DISASTER: FORDING THE MISSOURI WITH A STEAM ENGINE


| November/December 1980

  • Case engine
    Case engine of the type featured in this story.
  • James E. Stinson
    James E. Stinson
  • Ernest L. ''Moonlight'' Stinson'
    A photo of Ernest L. ''Moonlight'' Stinson taken in 1928.

  • Case engine
  • James E. Stinson
  • Ernest L. ''Moonlight'' Stinson'

An unsuccessful attempt to drive a huge Case 110 tractor across the swollen Missouri River is recounted in this colorful article by James E. Stinson, of near Brady, Montana. The attempt was made by his father, Ernest L. Stinson. One man was drowned. The Great Falls Tribune ran an account based on the information given by James Stinson in this article. Photo of James Stinson courtesy of the Tribune.

It happened in 1927, a wet year when the river was running high. The attempt was made by Ernest L. (Moonlight) Stinson, of Brady, operator of a large custom thrashing business at that time. He had extended his thrashing season by starting in the Highwood country, moving to the Brady east area, then west and ending on the Porter Bench near Pendroy.

Since the river ferry at Carter could not carry the large Case 110 steam engine, he would load it on a flat car and ship it to Highwood.

He hired Mr. Fred Deering, a 23 year old man of Brady, to drive his old Waterloo Boy tractor (forerunner of the John Deere) to Carter pulling the Red River Special thrasher and cookhouse, use the ferry and go on to Highwood.



One day when the outfit was thrashing away, a farmer approached Mr. Stinson and inquired how much cash he wanted for the Waterloo Boy. 'What will you offer me?' 'How about $500.00?' Well, now this was a small worn out tractor that had been out of production since 1913 and besides Mr. Stinson operated on the rule that 'If you ever have a chance to sell anything for all that it is worth, you had better do so, for there may never be another chance.' So the job of moving the cook house went to the water hauler with the Denby truck, a World War I vintage, chain drive, hard tires, 15 mph type.

When the thrashing run was over at Highwood, the problem of how to move the thrasher to Brady became acute. Now Mr. Stinson was a very experienced person having worked for the Advance Machinery Company as an expert in South America for six years. Down there he would assemble steamers in the cities, and drive them out to the colonies, where he would make them perform, and get the acceptance signature from the head man. Often the local gendarmes would meet him at a bridge and say 'too heavy.' He would pull to one side, pull his fire, drive thru the water, fire up again on the other side, and proceed. Six hundred feet of Missouri River did not seem to be too much for his Case steamer.