Note from Murray Johanson: The following happened in Hamiota Manitoba, Canada in the summer of 2006. Colin Beamish invited me to his family farm to help celebrate his dad Jack’s 60th birthday. When I drove into the yard, I was met by a sight that I don’t believe anyone has ever seen before. There was a lineup of eight Case steam engines, all steamed up. Even more amazing is that all of these engines were built from scratch by Jack and Colin. Jack also built a buttstrap skid 80 that is missing from the picture. That day was spent driving engines around and talking steam. In the evening, I asked Jack about his earlier steam days and the following is a story as told to me by Jack Beamish:
My steam life began at an early age in the very early 1950’s when my dad and uncle took me with them to watch several steam driven saw mills operating around Riding Mountain National Park. That is where dad and uncle’s 1914 80 HP Case (serial no. 31471) ended up saving millions of board feet lumber until 1952.
Saturday evening at home was a night to reminisce with Dad when he brought out the old black photo album and went over the dozens of photos of their steam engines threshing, brush plowing, road grading, building roads and elevating graders and moving dozens of homes and barns.
My most memorable day was when Dad and my uncle took me to the old Orange Hall around 1954 to watch an old movie called the “Bread Basket of the World.” The movie depicted all the wheat grown on the western Canadian prairies from the soil being broke, the wheat planted, harvested and ground into flour and the bread. The sod busting part was filmed at Nobleford, Alberta, named after Charles Nobel, who owned all the steam engines. There were five late 1913 110 HP Case steam engines plowing in a row, and from photos I have now, show one 36 HP Rumley and two 32 HP Reeves. Plowing separately, which I vividly remember, were three 30 HP Special Avery’s. Having visited back a few years ago with Ray and Ed Smolik of Iowa, they had mentioned that they had talked with Charles Nobel back in the 1940’s. Charles had told Ed and Ray of some of the late 1913 110 HP engines that still existed at Melfort and Star City, Saskatchewan. An interesting note Charles had to made to Ray and Ed was that the two 32 HP Reeves and 36 HP Rumley had to pull out on the ends when plowing and let the 110 HP engines go by as they traveled a lot faster.
Back in the late 1980’s, I had the pleasure of talking to Charles Nobel’s nephew, who was living in Regina. He told me that after Charles finished the steam plowing, he bought 12 Model E Oil Pulls to sow the grain and plow the stubble. They became too expensive to operate and he went back to a large scale horse operation, which was the cheapest way to farm at that time. Also, the nephew mentioned that one summer, they started steam plowing in mid-August and broke over 17,000 acres by freeze up.
My first attempt to build a steam engine as a young lad started with an old furnace lying down, attached wheels, a smokestack, fire door and some miscellaneous parts to make an engine. This contraption was from one of Dad’s junk piles on a trail leading out to an old cow pasture. One day, I was firing up, making lots of smoke, when my older sister was walking by to fetch the cows for milking. She asked what I was doing and I very emphatically replied, “Firing up my steam engine!” She retorted with “You will never have a steam engine” and I replied back with a bit of a temper saying, “I will have one if I have to build one.” From that one statement, the rest soon became history as in 1959, my dad, uncle and I started working on a 75 HP case.
In the mid-Sixties, I searched for Case parts and into the 1970’s, I began bringing home 80 and 110 HP Case parts. The 80 and 110 HP Case engines were built first and then Colin became old enough to help built the 80 buttstrap skid, Case 40, 45, 50, 20 and 65 HP engines. Most of the parts came from the four western provinces, while a sprinkling of parts came from nine states. Colin and I are the only people to build that many Case steam engines from parts since the factory workers at the Case plant in Racine, Wisc. We do not believe in paint brush restorations and all of our engines have to perform 100 percent mechanically. Colin backed the 80 HP Case out of the shop for the first run at 4-years-old. He’s the fifth generation on the family farm running steam engines, as the Beamish came to the prairies in 1879, and steam engines have remained here since the 1880’s.
Jack Beamish may be reached at (204) 764-2015; Murray Johanson can be reached at (204) 445-2183