Rare Steam Engines

Steam Traction Engines at the Cedar Valley Memories Show


| May/June 2000



Blumentritt traction engine

1878 12 HP Blumentritt traction engine at Cedar Valley Memories. Only 22 engines were manufactured.

Photo by Larry G. Creed

Occasionally you visit a steam show and see a rare steam engine. At the Cedar Valley Memories show you have the opportunity to see three rare steam engines all in operating condition. Many of you are aware of the 40 HP cross compound Reeves steam engine owned by the Smolik brothers; their collection also includes an 1878 Blumentritt steam traction engine and a Phoenix log hauler.

Joseph Blumentritt was a twenty-year-old German immigrant who lived in Winona County, Minnesota, when he built a 6 HP portable steam engine. This first engine was built in a La Crosse, Wisconsin, brewery in complete secrecy so he had time to patent his ideas. When Blumentritt built his second steam engine he made improvements to the engine, made a steering device and added traction gearing. This was the first traction engine built west of the Mississippi River. Blumentritt saw that he had built a successful traction engine and a market for them existed. He built an engine shop on his farm and, by damming a creek and building a water turbine, he could operate two home-built turning lathes one for wood and the other for turning metal. He then built his own drill press, band saw, trip hammer, power jack saw and a large forge.

Blumentritt purchased the boilers for his engines in LaCrosse, Wisconsin; he made his own patterns and machined the parts in his shop. Joseph built a total of twenty-two engines in 6, 12 and 24 HP sizes. All of his engines were double cylinder, had no clutch, and were straight geared. To move the engines a pinion gear would be slid over on the crankshaft and a square key inserted.

The Smoliks' Blumentritt engine is a 12 HP and is the only surviving Blumentritt engine. The engine is quite peculiar in that no provision was made to fire the engine while it was moving. The operator stood on a side platform guiding the engine with a forward facing steering wheel. No platform is on the firebox end of the engine, nor can the operator reach the injectors while moving, as they are located on the opposite side of the boiler from the steering platform. The engine is remarkably smooth running and was last restored in the 1950s.

The Smolik collection also includes a 1910 Phoenix log hauler which was manufactured in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Scott Wiley of Marion, Iowa, spent 250 hours constructing a new cab for the Phoenix after tracking down the original drawings. Steering of the Phoenix is done on the front end and the engine controls are operated in cab. A bell signal communicates the steersman's intentions to the fireman.

The largest piece of equipment at the show is a Reeves 40-140 cross compound steam engine. The engine has two side mounted water tanks and a large fuel/water tank on the rear platform. Seven feet above the rear platform is the operator's cab from which the engine controls and the damper chain for draft are operated. After having the opportunity to steer the 40 HP Reeves, I found the steam power steering to work very well. A small lever on the right side of the operator's cab is all that is needed to steer the engine.