Pulling its Weight

Retired from Working the Rails, a 160-ton Steam-Powered Crane Joins Oregon's Western Steam Fiends

| January 2005

The love of steam is a funny thing. In our corner of the steam world, we exercise a unique fondness for agricultural steam engines, and our collective interest fosters and nurtures a community of like-minded folk. We're not alone; similarly minded steam communities exist around the country. There are steamboat enthusiasts, steam train enthusiasts, steamroller enthusiasts and steam model enthusiasts. Heck, there are steam engine lovers who focus on boiler history and design. When you get right down to it, we like steam engines, regardless of type.

Don Parsio, Myrtle Creek, Ore., loves steam. He certainly likes agricultural steam engines, a fact witnessed by his enthusiastic ownership of a 1914 Aultman & Taylor 16-48 simple single. He also likes more industrial steam engines, like the 1913 Buffalo 12-ton roller he owns. And he likes even larger engines, like the 160-ton-capacity, 128-ton 1928 Bucyrus-Erie steam-powered crane he plays with every summer on the show grounds the Western Steam Fiends share with Antique Powerland Museum, Brooks, Ore.

The story of this leviathan Bucyrus-Erie crane, no. 9869, is intriguing. Intriguing because it was among the last steam-powered cranes manufactured. Intriguing because the railway company that commissioned it, Southern Pacific Railroad, held onto it for so long - 66 years. Intriguing because it was supposed to have been scrapped at least a couple of times. And intriguing because it was eventually salvaged and restored to working condition by a dedicated group of West Coast agricultural steam enthusiasts.


"Tracking history on Southern Pacific iron is a nightmare," says Don. "They didn't keep good records." Even so, Don, a licensed crane operator and member of the Western Steam Fiends, probably knows as much about this steam-powered crane as anyone.

Designed for "picking" duties (picking up train cars after a derailment or other accident), the crane was commissioned by Southern Pacific Railroad in 1927. It was finished in 1928 (the year Bucyrus Co. and Erie Steam Shovel Co. merged into Bucyrus-Erie Co.) and then delivered on Sept. 11, 1928, to Southern Pacific's Ogden, Utah, facilities. Its working history in Utah is unrecorded, but in 1939 (and perhaps earlier), it was shipped to the West Coast, where it was stationed at Southern Pacific's Shasta Division in Dunsmuir, Calif.

The crane remained stationed in Dunsmuir until 1958, when it was traded to Southern Pacific's Klamath Falls, Ore., yard for a smaller, 120-ton industrial crane. Don says the trade came in part because the Bucyrus-Erie couldn't navigate all the tight turns and tunnels of the Siskiyou route in Northern California, thanks in no small part to its 45-foot-long boom and 19-foot-high profile.