Farm Collector


6131 Savio Drive, (Affton) St. Louis 23, Missouri

In the year 1882, exactly eighty years ago, older by far than
most readers of this story, steam traction engine No. 714 was built
by Harrison Machine Works of Belleville, Illinois.

Rated ten horse power, yet powerful and modern for the era, this
engine was fitted with conventional equipment including cross head
boiler feed pump and independent steam pump. Despite the fact it
incorporated chain drive between crankshaft and idler gear, and
that gear arrangement in front of flywheel made belting from the
rear a necessity, it must have been considered a prize possession
by its original owner. To date, all attempts to ascertain his
identity have been without success.

But past and recent history as regards ‘Old 714’ unfolds
a fascinating chain of events which easily approaches the
extraordinary. Moreover, at this writing the end of the chapter is
nowhere in sight.

Howell Island, located on the Missouri River some twenty miles
upstream from St. Charles, Missouri, currently encompasses an area
of nearly three thousand acres. It derives its name from an owner
listed in early deeds of record. Normally, access is only by boat
or barge.

In earlier years items of bulks, alive or otherwise, once
transferred from the mainland were never returned. They were
destined to finish out their existence amidst the island’s
eerie surroundings and the prevailing cold, clammy atmosphere.

Descendants of the family, who in 1903 were the owners engaged
in farming the rich alluvial soil, recall that in that year the
island was inundated by what they consider its most destructive
flood. The raging stream had swept away livestock, implements, and
all other possessions then in use. Wheat had constituted the
principal crop.

Before action of any kind could be resumed, new equipment was
required. No. 714, already more than twenty years old, was included
in the ferrying operations. Later, as larger separators were
utilized, more powerful engines were needed to handle them. This
relegated 714 to inactive status or to occasional light tasks such
as corn shelling and the like. Ironically, recent years witnessed
the heavier, more modern engines on the island being cut up for
scrap. Scheduled for the same fate, 714 was spared, but only
because of difficulties of access brought about by the following

Submerged by flood waters in 1935, No. 714 was abandoned. It
then gradually sank deeper and deeper into the swift, muddy waters
and rapidly shifting sands of the great Missouri, all but forgotten
in the luxuriant growth that soon sprang up around it. Thus, while
this road toward oblivion provided the means for escaping the
junkman’s torch, it happily was not a road without end or
interruption. Resurrection and restoration would later become the
order of the day.

Should accolades be passed around for efforts at recovery,
initial tribute should be allotted to a group of intrepid men, who,
several years ago, learning quite by chance of the happenstances
surrounding 714, became interested in the idea of rehabilitating
the unusual relic. Suiting action to the thought, legal title was
obtained by the quaint procedure of locating some twenty-five
surviving heirs to the island and its appurtenances, and paying the
reported sum of one dollar to each one.

Next came the process of uncovering and bringing once more into
the light of day, the practically entombed remains from beneath its
shroud of sand and the entangled roots of underbrush and trees. In
several instances, trunks of trees emerged from between the spokes
of wheels.

As reported to the author by one of the group, the task of
clearing away the debris and other obstructions, and unfreezing and
dismantling or demounting various items such as wheels, gearing,
steering apparatus, etc., in preparation for moving, proved so
difficult at times as to cause doubt the project could ever be
successfully completed. Working Sundays, the group required a half
year or more to complete this phase of ‘Operation

A new form of worry then developed: How to safely transport 714
across intervening sloughs, or alternatively, across the main
channel, headed toward the mainland and a new home. Fortunately,
the season being winter, a severe cold spell propitiously set in,
thus permitting towing by tractor over solidly frozen canals and
sloughs onto firm ground.

Once transferred to more congenial surroundings, a comprehensive
restoration program was put into effect. This included new boiler
shell, front flue sheet, and new flues. Also required were new
piston and rings, piston rod and other extensive machine work,
including reboring engine cylinder and refacing valve and valve
seat. Remounting of engine, crankshaft and bearings, front axle,
rear axle stubs, and gearing on boiler followed.

Once again 714 was in condition to roll on its wheels, although
still far from full restoration.


  • Published on Jul 1, 1962
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