Port Huron's Road Trip Odyssey

Buying the 1915 Port Huron engine was easy – getting it home was another story.

| July 2005

  • PortHuronmachineryadvertised.jpg
    Right: Part of an advertisement for Port Huron machinery advertised in Power Farming magazine, 1917.
  • PortHuronsteamtractionengine.jpg
    Opposite page: The front of the 24-75 Port Huron steam traction engine, a 1915 model in superb condition. Inset: Front cover of a 1908 Port Huron catalog.
  • AmericanThresherman.jpg
    An action photo from the 1919 The American Thresherman of a 24 HP Port Huron steam traction engine at work with a threshing crew.
  • PowerFarming.jpg
    Above: A circa 1915 Power Farming magazine advertisement promoted used and rebuilt Port Huron Engine & Thresher Co. machinery. Although this practice was followed by a few other manufacturers, it was not particularly widespread.
  • PortHuronEngineThresherCo.jpg
    Left: This 1919 advertisement shows the only tractor Port Huron Engine & Thresher Co. ever built, a 4-cylinder Model 12-25 with a 4-3/4-by-6-inch bore and stroke.
  • Longfellow.jpg
    One of Port Huron Engine & Thresher Co.’s most popular steam traction engines was their Longfellow.

  • PortHuronmachineryadvertised.jpg
  • PortHuronsteamtractionengine.jpg
  • AmericanThresherman.jpg
  • PowerFarming.jpg
  • PortHuronEngineThresherCo.jpg
  • Longfellow.jpg

This 1915 Port Huron 24-75 HP Woolf tandem-compound steam traction engine was added to the collection of the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion (WMSTR) in 1976. Perhaps the first Port Huron traction engine west of the Mississippi, the story of how the 20,700-pound Port Huron came to Rollag, Minn., is as interesting as the machine itself.

Bob Brekken, longtime editor of WMSTR's official handbook, Memories of Bygone Years, says he had wanted a steam engine ever since he rode on his grandfather's Reeves steam traction engine many years ago at Watertown, S.D. "I carried the incurable steam engine disease in my bloodstream," he says.

Bob's disease was aided and abetted by his good friend Norman Nelson, who suggested Bob buy a Port Huron not only because it was a good brand of machinery, but also because he doubted any steam show west of the Mississippi had one. "When the time arrived that I had enough funds to get into the steam engine business," Bob says, "Norman brought out several recent issues of steam magazines and we examined the classified sections."

They found Port Hurons for sale in Michigan, Illinois and Indiana, called for details, and after a while decided on the 24-75 HP owned by Stanley Forwood of White Cloud, Mich. After coming to an agreement, in October 1976 they organized the trip to pick up the engine.



BACKGROUND

Port Huron Engine & Thresher Co. began with the manufacture of threshers starting in 1851. It was the first thresher shop in the state, under the tutelage of William Brown, at Battle Creek, Mich. Eight years later, the company merged with a concern run by James Upton and became known as Upton, Brown & Co., and then in 1874 became Upton Mfg. Co.

As with many companies of the time, it was a family affair: Upton's brother Parley was a partner, as was Upton's son-in-law, Henry M. Strong. Seventy-five people worked in the plant making the company's Michigan Sweepstakes Threshing Machine, which was sold throughout the wheat-producing states of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Missouri.



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