1916 Case 50 Continues farm Tradition

| July/August 1997

3250 County Road 92 North Independence, Minnesota 55359

I confess to being fascinated with steam power since I was a youngster. Growing up in the old lumbering, shipping, railroading city of Duluth, Minnesota, I got in on the very tail-end of the steam era.

The lumber mills had shut down by the late '40s, so there wasn't much to see down on the waterfront from the days of the big log rafts and the giant saw rigs. About the only sign of the logging era were a few derelict bums that hung out in their woolen logger's clothes down by the 'Classy Lumberjack'' Bar in the rough end of town.

In the early '50s, there were still a few remnants of an aged fleet of steam tugs, like the 'Edna G,' down at the harbor. They still steamed up on occasion, but the quicker-starting diesels were always beating them to the good 'tugs' when a lake freighter would call for assistance entering or leaving the harbor.

The D. M. & I. R. Railroad still steamed up a few giant road engines in the closing days of each shipping season. The massive articulated 'Mallets' off the Mesabi Iron Range were usually relegated to stationary service. They were lined up in the Proctor yards to steam carloads of iron ore frozen rock-solid during the 60 mile run from the mines down to the ore docks in West Duluth. The red iron-rich ore, which had carried the nation's industrial might through two world wars, was nearly depleted. But millions of tons still were sent down lakes to the blast furnaces of Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Buffalo.

In the bitter days of January, racing against freeze-up on the Great Lakes, the trains would run around the clock, pulling wet, washed ore out of the mines and across northern Minnesota. Only steam from roaring boilers could thaw ore sufficiently to cause it to dump into the bellies of anxiously waiting ore boats. As youngsters, a family treat would be to bundle up in Dad's Ford and head up to the yard, where we would watch from afar the spectacle of a dozen or more steam engines at full pressure. The volcanoes of Hawaii could not match the stupendous clouds of vapor billowing skyward in the crystalline still, sub-zero air over the city! Occasionally, the brakes, too, would freeze up, and men would scurry to cut a steam engine out of the thaw line, and assist as a 'pusher' to shove a train of loaded cars down the five miles to the docks always against the 'retainers,' as the men called them the brakes. It was common knowledge among the engine men that you needed more power to push loaded ore trains DOWN to the docks (against the retainer) than to bring empties up the steep grade.