Would You Be Interested In a Big Engine?

The 10 HP 'Famous' engine

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N. 1322 Bessie Road, Spokane, Washington 99206

I want to share with my fellow iron collectors a story that resulted from that question. It happened last fall just as the leaves were turning yellow and summer was losing its grip on northern Idaho. Todd Silk, Max Kunze and I took my old green pickup into the hills south of Bonner's Ferry, Idaho. Our purpose? To check out a story Max had heard from his fellow worker that 'ten years ago, there had been an abandoned steam shovel and other steam equipment sitting along Twenty Mile Road.' Well, if you know Max, he loves power shovels, particularly steam shovels. So there we were one Sunday charging around the hills trying to follow a set of ten-year-old directions. You've probably been on enough wild goose chases to guess the results. We saw lots of pretty country, but nary the hint of steam equipment.

On the way in on Twenty Mile Road, we passed a farmstead that had a John Deere 2 speed 'D' sitting out along the road with a 'For Sale' sign sitting on its hood. I think all of us made a mental note to check that out later! As we were coming out, it was still too early to head back to Spokane, so we did just that. The place is owned by Mr. Hansen, and yes, the John Deeres. were for sale (at a quite reasonable price, too) provided the buyer took them both. Well, we looked them both over and I agreed with Mr. Hansen that I would buy them both as soon as next payday rolled around. Then I sprang it on him. 'Do you have any other old equipment or know of any that can be bought? How about one cylinder gas farm engines?' He replied that the only engine he'd had he'd given to the neighbor fellow who was sort of interested in them. So we talked some more and I thought to myself, 'This is all he will be able to help us.' But as I was getting into the pick-up to leave, he asked, 'Would you be interested in a big engine?' Of course I quite likely would, depending upon the circumstances. What was it? He said it was a 'Harvester' engine. I thought, 'A combine engine, maybe?' 'No,' he said, 'it has two big flywheels on it. We used it to pump water out of a gold mine I used to own part of.' 'How long ago?' I asked skeptically. 'Thirty years ago.' So we talked about it some more and finally he said, 'Let's go up and see if it's still there. You haven't got anything more important, have you?' So up the hill we went. The gent was a little hard to understand, so I didn't really know what I was letting us in for. But I thought, 'What the heck!'

So back up the hill we went, right up the way we'd just come down. Bounced back up over the same rocks and washboard road till finally he said, 'Park here. Now we walk.' We got out of the pick-up and down the side of the canyon from the south side of the road we went. The first 200 yards or so were so steep we had to watch our steps to keep our feet under us. The pine needles, grass, and small stones made landing on your fanny quite likely. The ground finally leveled out so you could get your eyes up off the ground and look around. That first drop was really steep! In another 50 yards the ground dropped off again and we had to go back to watching where we put our feet. Two hundred yards of this and now we could hear a small creek in the cedar thicket below us. We were down in the canyon far enough that the late summer sun wasn't shining on us anymore and we became comfortably cool. Coming down a stony hogback, I spotted a small building dug into one side of the hogback. Mr. Hansen said, 'Well, there's the powder magazine.' That was a relief because I wasn't all that sure that he wasn't lost or leading us on a wild goose chase. From the front of the powder magazine, an outhouse-sized cedar shake covered building, we could see the creek in the bottom of the canyon. A trail led from the front of the powder shed around the hogback point to the west. We headed down that way, climbing over or around the place where part of it had slid off into the creek, till the remains of another structure came into view. From the creek bed where I was I couldn't see very well because it was above me and the only part left standing was part of the wall on the side toward me. I scrambled up the bank, over the fallen boards and other debris, and peered into it.

There in the center was the remains of the roof covering (somewhat shakily) an open, water filled shaft, and on an elevated ledge toward the north was this beautiful piece of iron and rust. The four of us 'swarmed' around it in our eagerness. It did indeed say 'Harvester' on it, preceded by 'International.' All the brass had been removed by previous scroungers: the main bearing shells, the con-rad bearing box, and the fuel pump. The mag was gone, too, but the igniter and carburetor were there. I've got to say this for the guy that took the main bearing shells; he very carefully saved the bearing caps, nuts, and bolts just as a mechanic would. I'm surprised they weren't thrown all over the place or down that handy mine shaft 3 feet ahead of the engine. But it really hurt to see that some brainchild with a hammer or a big rock had severely damaged the rocker arm, the intake valve cage, and the valves. But, what can you expect? The flywheels weren't broken and looked to be about 45' in diameter. I knew right then and there that it would be a real battle to get the engine out because it looked heavy.

I asked Mr. Hansen if the engine belonged to him now. He replied that it had belonged to his three partners and himself. Was it for sale and could he sell it? He replied that as far as they were concerned, the engine was abandoned and would belong to whomever claimed it and got it out. Well, how to get it out? It definitely was a long steep way back up the hill we'd come down. Maybe there was an old road in some other way we could clear to bring a truck in closer. Mr. Hansen said that there was only the pack trail they'd used originally to bring their supplies in. He estimated it would meet a usable road about five miles down the creek. That would mean a lot of clearing, and most likely a vehicle could not get up it anyway. He didn't know how the engine had been brought in originally; it was already installed when he bought into the mine. So it looked like we had to find a way to drag the engine back up the hill.

We examined the remains of the barn, cook-shack, bunk-house, and the one-holer. The snow hadn't collapsed these yet, but it won't be too many years till they would go down too. In the cook-shack there was the remains of one of the most beautiful old wood stoves I've ever seen. I hope to see a good one like it some day, but this one was beyond saving. All this time we were talking about life at the mine, its history, and how they'd done their work. The mine had been discovered by the usual means, panning up the creek. Mr. Hansen and his partners had not been the discoverers. They had bought the claim. The discoverers had found the 'blowout' as they panned the creek. They'd found two small veins of gold and filed the claim, naming it the Twin Ledges Mine. Mr. Hansen said that must have been all the gold there was because he and his partners worked the mine off and on for ten years and never did any good. He made money working summers for the Forest Service so he could feed his family while he worked the mine during the winter. The engine had run a lineshaft mounted in the top of the now collapsed building over the shaft opening. The lineshaft had in turn run a pump jack, the pump and jack were long since gone. According to Mr. Hansen, the mine shaft was more than 80' deep. Water must have really been a problem if it took an engine that big to keep it pumped out.

Coming down a hill can really fool you as to how steep it is, but the truth comes when you climb back up. Because I'm not in as good shape as I should be, I took lots of time on the way back up to contemplate routes between trees through which to move the engine, and where and which trees to use as dead men. Luckily there were lots of sturdy trees all the way up the slope. But in many places the trees and/or brush were too thick and it obviously was going to take some planning to get the engine up through them. I planned right then and there to bring a chain saw to clear some of the brush. Todd and Max beat Mr. Hansen and myself up the hill by quite a while, but we made it. Let me tell you; none of us made it without being pooped. We drove back, dropped Mr. Hansen off at his house, and Todd, Max, and myself headed for home. You can imagine the conversation as we drove in the dark to Spokane. 'Man, what a place to get it out of.' Silence. 'Do you think it's possible?' Silence. 'That's a nice engine.' Silence. 'Well, there are enough trees to pull from.' Silence. 'Boy, what they must have gone through to get that engine in there!' So went the planning, each trying to remember all the details of the engine, its location, mounting and the tree-to-tree distances we'd have td know to bring the rigging and equipment needed. I'm sure you can guess what each of us fell asleep thinking about that night.

By mid-week, with the advice of several friends, I'd formulated a plan. We'd go back with the intent of spending a whole weekend (or several weekends if necessary) to get the engine out. We'd came out right where we figured to load the engine so as to spend as much time as possible working on the task rather than driving back and forth to town. Todd and Max consented to go the following weekend, so I borrowed a chain saw-winch with 120 feet of aircraft cable on it and collected every piece of light chain I own. Gathered up my cable blocks, cable, tools, and two come-a-longs. Then the necessities: food, water, sleeping bag, and other camp gear. Max and Todd brought their gear over, and at 10:00 A.M. the next Saturday, we embarked on what turned out to be a long strenuous weekend.

We arrived at our campsite above the engine about 12:30 P.M. Saturday, tried to figure out what we needed down at the engine, gathered it up, and headed down the hill. We got to the engine about 1:00 P.M. I delegated the picture-taking responsibility to Todd because he wasn't supposed to do any hard work with one of his hands. He had seriously cut some tendons in it several weeks prior and his doctor had given him strict orders. We took pictures of all of us with cat-that -ate-the canary looks on our faces as we sat on and around the engine. If the truth were known, I think each of us was a little scared to plunge into our task. Finally, we could put it off no longer. I hooked the winch to a stout cedar up the hill and the line to the engine and started to pull. The engine moved off its rotten base of timbers and away from the edge of the shaft; but when it encountered the first rise, it stopped cold. This was our first indication that the winch would not pull as much as its owner had said it would. We rigged double and still no dice. So we tried a new approach; we rolled the engine upside down out of the hole sideways and then rigged to pull it up the hill.

 First rig was two-to-one; no good. Three-to-one; almost. Four-to-one; some progress, but the hill quickly got steeper and everything stopped again. Next try was three-to-one pulling on two-to-one to give a result of six-to-one. Now we started making progress, slow but sure. The only trouble was we'd pull 10 feet and then have to re-hook. And how do you keep the engine from sliding or rolling back down the hill while you're re-hooking? Took time to prevent that, too. We did hit one space of about 20 feet that required eight-to-one, but most of the pulling worked well at six-to-one. By now it had started to get dark, and our progress for six hours has been 100 feet. We had 1200 feet more to go. Finally, it had gotten so dark we had to quit. We gathered our equipment together at the engine, chained it down and headed up the hill, hoping no one would disturb our stuff while we were gone. By the time we had climbed back to the truck, it was so dark we had to light a lantern to see to heat up supper. We made short work of supper and each of us selected the flattest spot we could find to roll out our sleeping bags. In the morning we found out how level; all of us were half way down the hill by the time we got up.

We made short work of breakfast and were down ready to start pulling on the engine at 7:00 AM. Having had all night to get my thoughts organized, I decided to try to make our method more efficient or we'd be coming up again next weekend. The biggest problem was the winch. The drive chain kept coming off and then all would have to stop while we put it back on. This might happen every pull or so. So we very carefully adjusted the chain and by holding the winch at a slight slope, managed to stop most of the problem. Then too, I found that, if the winch were hooked to the engine instead of the deadman, it would run a lot longer before refueling and it seemed to have more power. So things proceeded faster as we got smarter. Most of this we could pull 6-1. Pull 10 feet; rehook; pull 10 feet; rehook, and so on. Only several times did we have to resort to 8-1. About 10:30 we were to the somewhat level part and now 3-1 or 4-1 would pull it. The problem now was that the soft, slightly side sloped ground made the engine want to roll over on one flywheel. But we made good progress. That is, we thought we were doing fine until on the last pull before lunch break, the winch drum spread and bound up so tightly that the cable could not be rolled off of it. I remember thinking to myself, 'We're all through for today.' The steepest part, about 200 yards of 100% grade was yet to go before we were done and the winch had broken. Lunch looked like the best immediate activity. The other two guys were a little down, too, because we were so near our goal, but all of a sudden it looked impossible to score, that weekend anyway.

After lunch we decided to go back down to the engine to reconsider the problem. As it was, we could not get the rigging unhooked because of the winch problem. By lubricating the spot where the spread winch drum was binding against the frame, prying with a screw driver, and forcing the drum to turn by means of a large Crescent wrench on the free-spool clutch, I was able to get the cable off the drum and unhook the rigging. But now the drum was no longer in a bind because there was no cable to spread it. Well, it would be slower, but we could still keep going. Then it dawned on me that if I always spooled the cable onto the side of the drum that was okay, it would not bind anyway. So we proceeded up the hill that way, wiping out several of the Forest Service's prize baby firs in the process. The same sequence: pull and rehook, pull and rehook.

At the top of the hill the Forest Service had provided (I'm glad I got something for my taxes at least) a shallow ditch to drain the rain water away from the road. This ditch, having been made with a cat. was steep on one side, shallow on the other. Just right for backing a pickup into. Only a few shovels of dirt had to be moved to make a perfect loading ramp. We carefully positioned the engine, upside down as we'd moved it the whole way, behind the pick-up with the crankshaft end toward the pick-up. I am sure my helpers didn't quite know what I was up to, but I let them wonder. I made a few measurements and had them drag the engine to the exact spot I'd marked on the ground. They caught on when I instructed them to wrap a chain over the base of the engine (which was now up) and start pulling with a come-a-long. The engine up-ended, rolling on the flywheels, and landed exactly where I wanted it in the pick-up bed. We packed our camping gear, tools, and rigging in around the engine and we were ready to go. However, it wasn't quite that simple. We had to pull the pick-up out of the ditch with the winch because the weight of the engine had dropped the bumper down too solidly on the ditch bank for the tires to pull it off. No problem, just took time. The trip back to Spokane was uneventful including our attempt at gold panning in the creek several miles below the Twin Ledges Mine.

Upon arrival in Spokane, Clarence Harsch identified the engine as a 10 HP International Famous. It has a full base, in contrast to the half base on most of these engines one sees. The piston was fairly well stuck, but it yielded in several days to penetrating oil, heat, and being solidly bumped with the crank. The piston was stuck at the rear of the cylinder, leaving very little on the bore exposed to the weather. The bore ahead of the piston looks new. The engine weighs 1600 pounds as we moved it and is now residing in a nice dry shed north of Spokane. Next to it sits the two John Deere 2 speed 'D's that sort of started it all. Mr. Hansen has promised, that if I come up next spring, he'll show me some more of the country up there, maybe some more iron. He may remember another big piece somewhere back in those hills and ask, 'Would you be interested in a big.-', and another adventure will start.

'We proceeded up the hill that way, wiping out several of the Forest Services' prize baby firs in the process.'