| September/October 1968

Forman, N. Dakota

While working throughout the Western part of North Dakota during the 50's, it seemed every so often when inquiring about Antique Cars someone would say, 'I don't know of any old cars, but I know where there is a big steam engine in the river.' I took this rather lightly, but after hearing this rumor several times it began to arouse my curiosity. Partly, because it was supposed to be in the roughest part of the Bad Lands, also how and what a big steam engine could or would be doing in this rough country.

In 1957 we happened to be Northwest of Belfield to see a rancher. I asked him if he knew of this engine, and he said he had seen it several times. We asked him if it was possible to get to it from his place. He said, 'Very doubtful by car, by horse back yes.'

There had been a trail through there but it had not been kept up. These trails need work every spring as one run off will wash them out. We left his ranch to go back to Belfield for dinner, talking about it on our way. It was then 11 O'clock A.M., we decided if we were going to see this steamer-now was the time. We were now about 10 miles from his ranch. We returned and got all the details and directions, if there is such a thing in the Bad Lands. Let me say, here is a real test grounds for an automobile. We crossed wash outs, coulees, hills almost straight up and down, at times hung up on the bumpers. The clutch smelled right out loud. The only strong point I had against my wife wanting to turn back, that was quite often mentioned, was 'I surely don't want to go back through there again, besides the trail should get better pretty soon.' It had to get better before it could get worse.

Five hours later and a lot of tough going we arrived at the river, hungry and tired. I think of what a light rain fall could have done, as that soil when wet would make a good grade of axel grease feel cheap. We followed the rivers edge for about a mile and there, sure enough, sat the engine in the river on the opposite side. It didn't take us long to take off our shoes and wade across as the river at this time was very low.

The river and spring ice jam had done everything in their power to destroy this machine. If it had been just an ordinary size engine I feel sure it would have rolled it over many times and buried it in the quicksand in the bottom of the river. It had been vandalized for the nuts and bolts, also the brass, connecting rod bearings etc. Someone had removed the main bearing caps. The ice, during the high water, had picked the crankshaft and fly wheel assembly out, carrying it down stream and buried it in the quicksand. After looking the engine over and taking several pictures, I realized that this must be the largest steam traction engine that I had ever seen. I made one firm statement. 'I hope I never get foolish enough to try and take this thing out of here.' At that time it would have been a lot easier because it had not sunk in, also the boiler was not filled with sand.