Once Upon a Dream

The Late Oscar O. Cooke's Dreamland Museum

| September 2006

I was a young man the first time I visited Oscar's Dreamland Museum near the Yellowstone River south of Billings, Mont. The late Max Tyler insisted I needed to go out and meet Oscar Cooke the next time I was in Billings. Oscar owned a bunch of crawler-type tractors, and although Max had been a real steam man from the original steam era, his real love later in life became "Cats." Both men had their Holts, Bests, Caterpillars, Monarchs, Allis-Chalmers and Cletracs, and Oscar even had McCormick-Deerings. Max wouldn't own one, as he'd grown up running Cats while in the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression and had his personal reasons for disliking them.

I ventured out to meet Oscar the next time Sharon, my wife, and I went to Billings. Cooke had just opened his museum to the public in 1968. I was very pleased to see a huge old Corliss engine out front that once powered the Great Western Sugar Co. in Billings greeting the public.

I remember seeing this 16-foot (I believe) flywheel engine in operation at "the Sugar Factory" in my boyhood. I remember walking into Oscar's shop, where he was working on a small, steel-wheeled gas tractor. I sort of felt like an unneeded interruption, as my age didn't quite qualify me as anything but another "question asker." I soon turned our conversation to my love and ability with steam traction engines. Oscar came right to life. After checking me out a little further, Oscar insisted I needed to become part of his engine crew for his shows. He set down his wrenches, cleaned his hands and insisted on taking me around his museum on a personal tour.

I don't recall the size of the three (red, white and blue) sheds at Oscar's Dreamland, but they must have been close to 75-foot-by-150-foot or possibly larger. Some had lean-to roof extensions on the outside, where he stored his steam traction engines. It was phenomenal the amount of equipment he stored inside. One building was pretty much filled with huge prairie-type gas tractors. Another was filled with smaller tractors and the third was a mixture of antique aircraft, antique automobiles and other memorabilia, at that time.

One of my favorite parts of the tour was when we passed by the scrap iron pile and the remnants of his "Kerosene Annie," the prototype of the famed Rumely OilPull tractor. She lacked so much. There were massive amounts missing - gearing, steering gear, engine parts, and it looked completely hopeless to me.

I don't remember which tractor magazine publisher visited the museum and passed by this same tractor, photographing it for placement in his magazine. Anyway, this publisher didn't realize who he was dealing with when he printed something like: Kerosene Annie - It will never run again.