| August 2003

When Wayne Kennedy set eyes on the dilapidated 1902 New Giant steam traction engine, he knew the farm treasure was worth saving.

That doesn't mean he wanted to restore the old engine that once powered Midwest sawmills, because it was in truly terrible condition. Yet, he couldn't resist the lure of that old steamer. Today, five years after he first turned a wrench on the 18,000-pound steel hulk, it's finally restored to its once-pristine beauty and thrilling crowds again each summer. This is the tale of Wayne's journey with the giant and how one collector's love for old iron helped preserve a unique piece of farm equipment history.

Preserving the Past

The story actually began when Wayne, of Danville, Iowa, was a boy. He fell in love with steam traction engines at the Midwest Old Settlers and Threshers Reunion held each year at Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. While most children eagerly anticipate Christmas, Wayne says he looked forward to seeing steam engines and other farm machinery at the annual reunion. He says he was also inspired by his great-uncle, who threshed with a 1925 Case 75 hp steam engine, which has been in the farm collections at Mt. Pleasant since the reunions began in 1950. That early exposure gave Wayne a lifelong love for old iron and led him to breathe new life into the New Giant.

Ironically, Wayne attended the reunions as a child and so did his future 1902 New Giant steam traction engine. The old engine arrived after its owner, Milo Mathews, a thresherman at each year's reunion, bought it in Utica, Neb. The engine was so special that it made the cover of the May/June 1952 IronMen Album.

The steam engine thrilled crowds for decades, Wayne says, and was most often operated by Lowell Burden. Even though the engine functioned, it wasn't easy to operate, he adds, and other engineers always admired Lowell's ability to handle the old-iron hulk. Lowell was so closely associated with the engine that Wayne immortalized the former engineer by painting his name on the restored steamer.

Even though the steam engine was a popular attraction at each year's reunion, it was sold at auction when Milo died in 1984. A husband-and-wife team bought the engine, Wayne explains, and intended to restore it someday. Yet, life rarely turns out the way people plan, and after the couple divorced, the engine seemed destined to rust away as a flower planter. Wayne rescued it in 1995 and restored the steamer for future generations to learn from and love.