I HAVE ALWAYS LIKED steam power, for I grew up in an environment
of steam mixed with cylinder oil and green sawdust. My father and
his father before him operated a sawmill powered by the steam
The first traction engines I saw operating under their own power
were at the National Thresher’s Reunion at Montpelier, Ohio, in
1956. After seeing the engines operate I became fascinated by them
and wanted to buy one that I could restore.
About a year later, I was talking with a junk-man who told me
where there was a steam traction engine near Moscow, Michigan that
a former thresherman wanted to sell. He said that he had tried to
buy it but the thresherman would not sell it to him because he
wanted to scrap it. The junk-man and I went to look at the traction
engine which is a Port Huron.
I learned later that it is a Port Huron 24 with a short boiler.
Mr. Mitchell said he would sell it to me providing I would not junk
it or disassemble it and use just the boiler. I told him that this
stipulation was satisfactory to me because I wanted to restore the
engine and take it to steam threshing reunions.
I told Mr. Mitchell that before I bought the engine I wanted to
talk to a friend, Mr. Pawson, who powers his sawmill with a Baker
engine. I had operated stationary steam engines in nay father’s
sawmill, but I never had operated a steam traction engine and did
not know what to look for in purchasing a steam traction
I talked with Mr. Pawson and he said that he used to have a Port
Huron, but he scrapped it because it rusted out below the rear
draft door. He said the Port Huron had a bad. habit of rusting out
in the ash pit and around the rear draft door.
I went back to see Mr. Mitchell and we inspected the boiler to
see if it was rusted through in either the ash pit or around the
rear draft door. I also looked at the front tube sheet to see if it
was rusted through. I found the tube sheet pitted near the bottom,
which is to be expected, but in good condition. The bottom half of
the smoke box was rusted through in a couple of places. I told Mr.
Mitchell that I was not overly concerned about this condition
because it could be fixed by cutting out this part of the smoke box
and welding in a new piece of metal.
Having found the boiler in good condition, we agreed upon a
price and I bought the engine. Now came the task of moving it home.
Mr. Mitchell had used the engine to power his sawmill but had not
operated the sawmill for the last eight years. This was evident
because the roof of the sawmill had rotted and was lying on the
engine. Jacking the roof up and moving the engine out from under
the roof proved to be the most difficult task of moving the engine
to our sawmill in Addison, Michigan. After I got the engine home I
re moved all the old pipe fittings from the boiler and plugged the
pipe holes in the boiler in preparation to testing it with cold
water pressure. I then filled the boiler with cold water and pumped
it up to two hundred and fifty pounds pressure to check for any
weak spots in the boiler. It held the pressure without rupturing or
leaking so I concluded that it was safe to steam up. I drained the
boiler and put on steam and water pipes and repacked the stuffing
boxes on the engine.
Having the boiler and engine in operating condition I proceeded
to steam her up. When the steam pressure had reached one hundred
and twenty five pounds I turned on the boiler injector. I opened
the steam valve and water valve, but all I got from the injector
was water spilling out the overflow.
About this time I was beginning to get a little frantic and
began to close first the water valve and the steam valve, but I
just could not get the injector to work.
However, lady luck was smiling on me. A sawmill man that used to
operate traction engines came to the sawmill for some lumber. I
asked him now to operate the injector. I told him that I opened the
steam and water valve but all I got was water spilling out the
overflow. He replied, You cannot open the steam valves wide open
because the injector sucks in too much water to inject into the
boiler and as a result the water runs out the injector
overflow.’ He further added, ‘You open the steam valve and
then open the water valve so the steam is able to suck just enough
water into the injector and then the steam will force the water
into the boiler without any water running out the overflow.’ I
followed his directions and the injector worked.
Since learning how to operate the injector I have had many
pleasurable moments running the engine on some near by gravel roads
and using it to power a cutoff saw and cement mixer. I believe the
happiest moment will come when I get the engine completely restored
and show it off at either the reunion at Montpelier, Ohio, or at