MIGHTY MINNIE IN THE LITTLE MISSOURI

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After building a dam around the engine with the Melroe Bobcat we started to dig it out with the backhoe attachment.
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The mighty ''Minnie'' at rest in the little Missouri.
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Looking down through the cut dirt taken here was used to build the dam around the engine and now we were nearly ready for the big pull.
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All rigged up for our second try. We had pulled it back about 15 feet the first time. Six foot man standing by rear wheel - note size of engine.

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.

We have a large collection of snapshots taken of various
engines, as time passed on we would run across pictures of this
engine sinking down in the river. Many times while looking at these
pictures we would mention it should be pulled out, this would be a
real challenge for anyone. I guess the thing that put it off as
long as it did was the lack of the fly wheel and crankshaft. If the
ice had a good hold of this, it could be anywhere between there and
St. Louis. We made several more trips to the engine, not by the
original route, always taking more pictures. Each time the engine
was settled in a little deeper. It was now plain to see that within
just a few year sit would be gone for good. It had settled so the
front wheels were completely covered and the mud was half way up on
the boiler. The left rear wheel was up to the hub in mud. Now the
ice could pile against it every spring, in fact in the past year it
had broken the big drive gear on the counter shaft. It looked like
one good ice jam could easily tip it over. The boiler was full to
the top with sand, even the fire box was full.

We previously had contacted Mr. Don Short the owner, and he was
very much in favor of someone trying to salvage the engine. The
fall of 1966 we decided to gather cable and equipment to try and
retrieve it. This we knew would take a lot of doing. I would guess
the engine to weigh at least 20 ton with its tummy filled with
sand. The suction around the wheels would be a real problem alone
in moving it. Don told us the later in the fall the better as the
river would be at its lowest at that time, but one good cold spell
and all would be off for another year. The weather did turn cold so
it was put off for another year.

On the 14th of November 1967, my Son, Rudy, and I left home with
two trucks and a trailer, pushing against a high wind which slowed
us up and gave the trucks a real appetite for gas. Four hundred
plus miles later we arrived at the ‘battle grounds.’ On one
of the trucks we had an Econolie panel loaded. This we took along
to be used as our home on the range. Man it got cold in there at
night. We had a small fish house oil burner in it. It just would
not burn steady and by morning the roof inside was heavy with
frost. As soon as we started to warm it up the frost melted and
dripped on our bedding and everything else. This is the first time
I found it necessary to wear a parka and a rain coat in bed, the
parka to keep warm and the rain coat to keep the parka dry.

We noticed there was an old abandoned cabin a short ways from
the engine and mentioned it could be a big improvement over the
panel. We gave it a quick glance and decided that next time we
would take along enough camp equipment and stay there.

The first bit of good news when we arrived there was that the
river was way down, the lowest it had been for a long time; also
the very top of the big fly wheel was showing. It surely gave us a
lift to see that the fly wheel and crankshaft was here.

We unloaded our equipment which included a Melroe
‘Bobcat’ four wheel drive rubber tired frontend loader with
backhoe attachment. We started to doze a cut down to the river, it
is hard to believe the amount of work that can be done with one of
these little machines. I think we could have moved a mountain if
there was an old engine buried under it. It seemed to go at this
tremendous task with the same enthusiasm as we had, only it
didn’t get tired. After pushing many, many yards of dirt out
and beyond the engine we had a dam all the way around it. We then
mounted the backhoe attachment and started to pull dirt, tree
branches, rocks etc. away from around the boiler. This saved many
hours of back breaking hand shoveling. There was still plenty of
that to do under and in the boiler, between the big rear wheel
gears etc. As Don said ‘this filled in a grain at a time.’
Next we went for the flywheel and crankshaft with the backhoe. Due
to the quicksand the backhoe seemed determined to pull the Bobcat
into the hole with it. We found it necessary to chain it to the
rear wheel of the steamer. For awhile it seemed we couldn’t
make any headway as the sand filled in as fast as we could pull it
out. After an hour of this we were able to get a line hooked on to
the crankshaft to the winch truck, we pulled it up to the top of
the bank. It appeared to be intact and in fairly good condition,
including the pinion and the big four shoe clutch.

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