IN SEARCH OF STEAM

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Courtesy of E. J. Buhr, Maymont, Saskatchewan, Canada.
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Courtesy of E. J. Buhr, Maymont, Saskatchewan, Canada.
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Courtesy of Arnold Pierson, 416-3rd Street S. W., Little Falls, Minnesota 56345.
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Courtesy of E. J. Buhr, Maymont, Saskatchewan, Canada.
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Courtesy of Arnold Pierson, 416-3rd Street S. W., Little Falls, Minnesota 56345.
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18 Hp. Wood Bros. No. 157, 1911 Model. Courtesy of Albert Miesbach, Unadilla, Nebraska 68454.

Route 3, Box 817 Anacortes, Wash. 98221.

The hunt goes on. Rumors are laboriously tracked down and that
‘guaranteed, genuine steam engine’ is again shown to be an
air-compressor, refrigeration unit, gasoline engine, piles of pipe
or nothing. Worst of all, it might lead to a brighter spot on a
concrete or rock foundation with) hits of slag lying around from a
cutting torch that was used to cut through tie-down bolts,
crankshaft and connecting rod in what has become the death ritual
for the heart of the industrial era. ‘Steam engine?’ the
scrap man says. ‘Oh, we busted that thing up a couple of months
ago.’ The owners of an old stern wheel steamboat pay the scrap
man good money to remove and junk a ‘Doctor’ not knowing
that there are people about who would pay them for the privilege of
removing and restoring it.

Industrious labor and honest effort do have their rewards though
and the one good time, more than makes up for the many bad times.
During a lifetime a man meets many people and from these countless
faces there are a few that stand out in your memory, making you
feel good when you think of them and you ask yourself, ‘What I
would have missed in life if I’d never shook the hand of that
man.’ These are the people you are proud to call
‘Friend!’

And so, on an August day in 1970, the search for steam was put
aside to make way for some enjoyment of my labors. Lloyd Belden of
St. Paul Park, Minn. was kind enough to lend me his pick-up truck.
While he worked on repairing the crankpin of an engine of mine, Jim
Machacek of Northfield, Minn., lent me a nice little 3×4 vertical
bottle frame engine. To this I added the 2 HP vertical boiler that
came out of my steamboat and a vertical inverted air compressor
circa 1900. Throw in the tool box and a belt and the load was
complete.

My destination was the Butterfield Threshermen’s 4th Annual
Steam and Gas Engine Show. Butterfield is down in the Southwest
corner of the state, past Mankato and they have one of the most
beautiful show grounds on the circuit. 208 acres with a pond and a
large area under cultivated trees make an ideal setting for the
event. Arriving after dark on a Friday night, President Wayne
Kispert was still hard at work and covering alot of ground on his
scooter. Knowing full well what a mess of little nit-picking things
have to be done for a good show, it sure made me feel good when
Wayne took a minute to tell me I didn’t need to sleep under the
truck when there was a nice big empty engine shed to bunk down in.
When the thunderstorm cut loose around two o’clock that
morning, the roof over my head was a real blessing and I felt that
running around in my underwear, helping to get the grain wagons
under cover, was the least I could do in return for my room.

That morning, I found an appropriate spot, set the engine on the
ground, belted the air compressor up to it, pulled the boiler to
the end of the truck and after running the steam hose over to the
engine, filled the boiler and water tank and lit a small fire to
warm things up. The man who invented the steam hose has a secure
spot in my heart.

Along side of my minor little operation, a man was busy with a
noisy old gas engine and wood splitter. From his pace of operation,
it appeared that his sole intent in life was to reduce every piece
of wood that was not securely rooted in the ground. So that the
public would not loose sight of him behind the wall of wood he was
erecting, I kept grabbing armfuls off of the top and took them over
to throw into my boiler. Besides, wood doesn’t soot up the
tubes the way coal will. It was not long before the operator
decided it was time to find out who was stealing his wood and so,
the name and face of Ed Jungst was added to the list of people I
call ‘friend.’

At the end of the two day show, I departed with high spirits and
many impressions. (1) To John Q. Public, an old gas engine is
understandable because it makes noise, a steam engine is not fully
to be trusted and a steam engine driving an air compressor is
entirely beyond comprehension. I had the feeling that most people
thought the air compressor was in reality a gas engine driving that
piece of black greasy iron through the belt. This in turn pumped
steam or air into that big tank so that I could blow the whistle.
Ah Well! (2) I still don’t know whether it is Rumley or Rumely
because the 30-60 Oil Pull had it spelled one way on the front and
another way on the side. (3) The Butterfield group is one swell
bunch of guys. They even offered to pay my expenses for bringing my
little boiler and engine to the show. I told treasurer John
Ekstrom, that he couldn’t pay me for having fun but I sure
would like to have a plank from the sawmill. The hardwood plank he
gave me has made several fine pieces of furniture for the house and
has helped to maintain wife Rose’s attitude of acceptance
concerning my attendance at further steam shows. (4) For a retired
airline pilot, Lloyd Belden has a fine hand on a throttle and the
sight of him loading or unloading one of his stable of Case engines
from his specially modified low boy, is one that could be made a
special feature of any show he attends. (5) Ed Jungst lives less
than five miles from my home in Minneapolis and he tells me that
there is another lover of steam close to me. His name is John
Cogswell.

John Boese’s 110 Case. I unloaded this engine in the spring
of 1911 at Hague, Saskatchewan. I put in the first fire of the
engine.

Jacob Boese’s 75 Case plowing. Jacob is on the plow, his
father is steering and I am the engineer.

Buhr Bros. at Blaine Lake sawing firewood with a Case 12-20
tractor.

A couple of weeks pass. It is Labor Day weekend and time to go
to Rollag, Minn. for the Western Minnesota Steam Thresher’s
Reunion Inc. show. Rose has just given me a son, Christopher, our
first child. It seemed my duty to stay home, but a very
understanding mother-in-law says it would do me good to get out of
the house so I’m permitted two days at Rollag. No chance to get
anything together so it looks like I’ll be a spectator this
time. Well, I was a spectator just long enough to run into Ed
Jungst again. Ed is a member of the Rollag club and the line
blacksmith shop there is a direct result of his efforts. Being the
son of a blacksmith, Ed comes by this type of endeavor
naturally.

In 1970, he brought something new to Rollag,
‘wheelwrighting.’ Four wooden wheels were to be made up and
tires shrunk on. Because I was apprenticed to a blacksmith for two
years and am not entirely biased about my love of the steam engine,
I end up on the production side of an anvil selling horseshoes to
the curious, who will do I don’t know what with them. ‘One
Horseshoe? Yes Sir! That will be 50. Do you want one for the right
foot or the left?’

Now that I have a ‘workers’ badge, I eat down at the
mess hall. On the way down, Ed tells me that the narrow fellow
running Elmer Larson’s 15-30 Oil Pull is John Cogswell. And so
a little while later with a bit of free time, I walk down to the
bottom of the hill to where the Oil Pull is taking on fuel and
introduce myself. Riding back up the hill on the engine, by the
time we reach the top, common interest and aspirations have added
the name and face of John Cogswell to the list of people I call
‘friend.’

With the show’s end, I return to Minneapolis and as soon as
possible arrange to see John’s shop and his
1/3 size Case steamer. As John said later,
you meet lots of people at a show and many of them tell you
they’d like to get together some time. Not much ever comes of
it so my call was a bit of a surprise to him. It was a turning
point in our lives. The Fall of 1970 was a new type of life for me.
Previously, my engine hunting had been solo. Now my week-ends are
filled with the comradeship of good friends. Ed had not been bitten
by the steam bug so when he and I go out, we dig out old blacksmith
shops, talk with the early settlers of the area and conduct a
fruitless search for a felloe bender for the blacksmith shop at
Rollag. With John, it is a different story, I introduce him to the
throttle of a miniature locomotive, he shows me stationary engines
in the Twin Cities area and together, we beat the bushes for the
ever elusive steam engine. One day in December 1970 I take him to
St. Paul to see a model of a Corliss steam engine. No luck on this
trip though. The builder has moved and taken his model with him.
However, had heard of a full size Corliss just across the
Mississippi and so that the trip might not be a complete loss, we
decided to drive over to see if there is anything to the story.

An Avery steam engine taken at Rollag, Minnesota.

Industrious labor and honest effort do have their reward. There
is a car parked outside of Villaume Box & Lumber Co. and it
belongs to President Robert Lindsmeyer. ‘Do you have a steam
engine?’ ‘Yes!’ ‘Can we see it?’ ‘Yes!’
And so we walk through the door of the engine room and the sound of
silence is almost audible as we stare at the prettiest piece of
machinery we’ve seen in a long while. She’s a Corliss
engine, 20′ X 48′, built by the Twin City Iron Works of
Minneapolis in 1904. Robert Lindsmeyer asks us if we are interested
in the engine. We say yes and soon, Western Minnesota Steam
Threshers Reunion Inc. is the proud owner of 30 tons of steam
engine. The club is not new to stationary engines as there is
already a nice little 100 HP tandem compound Corliss running on the
grounds along with an Ideal generator engine. The problem now is to
move the big engine from St. Paul to Rollag. A friend of
John’s, Ray Granstrom, appears on the scene and another name
and face are added to the list of people I call
‘friend.’

Photo taken at Steam Threshing in Minnesota. The man standing in
the wheel was with me-is now passed away as is the man firing the
steam engine. All the good steam men are going!

And now we have the ‘Four Horsemen,’ Ed Jungst black
smith and gas engine fancier, John Cogs well engine builder holding
a ‘Chief’s’ license, Ray Granstromland bound after
serving on Great Lakes steamers and a neophyte to the hobby and
Frank Orrardent admirer of ancient mechanics. Between the four of
us, plus alot of help and equipment from alot of fine people and
business firms who got not much more out of the enterprise than a
heartfelt ‘THANKS!’ we move the engine to Rollag, all
nicely skidded and preserved to wait the coming of Spring so that
it can be permanently re-erected. Lack of work and the economic
situation put the black spot on me and I have to move to the West
Coast but the project is in John’s capable hands and working
every week-end from Memorial Day to Labor Day, John and a dedicated
group of workers set the engine and belt driven generator on almost
500 tons of concrete, clean and erect a boiler, and have the whole
works ready to go nine months after the project was commenced. Not
a bad record for a volunteer group.

Labor Day 1971. Newspapers and magazines have run articles on
Rollag and the project, so many come to the show just to see the
big engine in operation. As the engine shed was originally used for
storage, it sets a little away from the mainstream of traffic.
Comment overheard in the building that houses the little 100 HP
Corliss. ‘Boy, that’s really something. I read about the
engine and come all the way up here to see it.’ ‘Oh!’
says the engineer on duty. ‘You’re talking about the Big
Engine. This is just the Baby.’

And amidst the crowd and the most unwelcome rain, there is a
most happy fellow. Me! My mother-in-law has come through again and
convinced Rose that she couldn’t do anything better for me than
to let me make my pilgrimage back to Rollag to run the Big Engine.
The fellows meet me at the Fargo airport with the rain coming down
and the thunder and lightning all around. Tired faces, dirty hands
but they sure are happy. The job is done and the Four Horsemen are
together again. There is a lot that can happen in a year.

I didn’t get to bed until two in the morning. We had to get
the water out of the belt pit and the exhaust pipe trench. John
Cogswell is too much of a perfectionist. We even had to get the
salamanders out of the belt pit. Boy, are they fast! In the
morning, I hang my license alongside John’s. We adjust a loose
eccentric strap and a crosshead slipper that was running warm and
John warms her up. The second biggest thrill was watching her turn
over for the first time. The biggest thrill was when I did it
myself. The engine draws big crowds, many questions, and we meet
many interesting people. An electrical engineer spends the rest of
the day with a paper and pencil looking over the generator and the
electrical load on the grounds interested in what would be required
to make good use of the generator. We are handicapped by the fact
that vandals had stripped all of the copper off of the control
board and stolen the transformer. We receive offers of equipment to
replace that lost. People can be swell. Even the women are
interested in the engine. And speaking of women, the Mrs. Jungst,
Granstrom and Cogswell have dressed up in their old time finery and
opened up a quilting bee at the end of the engine house to occupy
the ladies while gather has his fill of the engines. There is
really no way to say ‘thanks’ to our wives for what they
have had to put up with this last year.

Show’s end comes all too soon and it is time to close it up
for another year. We may not have had good weather but we sure had
a good time. Ray proved himself a fine fireman holding the needle
steady with enough steam left over from the engine to blow the
whistle every 15 min. and maybe a few more times besides. John and
I were busy caring for the engine. Ed made occasional trips down
from the blacksmith shop to chew the fat, drink our coffee and
maybe say to himself that the result was worth the effort. I
don’t want to bug poor Ed but I do smile to myself. This
confirmed gas engine man of a year ago now has a blacksmith shop
with the lineshaft run by a steam engine. Ed’s acceptance of
steam is another whole story in itself. I sure hated to leave these
men but I do have next year to look forward to and the search for
steam still goes on.

Diamonds and gold are very expensive. A good friend is
priceless.

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