Pulling its Weight

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Opposite page: The 1928, 160-ton steam-powered Bucyrus-Erie crane in its full glory at the 2004 Great Oregon Steam-Up in Brooks, Ore.
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Right: Looking out over the massive, 45-foot-long boom from the engine house.
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Below: Outriggers at the corners and center of the crane keep the unit stable during a pick. The center outrigger (left) extends 11 feet total. The corner outriggers (right) have jacks built in the ends.
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Left: Don Parsio looks over the crane’s boom during the 2004 Great Oregon Steam-Up in Brooks, Ore.
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Right Dennis Root tends to the myriad valves inside the crane’s engine house.
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Below: The crane has three cable drums, with air valves controlling key functions. Red handles are for brakes, yellow handles are for main lift, auxiliary lift, clutches, engine reverse and swing.
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Above: In the belly of the beast. The Bucyrus-Erie crane is equipped with a diesel-fueled boiler.
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Right: Four-inch steam lines (wrapped in reflective heat tape) feed the twin 12-inch-by-12-inch cylinders.

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 TIME

“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.

The crane’s history becomes a little clearer at this point.
Klamath Falls resident Chuck Johnson was the primary operator of
the crane after its delivery, and for the next 15 years Johnson
operated the crane as part of a “rescue train.” “This was a ‘rescue
crane’ that was part of a rescue train. You never use the word
‘wreck’ around trains,” Don notes. Chuck worked about 300 picks
with it, from minor incidents to fullblown accidents.

In the mid-1970s, the crane was shipped to Southern Pacific’s
Seattle, Wash., facilities for scheduled boiler work. “By that time
they were trying to get rid of the old steamers. This one was
scheduled for the scrapper,” Don says. According to Don, workers in
the Seattle yard didn’t want to see the old crane scrapped “because
it was a better crane than the ones they had.” In a bit of number
changing, workers at the Seattle yard swapped the Bucyrus-Erie’s
“maintenance of way” no. 7005 with that of a smaller unit, 7020,
which ended up being sold off instead. The crane, now bearing no.
7020, received a complete boiler overhaul.

After this, the crane’s movement becomes obscured yet again. A
photograph dated to 1976 shows the crane at Southern Pacific’s
Eugene, Ore., yard, and in 1985 it was photographed in Dunsmuir,
where it was stationed for a few years. Back in Dunsmuir, the crane
was kept on “cold standby,” meaning it was maintained for possible
use but probably rarely fired up. Don has talked to one of its
previous operators, who said the last pick the crane did was in
1982.

The crane continued to sit, and then sometime after 1985 it was
dispatched to Southern Pacific’s Eugene, Ore., yard. It continued
to sit idle until finally, in 1994, the order came to sell it off
as scrap.

BOUND FOR SCRAP

Like the yardmen in Seattle, the yardmaster in Eugene didn’t
want to see the old Bucyrus-Erie scrapped. The yardmaster contacted
Rick Franklin, owner of Lebanon, Oregon-based Rick Franklin Corp.,
a railroad services company, to see if Rick could spare the crane
from the scrap yard. Rick, a fan of old rail equipment, bought the
crane and parked it at his company’s yard in Lebanon.

Once again, the crane sat idle for a few years. In the interim,
Rick scouted around for a suitable partner to help secure the
crane’s preservation. He found that partner in the Western Steam
Fiends, and in 2000 he donated it to the club for restoration and
display. Rick knows the Steam Fiends’ focus is primarily
agricultural steam engines, but he also knew they had the space,
the talent and the motivation to get the crane back on line.

The Steam Fiends embraced the opportunity to acquire the crane.
Don credits club members Dan Kearl and Dennis Root with
spearheading the effort to find funding for the crane’s retrieval
and restoration, eventually securing a grant for the crane’s
retrieval and restoration from the Meyer Memorial Trust &
National Railway Historical Society.

In a flurry of organizational effort, club members worked out a
plan with local short-line railway companies to get the crane from
Rick’s Lebanon yard to the show grounds in Brooks. On Nov. 4, 2000,
Albany & Eastern Railroad, Lebanon, ferried the crane from
Rick’s work yard to Albany. The next day, a Sunday, Willamette
& Pacific and Portland & Western Railroad Inc., Salem,
Ore., took it the rest of the way to Brooks. Don says Bob Melbo,
president of Willamette & Pacific at the time, took it on
himself to make the Sunday run from Albany. “He hooked up one of
his locomotives, put an idler under the boom, took two of our guys
in the cab and took it up to Tualitan, Ore., (a Portland suburb)
and back down to Brooks,” Don recalls.

In Brooks, the crane was put off on a siding, conveniently
situated only 1/4-mile from Antique Powerland. It stayed at the
siding until Nov. 12, 2000, when Wayne Grippin Construction &
House Moving, Salem, jacked it up, put it on dollies and towed it
the remaining distance to its new, and permanent, home at Antique
Powerland.

Over the course of the next year, club volunteers devoted
themselves to preparing the crane for operation and display. In
June 2001, after a year of preparation, the crane was fired up for
the first time in almost 20 years. Mechanically, Don says it really
didn’t need much, but it’s such a big piece of equipment it took
considerable time and effort to work through the crane’s
mechanicals to ensure everything was in proper working order. That,
and the fact the crew working on the crane had to familiarize
themselves with a piece of equipment none of them had ever worked
with before.

Fortunately for the Steam Fiends, Chuck Johnson got involved
once the crane was in Brooks and running. “We had to run it on our
own guidance at first, because we didn’t know Chuck was still
around,” Don says. Club members were understandably cautious
operating the crane, taking it through its paces in a slow and
deliberate manner. But when Chuck operates the crane, Don says,
“it’s like he’s still working for Southern Pacific. When he grabs
the throttle, he grabs the throttle.”

Although the crane has no connection to agricultural history,
its sheer size and capacity – and its steam-powered workings –
prove an irresistible draw for spectators during the annual Great
Oregon Steam-Up held at Antique Powerland every July and August.
Club members fire up its diesel-fueled boiler, and then take the
crane through a limited series of demonstrations. “We’ve got a
small set of railroad trucks we toss around with it. But it’s only
8,000 pounds; the crane doesn’t even know it’s there,” Don says.
“We’re trying to find a bigger load to play with, something that
looks a little more impressive.”

Even so, Don says the crowd loves it. “They’re amazed at the
size. It’s such a huge machine, and along with everything else on
the grounds, they like that it’s fired up and working. That’s part
of our goal; we like to get as much stuff fired up and working as
we can. It’s a quantum leap from a static display.”

For his part, Don relishes the opportunity he gets every year to
run the crane. A working survivor from the end of the heyday of
steam, the crane reminds Don of how much things have changed. Plus,
he adds with a laugh, “It’s certainly one helluva fun toy to play
with. There’s not a lot of people I can’t walk up to and say, ‘my
toy’s bigger than your toy.'”

The Western Steam Fiends annual Great Oregon Steam-Up is
held every year during the last weekend in July and the first
weekend in August. Contact the Steam Fiends at: Antique Powerland
Museum, 3995 Brooklake Road N.E., Brooks, OR 97303; (503) 393-2424;
www.antiquepowerland.com

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