Iowa's Youngest Steam Engineer

Meet Craig Dobbins, an Iowa steam engineer who got an early start.

| September 2001

If you have a young child or grandchild, go get him or her now.

We'll wait.

Now take that child's hand and look at it closely. If the child is around 7 years old, you'll probably see short, Vienna-sausage-like fingers readying themselves for a growth spurt. If he or she's about 11, you'll see fingers on the far side of a couple of growing sessions. They'll probably seem so thin - hands like two spiders. No matter what, they will not be the hands, yet, of an adult. They will definitely not seem the hands of a steam engineer.

Someone forgot to mention that to Craig Dobbins.

Now 20 years old, Craig began learning to run steam engines at the age of 7, traveling with his father to the Midwest Old Threshers Reunion in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, from his nearby hometown of Durant, Iowa. Kendall Tippett was the first man to give him a ride on a steam engine and, after that, he would spend the five days in Mt. Pleasant on the platform of a steam engine.

At the age of 11, he sold a 'bunch' of hogs he'd raised for 4-H and bought his first steam engine, a 16 hp, two-cylinder, 1916 Nichols & Shepard. He knew to let others do what he couldn't - steam man Roy Pressley did the crucial boiler work -but he did everything he could do himself. He put in a new flue sheet, new piston rings and repiped it, removing the galvanized pipe and putting in Schedule 80 steel piping. He built, with help, all new water tanks, added a little paint and the job was done.