Last Steam Engine Sold in Montana by J. I. Case


| March/April 1979



The last Case steam engine sold in the state of Montana by the Case Company was sold by Hank Larson at Rosebud, Montana, who was the Case agent at that time. It was a 75 HP 1910 model and was sold to George Bradley and sons in the fall of 1938. It was located on Pumpkin Creek, east of Ashland, Montana.

It was Christmas before we could get around to getting it ready to move home. By stripping an older engine like it that dad had worn out, we were able to get parts for it. We had to wait until the day before Christmas to move it over because Claude, the oldest brother, was running a sawmill in Lamedeer, Montana. He was taking care of a 110 Case at the time. The only time he could get away was the three-day holiday at Christmas. We loaded up our parts in an old Dodge four cylinder truck, and went over and started to work on the engine. We got there in the late afternoon and we worked on the engine until about 12 midnight. We slept out--well, we had sort of a tent stretched over between the engine and the truck. There were some buildings close within a hundred yards from the engine up on the hill. The engine sat down in the coulee. Anyway we went to bed and along in the night, my brother, Floyd, yelled out: 'There is something going on around here.' Claude answered back: 'What is it?' By that time I was awake too and Floyd yells, 'everything is on fire?' So we all came up from under the tent and sure enough, the house, barn and everything around was burning. In the light of the fire we saw a couple of guys running toward the road. Rifle shells went off about that time due to the fire, so we didn't go near it. This was about 3:30 a.m. We finally went back to bed but didn't sleep much. When day broke we got up and started to work again. When we were gathering up our belongings to come work on the engine, we forgot to put in a frying pan so we had to cook our potatoes and hamburger in a scoop shovel over an open fire, which was quite a big deal.

Claude and Floyd went out with the truck to see if they could find some water. I stayed in camp and worked on some pipe fittings on the engine. Soon a car drove up and a couple of guys got out and they came over to where I was working. I can remember real well what I said to them. I said; 'I know what you guys are wanting to know. It's how come the buildings burned?' I told them what we had seen and one wanted to know who I was and I told him. He said: 'I know your dad really well.' He told me he was Harry Mitchell and that he used to be on the 20 ranch at one time. He seemed to have an idea who might have set the fire but he didn't tell me who he thought it was.

By that time Floyd and Claude had returned but they hadn't found any water. Floyd and I went to the water hole Harry had told us about and we were pumping our tank of water and the wind went to coming up and the sky got pretty dark and it started storming so we went back to the engine with the tank of water. Claude had discovered in the meantime that the piston rod wouldn't fit the crosshead so we had to drain the water out of the tank and head back to home. We had to take the piston and rod to a machine shop to have it fixed. While we were deciding on what to do, our dad drove up. When he saw how everything had burned he said 'what the dickens happened around here?' We explained what had happened and told him that we had been thinking about staying in that house that night, but Floyd had been up and looked things over and discovered that somebody was moving in. It was all cleaned up and there were bed rolls and different things that hadn't been unpacked yet, so we thought better of it.

We headed back home. It really got cold--about 20 below zero--and it snowed. We got the piston rod fixed during that week. The day before New Years we went back again. Buck Bouslaugh was there with a load of coal and helped us. He was the one who located this engine in the first place while he was working for the forest service.

This time we knew where our water was so we went directly there and loaded the tank. It took about three tanks of water to wash the boiler out as it was real dirty. We worked on the engine until about one in the morning, then we put a fire in it and went to bed. We got up pretty early the next morning and by 7:00 we were moving the engine out. It had been sitting there about 15 years I guess. It took us two or three days to get it home. At Tongue River we went through the ice. We got a log and chained it to the drive wheels and raised it out on to solid ice again. There were several Indians, women and children on the bank watching us. When the engine raised itself out and belched a lot of smoke, everybody took off arunning. After that we made it on home without any more trouble.