R. D. 7, Box 943, Terre Haute, Indiana
FILL ‘LITTLE ENGINE’ with a wash boiler full of water
and four buckets of coal and she’ll generate 90 pounds of
steam, same as she did in 1900. The only difference is that in 1900
the inventor stoked her with an armload of wood.
That’s when Morton G. Miller, machinist-inventor, of Summit
Grove (Indiana) built the little engine because his father needed
something to furnish power for operating machinery in their little
‘I only built things because they were needed’, explains
Mr. Miller when visitors exclaim over the unique little engine.
Born a quarter mile north of the Miller homestead from which his
grandfather supplied black walnut wood to steamboats plying the
Wabash, Morton always hung around machines. One day, watching a man
repair a threshing machine, the boy asked more questions than the
machine had parts.
When his legs grew long enough he hired out as a machinist’s
apprentice for 75 cents a day, and rode 4 miles to work on his
The little engine was his first invention. He patterned it after
the old threshing machine, but one-third its size, used wheels from
an old cultivator, and made fittings of sheet brass. A masterpiece
in precision workmanship, the little engine weighed 850 pounds when
fired up, ready to go.
Little Engine performed many duties, such as operating the farm
windmill, and sometimes even furnished transportation. Since it had
a seat on the back in those days, Morton often fired up and rode to
town after mail, puffing along in high style at 15 miles per
When he moved to town, Little Engine drilled his well, and up to
1919 furnished power to operate machinery in his own shop. At one
time it furnished power for revolving a 6-ton steam shovel made by
the young inventor.
Oiled, polished, with bright red wheels and a new coat of black
paint on boiler and stack, Little Engine takes a side seat today
except when Mr. Miller runs her out for inspection.
He still works six days per week in his busy shop, now powered
with electricity. Since 1923, when Little Engine powered his
shaper, lathe and drill press, Mr. Miller has accumulated 14
machines ranging up to $75,000 in value.
Although a roll top desk occupies a corner of his shop, he says,
‘I never sit down and study. I have 200 customers and they keep
me busy.’ Mr. Morton G. Miller was 81 in August of 1957.