ENGINE IN THE BEARTOOTH

1 / 4
Magnificent view from the engine deep in the Beartooth Wilderness of Montana.
2 / 4
Mackay family members on the old Case in a recent photo. Below, an earlier view of the engine in the same location.
3 / 4
4 / 4
Wheel sunk deep into the ground.

This is the story of a Case steam traction engine which was
taken into the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness of Montana in 1909 and
has remained there ever since, a venerable monument to times long
gone by.

It originally powered a sawmill operated by the late Walter
Scott. Now it is a part of mountain legend, visited by those who
know about it, who ride horseback over ancient trails just to look
at it and talk about its history.

We of Stemgas heard about it several years ago while talking
with Mr. and Mrs. Bill Mackay, at their ranch at Roscoe, near Red
Lodge. Mary Ann, their daughter-in-law, wife of Bill Mackay, Jr.,
said she’d forward some photos and information on the
engine.

She sent us a tape made by a neighbor, Patricia George, wife of
Arnold George, of an oral history interview with Scott, whom some
people called ‘Sir Walter’. We transcribed it and present
most of it herewith.

‘Everyone knew the engine was there, ‘ Mary Ann says.
‘Old timers told the story. But second growth timber had
covered the old trails, so that you couldn’t ride in on
horseback. Arnold George runs a hunting camp in the fall, and he
found the engine. He rode out of the camp in the snow; that was an
easier time to do it because the snow lay on the bushes and the way
was more open. He took us up the next year, and now we visit the
engine about once every other year.’

In the tape is reference to a fire. This was the ‘big
fire’ of long ago which burned all the timber between Red Lodge
and Livingston.

Photos taken by the Mackays show the engine well intact, less
parts that were stolen over the years. If you’re in the
Wilderness, and come across the Case, you’ll know what it’s
all about. We feel this is a particularly moving story, and
we’re happy that a recording was made of Scott’s
recollections. Further, we urge those with knowledge of old engines
and implements and their use and role in farming, to put their
recollections on tap.

Q: When did you take the steam engine up?
A: 1909.

Q: Did the steam engine go up the hill on its
own power?
A: No, not all the way, but most of the way, it
did.

Q: How far did you have horses on it, pulling
it?
A: Oh, not over a mile.

Q: Is that right? Would it be the last mile up
there?
A: Yes, it would be the last mile.

Q: How many horses pulled it, Mr. Scott?
A: Well, we had four horses onto it and then its
own power was 14 horse, and it had four others horses ahead of it.
But it was no trouble to speak of to take it in there at all.

Q: Was the road built before you took it in or
did you build the road?
A: We built the road.

Q: Before the machine went in?
A: Built the road in 1908.

Q: How many years was the sawmill in
operation.?
A: Well, it was only about three years because
the timber was dead when we started in on it and it didn’t get
no better, it just started rotting the whole time, you know.

Q: Because it was after the fire?
A: It was after the fire. That fire was in
1900.

Q: Did you stay in the cabin down below, or was
there a place to stay up where the steam engine was?
A: Yeah, we had tents that set on the grains and
lived in the tents.

Q: Well, then, who lived in the cabin down
below? It looks like there were several buildings there a
spring-house, different things, down by the creek.
A: The cabins weren’t there then, not when we
had the mill running. We just used these tents all the time and
then we’d take the tents down in the fall of the year and roll
them up and keep them until the next spring.

Q: Well, this cabin that’s there is about a
mile down.
A: Well, I don’t know, somebody else must
have built that.

Q: And you don’t know anything about
it?
A: No.

Q: It’s all fallen in, you know.
A: I remember an old cabin the Kelly boys built
it to live in. A small cabin. They come and got permission from us
to build a cabin if they wanted to. They were trapping, you see.
And they lived there all winter long.

Q: Was that when the sawmill was in
operation?
A: Yeah, it was in operation then, only we just
run it spring and summer and we didn’t run it in the
winter.

Q: Oh, it gets pretty deep up there,
doesn’t it?
A: Uh-huh. Yes, in my day, I’d give a hundred
dollar bill to bring that engine out.

Q: Well, it would be hard to get out, I’m
sure. I don’t think you’d get it out any way but to air
lift it.
A: Oh, you could cut that timber down around it
and take it out.

Q: Well, there’s quite a rock-slide down
below that cabin.
A: There always was a rock-slide in there.

Q: How did you take the lumber out?
A: Four-horse teams and a wagon.

Q: How often did you go out?
A: Each wagon would make the trip about once a
week.

Q: You must have had to have brakes on those
wagons, as steep as it is.
A: Oh, I’ll say there were brakes on
them.

Q: And then where did you go down through
McKay’s?
A: To Luther.

Q: To Luther?
A: The lumber we sold to Mackay went right there
to his place.

Q: You did sell some to Malcolm Mackay?
A: We sold 300,000 feet.

Q: And then you took the rest of it to
Luther?
A: Luther for bridges.

Q: Well, what did they do with it in
Luther?
A: Well, the county bought it.

Q: To build bridges
A: Yes, to build bridges and things with.

Q: How many people did you have working up
there?
A: We had five working at the mill all the time
and two or three of us dragging logs in.

Q: How many drivers did you have?
A: One to each team. Four-horse teams, they had
two drivers.

Q: You are quite a wizard with steam engines, I
understand. You really know all the mechanics.
A: Yeah, I always was.

Q: Where did you get this steam engine in the
first place?
A: I bought it.

Q: There were a lot of them?
A: It’s the first steam engine that ever went
into the Dillon Valley at Boulder. Then when Herman Kool got a hold
of it he bought a new Case outfit and traded it in on it.

Q: So then, Alcott was handling the
transaction?
A: He was handling the Case and the Russell. But
they got something to trade. Like Alcott, he’d trade for a
horseshoe if he didn’t have anything else.

Q: Did you use just wood in that firebox?
A: Yes, just wood.

Q: Just plain wood you’d get a good hot
fire in there and then it produced the steam?
A: It produced the steam pretty fast, too, just
as fast as you could run it.

Q: Was there water in there too?
A: Oh, yes.

Q: Those holes in the steam must have been from
here to that wall to the end of the
A: The firebox.

Q: I just don’t understand how it worked.
Could you explain it to me?
A: Yes, if we could take a day’s time. You
could take that engine and I say it would run, right now.

Q: You think so?
A: I don’t believe it would be rusted bad
enough to hurt it. You could run one on 10-12 pounds of steam. It
won’t pull any big loads or anything, but it would run on
it.

Q: How did you measure the steam? How did you
know how many pounds you had?
A: It had a gauge.

Q: I don’t remember seeing it.
A: Oh, no. They stole everything that was
loose.

Q: Well, it sure looks intact.
A: Yeah, the only thing they could get off of it
was like the pop valve, the steam gauges, the injector and stuff
like that. They could get that and the other they couldn’t get.
When we left there there was a slab pile there that was 25 feet
thick and must have been 200 feet long.

Q: There’s no lumber there now.
A: Oh, it’s all rotted went down to nothing.
Them slabs was just bark on the outside with a log in them.

Q: They call you ‘Sir Walter’ I
understand.
A: I’ve been thinking about the camp
there’d be a couple of women who just wanted to go along to
stay and listen to it. I don’t see why it couldn’t be
fixed. We camped in camps all the way in there. You could do the
same thing coming out

Q: We rode horseback in when we went in
Saturday.
A: You went clear in with horses?

Q: It was quite difficult. There was a lot of
downed timber we had to clear.
A: Well, you’d run into that. If someone had
one of these little Caterpillars, they could go in there and clean
it out in no time.

Q: Did you have a permit from the Forest
Service or was that Forest Service land at that time?
A: Oh, yes. Ed Russell was the Forest Ranger
then. He was the first Forest Ranger in the country.

Q: How old are you, Mr. Scott?
A: 85too old to be of any good for anything.

Q: Oh, I don’t know. You’re certainly
making things interesting for us.
A: Well, I want some of those pictures.

Q: I’ll see that you get some. In Jim
Annin’s book, it says that you were born in 1890 and you
didn’t go into the logging camp until when?
A: 1890. 1900 is when we put the saw mill in
there and the steam engine.

Q: And it was just in operation 3 or 4 years.
Why did you quit the operation?
A: Well, the timber was getting rotten. It was
falling down, it wasn’t no good. It wasn’t worth sawing, so
there was no use putting any more money back in it. There was about
50 or 100 thousand feet of green timber back behind where that old
engine sat. We intended to take it out but then we got to thinking
it over. It wasn’t worth building a road in to it for 50 dollar
timber. So we just left it there.’

Q: You probably wouldn’t know the area now.
The pines have grown up all the way around.
A: Benny Wigen told me that, that you
couldn’t hardly see it until you was on top of it.

Q: You can’t, Mr. Scott. You come into that
clearing and there’s nothing there. There are two big pine
trees over to the right, and you go around them and there it
sits.
A: Oh, it’s quite an experience just to go in
there.

Q: It is an experience! My husband has a
hunting camp on Mouris Creek, down at the bottom, just through
Mackays. Last winter, they went up and found the steam engine in
about 2 feet of snow. Then we went in Saturday to see it in the
summertime.
A: Well, it’s a real treat to see it.

Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment