Crane operator

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Route 1, Box 78, Coon Valley, Wisconsin 54623

Posing with his pride and joy when it finally got to oar yard. Left to right: Crane operator, Donny Greene, my husband, Carlyle and semi driver, Willy Bakkestuen.

What a wife has to go through when her husband is a gas engine nut! It didn't take me long after we were married to learn I had to either leave him or join him in his hobby. After 137 gas engines, 8 light plants (Heavy-Heavy), 5 tractors, stone crushers, and everything else that goes along with this hobby, you can guess that I decided to join him in this endeavor. It's amazing how the good times outnumber all the greasy clothes, smashed fingers, back aches, pulled chest muscles and headaches that seem to go along with this hobby.

The following is the story of how we acquired and brought home just one of my husband's pride and joys. We call her Big Bertha. (I really don't know how it became a her.) Just how my husband gets all the 'hot tips' about an engine stuck in the mud here or one sitting in a shed rusting away over there is beyond me.

Big Bertha is a 25 horse power Fairbanks-Morse diesel engine. It's the biggest one in my husband's collection. Big Bertha weighs 6,000 pounds. The glow plug has to be heated by blow torches before the flywheels can be turned.

After many trips and phone calls to New Hartford, Minnesota, not to mention the dickering, my husband finally purchased Big Bertha. It didn't take long after that to get the wheels in motion in order to get Bertha to her new resting spot.

Big Bertha was used in an old mill which by now had started to collapse on top of her. Trees were growing all around her. She was really quite stuck in that old mill. Did any of this make my husband give up? Not on your life! A crane was hired from Modern Crane of La Crosse, Wisconsin. A flat bed and tractor was acquired to haul her home. The crane had to follow so to unload Bertha once we got to our destination. Two weeks went by before all the details were worked out; the big day was soon here.

Mr. Lester Greene of La Crosse, an avid gas engine fan and our photographer for the day, took the pictures in this article. It was a dreary, drizzling day but the pictures turned out excellent.

Thanks to crane operator Donny Greene of Onalaska, Wisconsin, Lester's son, it took hardly any time at all to get Bertha out of the mill. You can tell by the pictures that the grass was a little slick from the rain. But nothing was going to stop us now! The whole part of getting Bertha out of the mill and on to the flat bed took 45 minutes.

Mr. Lester Greene and I arrived home in the town of Shelby by 2 o'clock. Half of our neighborhood was waiting in my yard. When you have a hobby like this one without much room to store things inside, most of it ends up sitting outside in the yard. Many of our neighbors enjoyed the sound of the engines with their 'hit and miss' action. (As long as the noise stopped by 10 p.m.) One of our neighbors, Terry Griffel, was also stricken by the gas engine bug. In just three short months, he is the proud owner of four engines.

About 4 o'clock, the semi and trailer, driven by Willy Bakkestuen, another gas engine nut, and the crane following turned the corner on our block. Big Bertha was almost to her new resting ground. She was set down to rest on the side of the driveway.

The next few months that followed many people stopped to inquire about Big Bertha. As time went by and my husband acquired even more engines, the space in our garage was minimal. The car and truck hadn't been put in the garage for over a year. We soon realized we needed more room if this hobby was to continue. We soon purchased 7? acres of land in the country only nine miles from where we were now. There was a 20 X 40 steel building already on this land.

We moved engines and parts every weekend. After two years went by (and the shed was rearranged and rearranged to get just two more engines inside), my husband could not stand being nine miles away from his 'toys'. We decided to go even further in debt to build a house nearby on the same land.

At the time of this writing, we are settled in our new home. It took only 3 pickup loads to move all the furniture and household paraphernalia. But when it came to moving the rest of the engines, packing up tools and everything else jammed into that one garage, it seemed to take forever. Many parts and pieces are still unfound. Naturally, Big Bertha was the last engine to be moved.

Plans are under way to build another 36 X 40 shop next to the steel building. All the tractors, stone crushers and several big engines are still sitting outside. Being located right on Highway 14-61, many people stop to look and talk engines. If you are ever in the La Crosse-Coon Valley area, stop in and visit. Next to collecting engines, my husband enjoys talking about engines.

We are currently planning for the Coulee Antique Engine Show to be held in Viroqua, Wisconsin on June 21 and 22. I doubt if Big Bertha will be there but my husband and I will be there with many of 'OUR' engines. Hope to see many gas engine fans there.