North By Northwest Part II

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Opposite page: This 1913 photo shows a 30 HP Northwest steam traction engine. This is part of August Berg’s threshing rig working near Fort Ransom, N.D. (Photo from the Richard Birklid Collection.)
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The Fargo branch of Northwest Thresher Mfg. Co. used stationery to give a receipt for the purchase of an engine in 1903.
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Right: Little is known about this early threshing scene, using a New Giant steam traction engine. Note the large flywheel, which many of the Minnesota Threshing Machine Co. machines had.
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Above: A Washington automatic bagger was one of the perks in buying some of the Northwest separators manufactured by Minnesota Thresher Mfg. Co. of Stillwater, Minn.
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Left: The Stillwater boiler, shown in an opened view and a lengthwise view, was claimed to be extremely safe because of the arch of the boiler. With hundreds of boilers out working, there had not been a single report of an accident.
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This trio of farm workers standing beside their Northwest Thresher Mfg. Co. engine with water hoses wound around their necks seem to be having a fun time during a rare break from the hard work of the day.
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The caption under this photo identified it as a 51 HP Northwest double-cylinder, cross-compound engine hauling 10 traction engines and one separator from the Northwest Thresher Mfg. Co. factory in the background, perhaps to the railroad for shipping.

Editor’s note: This is part two of a two-part series on the
Northwest Thresher Co.

Northwest Thresher Co. became the successor to
Minnesota Threshing Machine Co. in July 1901. In 1902, the size of
the plant was increased, as was the capitalization, from $500,000
to $700,000.

A 1903 advertisement in The Thresher World and Farmers’
touts “The New Giant Engine,” the successor to the
Giant steam traction engine. The advertisement says there was
excessive rain in most localities in 1902, which tested the engine
as never before. The result: “It was hard steaming, hard threshing,
hard pulling, hard on the flues, hard on the engine and hard on the
engineers. The New Giant came through the ordeal without a single
failure – without a single defeat. No waiting for steam, no lack of
power, no stuck in the mud; nothing but complete satisfaction of
all demands made upon it.”

The New Giant was claimed to be the most durable boiler on the
market. According to Jack Norbeck in Encyclopedia of American
Steam Traction Engines
, the steel boiler was of 60,000-pound
tensile strength per square inch.

The 18 HP and smaller boilers had shells 1/4-inch thick, main
flues 5/16-inch, flue sheets and dome sheets 3/8-inch thick. The 20
HP and larger had vital statistics of shells 5/16-inch, main flues
3/8-inch and flue sheets 7/16 inches thick. The 25 HP simple and 30
HP compound boilers were made in three sections, the center
13/32-inch thick and the end sections 3/8 inches thick.

According to Norbeck, “The company made no extra charge for
jacketing. The jacket of the New Giant had an extra covering of
Russia iron, which made it indestructible, and gave it a fine
finish. This prevented the condensation of steam in cold weather
and added to the durability of the boiler.”


One of the peculiarities of this series of companies was that
they required every boiler to be state-tested. A letter signed by a
Northwest Thresher Co. employee and dated Jan. 7, 1905, and written
to John A. Johnson, governor of Minnesota, says, “It won’t make one
cent’s difference with me who is appointed (steam boiler inspector)
beyond the desire to get the best man for the lace, the property
and even the lives of citizens is involved in this matter and to
this extent it should be every good citizen’s privilege, and aim,
to do what little he can toward the desired end.”

The letter adds, “I understand that Mr. M.E. Mathews and Dr.
Conway have endorsed one Lloyd Champlin for this position. Now
Governor, what presumption it would be on my part to attempt to try
one of my friend Mathews’ cases in supreme court, or do a job of
tooth carpentering for my friend the Dr., and yet I would be just
as well qualified for either job as they are to pass on the man
whom they endorse for this appointment.”

The letters continues, saying even though the writer doesn’t
like a certain man, he endorses him for steam boiler inspector
because he’s very good at it: “Thoroughly posted, thoroughly honest
and thoroughly energetic with a pretty good opinion of himself.”
This man was appointed.

Northwest Thresher Co. engines were steamed up four consecutive
days to test them while the boiler inspector looked them over. They
were also tested at 50 percent over their steam test, so for the
New Giant, which carried 150 pounds steam, boilers were tested at
225 pounds of cold-water pressure.

Standard equipment included sight-feed lubricators, grease cups
for bearings along with grease, small tools, poker, scraper, flue
cleaner, combination and cast wrenches, chisel, oil cans, packing,
and a funnel for filling the boiler. A canopy could be bought.

Norbeck says, “A special safety plug at the forward end of the
crown sheet was fitted in the end of a large plug in such manner
that the soft metal became exposed while there was still 2 inches
of water over the crown sheet, thus assuring absolute safety.”

As gasoline and kerosene tractors became a greater part of the
market, Northwest bought Universal Tractor Co. in early 1911 for
their Universal tractor, “and the business will be carried on
hereafter under the name of the Northwest Thresher Company,” said
the Feb. 28, 1911 edition of Farm Implements, “which will
continue to manufacture threshing engines and separators but in
addition will make the gasoline traction engine heretofore made by
the tractor company.”

On February 1912, “Eastern interests” bought Northwest Thresher
Co. A Farm Implement News report from 1912 stated, “Since
the recent transfer of stock, there has been unusual activity at
the plant, and it is reported that the new owners intend to greatly
increase the manufacturing facilities.” The Stillwater
Minn.) Gazette said, “C.W. Folds of Chicago, the new
president of the company, stated that he, with other associates in
the east, had acquired control of the Northwest Thresher Co.,
believing that they could, by greatly increasing the output of the
plant, make the enterprise more profitable than it has ever been
before.” One of those ways was to sell company products in Canada
through American-Abell Engine & Thresher Co. of Toronto, “in
large quantities.” “This arrangement contemplates about doubling
the production of the plant at once and making a steady market for
the engines produced.”

In 1912 a Farm Implements article said, “A dispatch
from Stillwater says the Northwest Thresher Co., of that city, are
rushing the construction of gasoline tractors to fill big orders,
and at the same time are turning out the usual quota of steam
tractors and thresher separators. During the winter several hundred
gasoline tractors were made for the Minneapolis Threshing Machine
Co., but the product now is for the Rumely Products Co., Ltd., of
LaPorte, Ind., and will be shipped to Canada. A train of 17 cars
left the factory March 13. The dispatch further says that the
Rumely Products Co., Ltd., now own the Stillwater plant. Plans are
being made for the enlargement of the factory and additional
machinery has already been installed in the old buildings. Four
gasoline tractors a day are now being turned out.”

Six months later, in October 1912, Northwest Thresher Co. was
sold to M. Rumely Co. of LaPorte, Ind., and Rumely GasPull tractors
were manufactured there for a year until the plant was finally shut
down permanently, as far as these companies were concerned, in

Contact Bill Vossler at: Box 372, 400 Caroline L,
Rockville, MN 56369; (320) 253-5414;

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