My Friend Austin Monk

The Man Behind the Famous Peerless 40-120 Z3, the Redoubtable Austin Monk

| November/December 2003

It was the summer of 1954, and I had just thrown a match into the firebox of a steam traction engine for the first time. As the flames spread and the process of creating steam started, an indescribable emotion (yes, I know, men aren't supposed to have them) swelled within me, an emotion that has been with me these past 50 years. First came the smell of the smoke; smoke from a steam engine smells different than smoke from a camp or forest fire. Then came the sound of the water as it started 'cooking.' Next came the rattling of the check valves as enough steam built to start the blower. And after the engine turned over, yet another smell; steam cylinder oil mixed with smoke.

I grew up in Lewistown, Mont., in Montana's Judith Basin, where an abundance of large steam traction engines did their share of breaking sod. I was fortunate to be born into a family that had been using steam engines since 1910, and I haven't lived a day without an engine around me. Engines came and went on grandpa Yaeger's homestead, and until the fall of 1956, steam locomotives operated on the old Milwaukee Railroad line into Lewistown, making a loop and running around our farm on three sides. I grew up with steam.


In 1978, a couple of visitors arrived in Lewistown, scouting out steam engines in the Judith Basin. The visitors were Jimmy Schmauch and his good friend, Austin Monk, of Kalispell, Mont. I didn't know Austin at the time, so I couldn't have imagined what meeting him would mean to me. I had little idea that in a few short years my life would take a turn that would take me away from the farm that had been in our family for over 100 years.

Three years later my family and I moved to Whitefish, Mont., in the Flathead Valley near Kalispell, where I presently live. As I prepared our move, the late Max Tyler (who worked in the Flathead Valley during the Civilian Conservation Corp days of the Great Depression) told me to be sure and look up Austin Monk when I got settled 'up there.'

Austin Monk (left) and Carl Tuttle at the 2002 Steam and Gas Pasture Party in Somerset, Va., with the 40-120 HP 1913 Geiser-Peerless Austin built from various Emerson-Brantingham parts.

Austin bought this 25 HP Russell steam engine and sawmill after high school. An overhead pipe running to the right operated a single-cylinder engine that powered a cut-off or edger saw. Note the water tank on skis just visible to the left.