Courtesy of E. J. Buhr, Maymont, Saskatchewan, Canada.
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 3x4 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.