Steam Engines I Ever Saw!


P. O. Box 476 Jamestown, ND 58402

I think the smallest steam engine I ever saw was in a creamery
at Hannover, North Dakota. I didn’t see the boiler, as it was
in a separate room. They were near the lignite beds so I assume
that was their fuel. I have no idea of the horsepower, but the
engine looked as if, unbolted from the floor, a man might be able
to lift it.

I believe the largest was an engine used to run the sawmill on
the Red Lake Reservation at Redby, Minnesota. It had a flywheel I
would guess was ten or twelve feet in diameter which ran a belt at
least 12′ wide. I believe that the engineer said it was fifty
years old at that time. They ran green sawdust off the chain to the
fire. Injector hose, presumably, hung in the lake. With the large
diameter flywheel the engine ran so slowly the spokes in the
flywheel could be counted. Engineer’s wages and some steam
cylinder oil was what it cost to operate.

There was work for several men on the mill. It has since been
torn down and replaced by an all electric modern mill. It cost
thousands of dollars and did away with jobs.

At a later date, I went to a thresher’s show in Western
Minnesota. The halves of a flywheel were there. The halves were
bolted together. I mentioned that I had seen an engine like that at
Redby, Minnesota. The man said, ‘That is the one.’ I never
went back after they had it set up.

J. F. Ramage used to be a steam thresher at Langdon, North
Dakota. I’ve heard much of his threshing rigs. I asked Walter,
his oldest boy, how many machines his father had run at one time.
Walter said four.

Pat Lajisnodiere of Olga, North Dakota, was one of his
engineers. One fall there was so much rain the straw got too wet to
burn. Jack didn’t know how to finish the run. Pat said to go to
Olga where they had cleared land to get stumps. He said he knew it
would work. They had large racks and three horses each. Pat said
there were teams strung out for half a mile. A man was put at each
engine to work the stumps down to a size they could put in the
firebox. They were oak and ash stumps. The one trip furnished the
run. Pat said there are stumps around Ramage’s yet.

I will never forget one evening in 1924. I was straw-monkey on
Jim McLean’s straw burner. There was a dead calm, and the smoke
from the engines went straight up, I don’t know how high. I was
sitting on the tender. I have no idea how far away, somewhere
between what I could count in Cavalier County in North Dakota and
across the line in Manitoba I counted thirty smokes. It could have
been a little either way as counting in that matter I could easily
count one or miss one.

One Sunday afternoon Monassa Myers, owner of an undermounted
Avery, went west, I presume to saw in Turtle Mountain. East of
Hamsboro there is a shallow lake but quite wide. A bridge crossed
the lake. I wasn’t there, but I believe it was Myers attempting
to cross the bridge. The weight of the engine must have driven the
pilings deeper. I think he must have backed off. The east end of
the bridge would remind a person of a camel’s back. Many years
later I saw a smaller undermounted Avery. I didn’t know they
made more than one size.

In 1930 I moved a house out of Turtle Mountain to St. John. It
was not too big and a nice looking house. The main part was built
of logs with a frame addition on the north side, lathed, plastered
and stuccoed. We loaded it. It was in the spring and water came
near the surface. We planked the wheels and called for power. Pete
Jeanotte, owner of the house, was furnishing that. A fellow came
out with two old Minneapolis tractors that looked like they were
ready for the junk pile. We were at it all afternoon. We would
start, then it would roll back when the planking would sink. We
would pick it up and he would try again. The following morning I
went to see Pete and asked if there wasn’t a bigger tractor or
steamer we could use. Went quite aways in the back to Paul
Streitzel’s. Got Paul out of bed and it didn’t take long to
make a deal. By the time the boys got water from the lake, Paul had
hand holes packed. Where the engine was left, there was lots of dry
wood and stumps. Got her steamed up and Paul started out. We had
loaded some cord wood to use as fuel. The roads were still soft and
the road was narrow. He slipped into a ditch. Had block and tackle
in the truck, so we anchored to a tree and soon were back on the
road. I don’t know how many miles we had to go, but we got to
the house about sundown. Paul said we would try her on solid
ground, and the next morning we took her in. Paul seemed to run
with very little steam pressure. Once, when going up a hill, it
stopped and Paul said, ‘We’ll have to steam her up a

I haven’t seen Paul since that one time at his place. His
son had the boiler. I mentioned about the steamer. He believed it
was a Minneapolis. Looked as if run very little. He said he bought
it in Rolla for $ 100 and used it on the farm. He said it costs
just 30 cents per day for cylinder oil. I was told much later, by a
neighbor of Paul’s, that he had an awful time getting home.
Bill Leonard, the neighbor, said it took about a week. I don’t
know why he didn’t come to see me. I could have possibly gotten
him out as the first time.

Christ Estensen was pulling a house for us. It was higher ground
where we had to go, and when the front of the engine got on the
higher ground, it started to foam. He threw in a snatch block and
cable and put the steamer onto level ground. There was a good woven
wire barrier we didn’t want to cut, so we had to make short
hauls and shorten the rigging. My dad was boss. Fellows from town
were offering advice as to better methods. Dad didn’t pay much
attention and he went to Christ. Christ said, ‘We are doing it
this way. It is going pretty good and we will keep on this

Henry Henricken ran an engine one fall. There had been rain so
he went home. One morning it looked to be fine but they were going
to steam the engine. Things went good at first but then they
couldn’t get more pressure. They were firing with bundles as
well as straw. Henry came walking across the field and was told of
the problem. He stepped to the side of the engine, opened a valve
and could see there was lots of steam. He said, ‘I think I
would quit firing, boys.’ This took the fireman’s fork. He
tapped the pop valve, it opened. Then he tapped the steam gauge and
it flew to an awful pressure. It was so long ago I don’t
remember the figures. The men started to run. Henry said, ‘You
don’t have to run now. The danger is all over!’

Once I saw an upright marine diesel two cycle. The man who owned
it said they hadn’t run it lately. Once I ran a sawmill and
edger. Hung on a planer, but that was too much. I don’t
remember horsepower but it was under ten.

A mechanic, Billy Pollock of Dorian, Ontario, bought it. He had
a sawmill but an industrial Ford engine. Haven’t seen Bill

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