Box 2256, Bracebridge, Ontario P1L 1W4
Muskoka Pioneer Power Association in Bracebridge, Ontario heard
that an abandoned sawmill in the Rankin area (near Pembroke) still
had a steam engine inside. The mill had closed operations about
1963 and the building had collapsed. The owner was contacted and
indicated the property was to be sold and that he had considered
selling the engine for scrap.
In the Spring of 1991, four club members journeyed to Rankin and
had a look at the engine to determine if it was feasible to buy,
and whether they could get it out of the collapsed mill. The engine
was seized, as the men were unable to turn the flywheel at all, but
they came home enthused. They were full of ideas for the engine and
had a plan for removal. An offer to purchase was made to the owner,
Now the challenge to remove the engine and transport it to its
new home. A fund was set up and before you could ‘blink’,
over $500 was contributed. As is usual with these challenges, all
kinds of ‘advice’ and ‘should do’s’ were
A second trip to the site was arranged in early July to strip
the engine and develop a final plan for removal. The building held
many interesting artifacts, and a family of raccoons. The old mill
had a ‘ghostly aura’ and the men had no difficulty
imagining what it must have been like in its ‘hey-day’.
The third trip came in the Fall of 1991. This time winches,
ropes, a ‘Bobcat’ crawler, several men, a heavy trailer and
a video camera were canvassed from the membership, and this time it
was a weekend jaunt. On Saturday, the men secured the building and
cleared a path through the rubble, in order to winch the 4500 lb.
engine on roller ramps to the waiting trailer. This was
accomplished slowly and carefully. When it was safely loaded, the
men couldn’t resist trying once again to turn the flywheel, but
to no avail.
The men left Rankin after lunch on Sunday, and drove to
Bracebridge. At one of their many coffee breaks, they were checking
the load and noticed that the flywheel had moved. Obviously all the
jostling and shifting during the drive had freed it up. It could
now be turned rather stiffly, but at least it was now free.
Back in Bracebridge, the engine was carefully unloaded, covered
and left until the following spring when it would be an even bigger
challenge to get it restored and running.
Research began right away. Up to this point, the compound engine
didn’t have a name. No identifying plates or marks could be
found, although it did have Pickering governors. All leads were
followed, and eventually contact was made with Roy Belshaw of
Brantford, Ontario, a 47 year former employee of the Waterous
Engine Co., and self-appointed company historian. We obtained an
excellent company history, even though Belshaw couldn’t give us
details on the exact engine we have.
We determined with virtual certainty that we had a Waterous
steam engine. Belshaw assured us that he would continue his
research, and eventually we hope to determine the year of
manufacture and specifications on the engine.
A description and photographs were shown to Owen Swann of
Huntsville, Ontario, an engine restorer who has owned Waterous
engines. He too, is reasonably certain we have a Waterous engine
and perhaps a McEwen type. The McEwen is a high speed automatic
engine specially designed for close governing under excessive load
fluctuations, such as an electric service, mine haulage or crane
work. Since the Waterous in question was not purchased new for the
Grife Sawmill in Rankin, it is possible that it could be a McEwen,
purchased at a good price to replace a smaller engine no longer
capable of handling the load at the mill. Attempts to contact
someone who might have worked at the mill, when this engine was in
service, are still ongoing.
If any reader can help with more information about this engine,
the writer would be most interested to hear from you. We would also
like to hear from other Waterous steam engine owners in order to
compile a registry.
Muskoka Pioneer Power Association is a young eight-year old club
based in the heart of cottage country in central Ontario at the
45th parallel. We are in the midst of planning our eighth annual
show to be held in Bracebridge on July 11 and 12, 1992. All are
most welcome. We hope the steam engine can be on display, although
not yet restored.