Port Huron Steam Engine No. 6312

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16-50 Port Huron steam engine with Walter Jopke standing along side.
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Copy of the 1909 inspection sheet on steam engine No. 6312.
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Walter Jopke with his No. 6312 in August of 1996.

5230 Lincoln Street N.E. Minneapolis, Minnesota 55421

I have always wondered, as I looked at an old antique steam engine, as to the history of it. Many questions would arise, such as how old it was, where it was built, and how it was used.

As a teenager I recall the threshing of small grains on my father’s farm and the thrill of watching and listening to a steam engine huff and puff as the grain bundles were fed into the threshing machine. Since that time I have wanted to purchase one.

My opportunity came when a Port Huron steam engine was put up for auction at the Walter Dehn auction. There, on July 17,1993, I purchased Port Huron steam traction engine number 6312. The third week in August I operated it at the Rogers Pioneer Power Association. I have made numerous minor repairs and built a canopy for it.

I continued to become more interested in the history of this steam engine. I asked myself, would it be possible to find out who owned it, how they used it, and where it was during the past 70 or 80 years?

In the January /February 1995 issue of The Iron Men Album magazine, Tom Fisher wrote an article about restoring a Port Huron engine in Michigan. He inquired about a letter ‘T’ that was stamped on the back head of the Port Huron he was restoring. The article mentioned that Mr. David Kemler had access to the archives at the Henry Ford Museum. I wrote to Mr. Kemler to see if he might be able to locate information about my engine. Much to my surprise, he was able to locate a two page construction sheet of my Port Huron number 6312 steam traction engine. From this construction sheet, I found that the engine was shipped to B. L. Woolison in Stanwood, Iowa, on May 24, 1909. I continued my search for more information.

I drove to Stanwood, Iowa, and contacted some of the older residents of the area. I finally located Lester ‘Buzz’ Woolison, grandson of B. L. Woolison, who was still living on the homestead farm.

I showed Lester the construction sheet and he immediately said, ‘That is the steam engine my granddad owned.’ I was surprised that he was so positive about it, but I listened. He told of his granddad’s threshing rig. His granddad operated it during July, August, September, October, and sometimes into November. He started on the northeast side of Stanwood and operated entirely around Stanwood. Early on, the grain bundles were brought to the threshing machine by wagon. As the season wore on, the farmers stacked the bundles. Lester stated that his granddad was the only one threshing grains in that area. Lester said he and a brother helped operate the rig and at times would be gone for a week.

Lester mentioned how fussy his granddad was with the engine. He insisted on using good Pocahontas coal; in fact, he would get a trainload of coal and unload it to a shed in Stanwood.

I asked Lester to tell me about moving the engine from farm to farm. Interestingly, the only problem was crossing railroad tracks, because during the early years the railroad tracks were not level with the crossing road.

From 1909-1940, only minor repairs were needed, such as fixing gaskets and pipes and replacing flues. The engine was always kept in a shed when not in use. Lester’s granddad, B. L. Woolison, passed away in 1946. In 1954 or 1955 Lester’s grandmother held an auction and sold the engine to James Martin of Independence, Iowa. Through the Internet, I was able to contact James’ son, James Ted Martin, and he told me about their activity with the steam engine from 1954 or 1955 to 1978. During this period, they attended shows in the surrounding area, took part in tractor pulls, removed elm tree stumps, put the engine on a Crabb wood saw at the Amish village, and in an emergency, provided steam for a ready mix cement plant.

Repairs during these 22 years included replacing the flues with 1000 pound flues and replacing the throttle stem. In 1978 the Martins held an auction. and the steam engine was sold to Walter Dehn of Rogers, Minnesota. From 1978 to July 1993, the steam engine was operated by members of the Rogers Pioneer Power Association. It was used only for threshing grains and was run in the parade during the yearly three-day show in August.

Since my purchase on July 17, 1993, I have operated the steam engine on a threshing machine and run it in the parade at the Northen Historical Power Association three-day show in August.

It has been a joyous and fun experience. When I first thought about ever finding out any information, it appeared hopeless. But as I continued, the pieces began to fall into place. It was a real thrill to talk to the grandson and later the son of the owners, and they were also thrilled to hear about the engine after all these years.

It is a fine engine, and I hope to operate it for many years.

I will continue to talk with other persons who may have had contact with this particular Port Huron steam traction engine.

I hope this will inspire others who own a steam or gas engine and tractor to try to learn all they can about it, such as who the previous owners were, the dates they owned the engine, and how their particular machine was used.

Farm Collector Magazine
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