The Rynda Huber

Fifty Years Ago, “Steam Engine Joe” Rynda Salvaged a 30 HP Huber: Today, it's Up and Running

| January / February 2005

Any roster of legendary figures in the steam and threshing hobby has to include an entry for “Steam Engine Joe” Rynda. One of the early boosters of threshing bees and reunions, Rynda was an active and inspiring force in the early days of the hobby. The threshing bees held on his Minnesota farm were known throughout the steam community, and Rynda was regarded as a central figure in the hobby.

An inveterate collector of steam traction engines, Rynda was known to comb the countryside in his Luscombe Silveraire airplane, his sharp eye scanning the ground below for another engine to add to his collection. By the time he died in 1971, Rynda had amassed a collection of perhaps 56 engines. On May 7-8, 2004, in a sale that was as much an event as anything, most of those engines were sold. Never before had the steam and threshing hobby seen so many engines in one collection – and in such a legendary collection – opened up for viewing and purchase.

But time has a nasty habit of taking its toll, and when Rynda's collection went to auction there was prevailing sentiment in some circles the engines wouldn't be fit for restoration, having sat too long out in the elements. Some opined the engines were probably junk in the first place, an opinion that wouldn't find much quarter with some former friends of Rynda, who know first-hand the care Rynda paid to his collection.

By the time the gavel fell on the auction, $433,400 and 44 engines had changed hands, and Rynda's collection was scattered, literally, to the far corners of the earth. Two engines went to South America, and at least two more were rumored to be heading out of the country. Even so, at least two of Rynda's engines stayed in Minnesota.

Eagerly attending the Rynda auction were Minnesota residents Doug Langenbach, his wife, Sandy, and their son, Steve. Hardly newcomers to the hobby, the Langenbachs have a long history in the steam and threshing community. Since 1979, the Langenbachs have hosted the White Pine Logging and Threshing Show at the Langenbach farm in McGrath. They also collect engines, and prior to the Rynda sale, they had already amassed a family collection of nine engines. By the time the sale was over, they had two more; an 1893 16 HP Avery return-flue and a circa-1920 30 HP Huber return-flue. More remarkably, by July 17, 2004, a brief two months and one week after the auction, the Huber was running.

The Huber

According to Doug, the Huber hadn't turned a wheel in probably 50 years, and at auction its rear drivers and front wheels were rooted deep in the ground. Doug's heard rumors that when Rynda bought this Huber it was located 30 miles from Rynda's farm, and that Rynda drove it the 30 miles to get it home. Doug can't vouch for that story, but, he says, “When we cleaned out the barrel there was ash in it, and nails and screws; they were burning what they could.”