Al Steffeck, of Helena, Montana, who retired several years ago from his snow plow sales business, has several machines which are stored outside the headquarters of the company, now run by his son, Jim. Our cousin, John Baucus at Wolf Creek, told us about him and we interviewed him one sunny day last summer.
One of the machines is a steam roller, which Steffeck has had for about 30 years. It was once owned by the City of Helena. He traded a new Buffalo for it, then fired it up and ran it. It was bought new in 1912.
Another of his pieces is a Russell, which he found locked up in a barn in Kibby Canyon in 1966. It had never been out of the barn since 1926, and had dust on it about two inches thick. But it had the original paint on it, and had been run only 10 days a year for 16 years, threshing for eight or nine farmers who were neighbors of the owner. 'Then combines came and ruined things,' Steffeck comments.
Steffeck paid about $1,000, which was what the owner wanted for it, and got the whistle, the original instruction book and all the tools. He painted it black and used to run it every summer.
He also owns a Case, 1919 cross engine, with rubber tires. It was used for thrashing. Case took it back on a trade-in, and Steffeck bought it from Case for $50 about 1946.
An Erie, rounding out his collection, has proved a headache. 'I got it for nothing,' he comments, 'and wish I had looked at it better and left it. I had to put in all new flues and still have to paint it. I have more money in it than I'll ever get out.'
The Erie was used for shearing sheep with about 25 shearers working from it at a time. A little narrow gauge railroad carried the sheared wool to a storage shed. It was on a large sheep ranch in the' crazy mountains on Sixteen Mile Creek. The creek is famous for its rattlesnakes and good trout fishing. 'That is why the fishing is good,' Al notes.
'I look at engines all the time,' Al says. 'I need one more, but I'm pretty particular. It's got to be good and it's got to be big. I'll pay what they want. I want to rig it up with a 44-inch separator, but don't secret, want to thrash with it.'
He knows where some machines are, standing in barns, not in use and possibly available someday for sale. Where are they? That's his secret.