A Collector's Dream


| March/April 1989



Minneapolis engine

Minneapolis engine at Blackberry Historical Farm, Aurora, Illinois, June 1968.

17837 Linden wood Road Linden wood, Illinois 61049

No matter which steam show you attend, you'll find an unofficial area you could call Engineer's Alley. During the 1985 Sycamore Steam Show, Engineer's Alley was abuzz with the schuttle-butt. A museum in Aurora, Illinois had a steam engine they wanted to get running. 'Anyone interested?' That was the first we heard of the 'Minnie'. When Joe and I returned home from a trip to the Chicago area in June 1986, we decided to look for the museum. Stopping at the west edge of Aurora we found the Blackberry Historical Farm. Turning off Galena Avenue toward the museum's entrance, we saw a large steam engine sitting on a cement pad.

We met with the current museum director, Dave Heffernan. Dave led us to the engine's location in the northwest corner of the park. It was surrounded by several buildings, a large chain-link fence and shrubbery. Joe opened the smoke box door to check the front flue sheet. He almost fell over after cleaning some soot away from the bottom rivets. The heads were like new, not worn almost smooth like you find in some engines. The firebox was the same. It appeared at first glance that the boiler might be in good shape. We kept looking. How many times does a person see gears without any wear on a steam traction engine? A few things were missing. The tanks were gone as well as the tool box, gear oiler and steam gauge. Minneapolis Engine #8580 appeared to be 24 or 28 HP. The first engine we'd ever seen in nearly new condition. Dave asked what we thought. We asked if we could come back at another time to do a boiler cleanup, closer inspection and then decide if the engine was 'salvagable'. That was fine with Dave.

The next month Joe, his father Howard Somers of Lindenwood, Illinois and Jon Gould of Naperville, Illinois met at the museum to flush out the boiler and start the inspection. After removing all the hand-holes the guys started to scrape out the slag that had fallen to the bottom of the firebox and boiler. Garden hoses alone weren't going to have enough power to get the job done. Dave came over to watch the progress and offered the use of the museum's power pressure sprayer. When the boiler was clean, the guys could see it looked like new inside. They filled the boiler, put on a steam gauge, hooked up the hand pump and took turns pumping. As the cold pressure approached 100 pounds the old piping started springing leaks like a sieve. Some of the valves had frozen and broken. Not all of the lines could be shut off. It got to the point that they couldn't pump fast enough to keep ahead of those leaks.

May 1987: 'Minnie' arrives at Somers Blossom Farm, Linden wood, IL on a Miller Cat trailer. Left rear wheel has 6 inches of wheel on trailer.

We talked to Dave and told him the steam engine could run again with some work. The boiler was sound. The engine proper needed a closer look than was possible that day. It was getting too late. Jon and Joe decided cleaning the gears and engine itself with the high pressure sprayer was out of the question. Silica sand was everywhere. At some point the museum had decided to sandblast the engine and give it a new paint job. Made a nice looking static display but sure didn't do the engine parts any good. Every inch of the engine was packed with sand or sand and grease. All the bearings, journals, rods and shafts would have to be completely cleaned before this engine was going to turn over again.