Sweet Sixteen The Story of Old Betsy

| September/October 1989

RR #2, Box 178 Arcola, Illinois 61910

A small, almost deserted town in Southern Illinois and a small steam engine still belted up to an old sawmill immediately caught our attention as my family and I were returning home from the Pinckneyville Steam Show a little over a year ago. We parked our car and waded through the weeds to where a 16 HP Port Huron engine sat. It had been there many years, for the wheels had sunken down in the mud, trees were growing up and around the engine, iron was piled everywhere in and around the engine, and the bees had made their home in the engine and let us know when we got too close.

Mr. Roy Schurr, proud past owner, standing beside his 16 HP Port Huron, which had sat in same place for 42 years. Note unusual 20' wide rear drivers. More Festival photos.

The engine was different than any I had seen before. It had a custom factory railroad type cab called a 'Loco Cab' which had actually protected and preserved the engine from the weather. I was delighted with this little engine that looked more like a model. My husband then said what I hated to hear'It's a lapseam.' Now you would have to be aware of the problems of owning a lap-seam engine in Illinois to understand the problems, one of which is inspection of the engine by the State. One could never expect to get more than 100 lbs. pressure no matter how good the boiler was. We realized we could not plow with this engine, but there would be plenty of other things this little 'Sweet Sixteen' could do. So with that thought in mind we set out to find the owner. We found out that it was now owned by three brothers. Their father had passed away years before. A brother had fought in WW II and had lost his life in that war. The father had left the engine belted to the sawmill since 1945. His interest was there no longer, and the little engine sat. The engine had been named 'Old Betsy' by the threshing crew and the town and had since become a landmark. A neighbor we talked to said he would sure miss seeing the little engine if anyone bought it, because it had been been sitting there as long as he could remember. Well, to make a long story short, we came back after the bees had hibernated in order to thoroughly inspect the engine. We found the boiler was a good one and after finding some of the parts of the engine in the lot, we made an offer which was acceptable to the remaining heirs.

Several weeks later, we returned with a low-boy, a Kubota, and our good friend, Russ Cade of Monticello, Illinois. Russ was armed with a torch in case it was needed and immediately jacked up the wheels, freeing the wheels so they would turn and freeing the gears so they would turn. The trees were then cut down and we were ready to load. The engine had been protected by a pan over the okestack, weighted down by a brick. No, the pan did not go with the engine. It must stay. The Port Huron arrived in Arcola just in time for the bees to come out. We made sure the heirs and the neighbors knew where the little engine was going and to welcome them to visit us at the Douglas County Historical Steam Festival, always on Labor Day Weekend!

We are still at war with the bees but cannot wait to completely restore this little engine. Make a note on your calendar now to visit 'Old Betsy' at Arcola on Labor Day Weekend!