engine before I was born.” says the Dayton, Ohio, woman.

Years ago, her father, Lyle, needed sand to restore a 1905 16 hp Reeves steam engine. “At my mother’s cousin’s farm,” she says, “Frieda took one look at my future dad and set him up with a blind date with my future mother, Barbara.”

By age 4, Joyce was a regular attendee at Midwest Old Threshers Reunion in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. By 6, she and her sister were turned loose at the show. “Everybody knew who we were and kept an eye out for us,” she says. “It was sort of an extended family. I grew up around all these people and their engines.”

Joyce spent so much time around the engines that, by age 6, she could fire up the big beasts. She got the job of oiling and greasing the machines, and graduated to cleaning fireboxes after a show. “I could get into the firebox a whole lot easier than my father could,” she says. “I was absolutely black by the time I came out. Nothing was white except my teeth and eyeballs.”

Work together, play together

This small group of steam engine people – her second family – regularly camped together and played practical jokes on each other. Some engines were draped with toilet paper; another was festooned with old bras. “I discovered the Reeves one morning with an enormous straw nest on the platform,” she says, “complete with a paper egg and a sign advising me to be quiet as it was a ‘rare Case eagle egg’ incubating.”

The group also ate together. “We used to cook a huge pot of chili on an open fire in camp,” she recalls. “It was delicious, and I always took leftovers home to eat months later in the winter because it tasted smoky, like the show. I could close my eyes, smell it and remember all the fun we had.”


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