The following article is reprinted with permission from The
Farmer/The Dakota Farmer. Elmer Swanson of Larimore, North Dakota
58251 is the author.
If they were to do it today, they probably wouldn’t. That
is, bury 28 abandoned steam engines as footing for a road across
But, back in 1930-31, the behemoth machines that once powered
threshing rigs and pulled huge plows to turn the prairie soil were
plentiful. Those abandoned were rusting in groves and junkyards.
Gasoline or kerosene-burning tractors were fast taking their
Saving 13 miles in a trip to town was something to consider,
though, in those days. That was the distance that could be saved
between Lakota, north of Stump Lake, and Tolna, south of the lake,
if a road could be built across Wheeler’s Pass (also known
earlier as Dutch Point and Spoon hill Pass).
Farmers in this area of Nelson County, North Dakota, as well as
those living in the towns on either side of the 18-mile-long (east
to west) lake, wanted the road built.
So, in the fall of 1929, farmers and merchants gathered in
Lakota to lay plans. The road would be built across the narrow,
shallow stretch of the mile-wide lake Wheeler’s Pass.
Horse teams, pulling Fresno scrapers, would work from either
side, pulling gravel and dirt toward the center of the lake.
Farmers were to be paid for one of each two days worked.
Then there were the huge steamers volunteered as footing for the
road in the deeper part of the lake bed.
The 28-steamers, plus other worn-out machinery, were hauled out
on the ice of winter (1930-31). In spring, they rested on the lake
bottom. The crews went to work, hauling in dirt and packing it
solid over the old machines.
When completed, the road was christened the ‘Dutch Point
Later, it became a county road and was widened and graveled. The
road still serves those who travel through the area13 miles less
than the route around the lake. Though the lake area west of the
road has been dry during drought years, it fills during the wetter
But how about the antique value of those old steamers? One must
remember that, 50-60 years ago, there was no antique market for
steam engines. Had there been, the farmers and others in the Lakota
and Tolna North Dakota area would have thought more than twice
about dropping them into Stump Lake. Reconditioned steam engines,
in good shape, now sell upwards from $25,000. A year ago, at
Rollag, Minnesota auction, one brought $50,000.00!
Few motorists on the road across Stump Lake, near Lakota and
Tolna, North Dakota, realize they are driving over buried steam