Yukon Gold

Mining for Old Iron in the Yukon Territory

Yuba Ball Tread

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To run the Erie Iron Works horizontal steam engine he's refurbishing. There's no tag on the Sullivan to date it, while the Erie, serial number 16690, is thought to be a 36 HP unit. Its date is also unknown, and Jerry would like to know more about this equipment.

My biggest regret in life is that I didn't start collecting old iron 30 years ago instead of a few years ago. I'm going through 'mid-collecting crisis.' I keep asking myself, will I get enough gold to eat AND afford to fix my stuff up? Will I live long enough to get every thing running? Who will look after all of my neat stuff when I'm gone?

Mining was pretty lean last season. It was very cool (I had a fire going in the wood cook stove in the cabin every night), the ground did not thaw out as quickly as I'd hoped (permafrost) and with ongoing breakdowns (D73T, Insley dragline) I managed to get in 30 days sluicing, enough to make it through the winter. Just.

I live on my claims about 20 miles southeast of Dawson City in the hills. The road is not plowed in the winter, so I snow machine into Dawson about once a month for supplies and mail, weather permitting. I stay home when it's -35 degrees F or colder. The only things that keep me sane up here during the winter months are my little shop, being able to work on projects and GEM. I love all aspects of old iron - from the mining of the metals to casting, fabrication, technology changes, history, search and recovery, fixing things up, and fellow collectors - and just being able to putter. If this old iron was left to the elements, it would all eventually end up as it started, part of the ground.

I learn a few new things every time I go into my shop, and I even try to pass on what little I know to people who visit me. My mentor, Newt Webster, has steered me in the right direction when it comes to babbiting, etc., and all my silly questions. There aren't any other knowledgeable guys like him around here, and I can't thank him enough. And he might even sell me one of his 'keep sakes' if I catch him in the right mood.

I still haven't had a start up party for my 18 HP Mietz & Weiss hot bulb oil engine. My machinist friend, Winston, moved to Washington state before he could make me an injector, so now I'm trying to match one up from some other kind of engine, somehow. I'm also working on making a steam dome out of a large sheet of copper I have. I have installed a fuel pump off of an International TD series crawler, and think it may work.

I have installed two large drip oilers on the engine and will work on the original oil pressure system later. I've hooked the engine up to my air-receiving tank and have had it turning over and pretending it was running on its own. Even this was an exciting event. So close! I've got my FM 1- HP Model D (s/n 774556) running in the shop this winter, belted to a Quincy air compressor. I've also got the Ottawa 4 HP (s/n TE2703) running fairly well.

This engine never ceases to amaze me. I'd freed the piston and installed new rings, counter weights (thanks, Hit & Miss Enterprises). The mixer was missing so I put on one from an FM 3 HP Model C (s/n 824 434). After flipping the flywheels until my hands were raw, I discovered in my excitement to start it I'd forgotten to turn the mag back on. I got it to fire - briefly. Now what? I purged the cylinder after flooding it. It fired up and backfired. Lots of excitement now. I'd forgotten to turn the mag to the running position. By now it seemed as if there were lots of combinations to get her running.

A Yuba Ball Tread owned by Rick Gillespie of Dawson City. It appears to be a Model 20-35, which was produced from 1916 to 1921. The Yuba Manufacturing Co. was based in Maryville, Calif.

Rick Gillespie also has this 5 HP FM Model B waiting its turn for a rehab. It shows serial number 774452, which dates it to 1933.

I'd made a spring for the mixer air valve disc. I held it open with needle nose vise grips, made sure the mag was on start and flipped the flywheels. It fired right up. I put the mag in the running position, and it ran. It's a good thing I had it strapped with tie downs to the table. The door on the mixer reservoir was flopping up and down, spilling gas all over. I shut the engine off, filled the reservoir up and put a heavy o-ring around the reservoir door. Then I noticed I hadn't turned on the drip oiler. I turned the oil on and waited until oil dripped out of the hole into the cylinder. Flipped the flywheels once and it fired up and ran through two reservoir fills of gas.

Then it started knocking. Even though I had snugged everything up, the connecting rod cap had come loose. So I went over everything again until things were snug, but still turning freely. What a thrill to have this engine running, with steam coming out of the hopper, all the parts moving and sounding pretty good. The water would boil in the hopper for a little while after I shut the engine off. Now I wonder if it will run my Joshua Hendy 6x8 jaw crusher?

The crusher is in very good shape and has a free-wheeling pulley beside the drive pulley. I'll find out as soon as it warms up outside. The Ottawa still needs a few things, like the correct mixer and the rod to the speed changer. I also keep forgetting to turn the drip oiler off. When I first purchased the FM 1- Model D with Quincy compressor it was covered with tin sheets. 'It turns over,' Newt said. It sure did. When I got it home I took the three V belts off and tried starting it. It turned over too easy. Good spark, enough gas, but not enough compression, it seemed. I was thinking of using ether when if finally fired up - way up. It was roaring wide open and by the time I throttled it down it was banging loudly, so I shut it off by holding my hand over the mixer inlet.

This was the first old engine I had ever started. Although I'd checked the oil level before I attempted to start it, I should have checked it over a little bit more. I pulled off the crankcase cover and everything was coated in oil and babbit dust. There was no babbit left in the rod caps and you could see where the naked rod had been turning on the crank. So, thanks to Newt and information from George Huhn I cleaned up the crank and poured my first bearing. A couple of tries and it turned out okay. I'm sure I'll get better at it, as every piece of iron I have uses babbit bearings. I replaced the rings (Hit & Miss, again), and now she starts easily and runs well. 'A Dandy D Indeed.'

I am keeping my engines as found and in their work clothes, with the exception of the Wisconsin ABN (s/n 1725131), which once I get running I will paint. The FM 3 HP Model C is close to running. I have to weld the hopper, the head is missing a chunk (I'm sure I had it) and I need to take a look at the mag. All of my gas engines have been stuck (except the D), and it has been fun getting them unstuck without wrecking anything.

I have some neat things to belt these engines to. There's a Braun pulverizer, an FM 1--inch pump, a Rex trash pump, a trip hammer (can crusher?), a Pumps & Power 2-inch pump, and a small two-stage rock crusher (missing the coarse stage jaw).

A reminder in keeping the load strapped down: Transporting the Erie steam engine and Joshua Hendy crusher proved a little problematic when the crusher decided to free itself from the confines of Jerry's pickup while negotiating the road to Jerry's cabin.

A Briggs & Stratton Motor Wheel. Built from 1919 to 1924, this design originated with the British Wall Auto-Wheel, which was produced by the A.O. Smith Co. of Milwaukee, Wisc. Briggs & Stratton bought the manufacturing rights from Smith in 1919.

This is what I'd like to have set up this summer, at the same time trying to mine enough to get by: Use the FM D with compressor to fill the receiving tank. Use this air to start the Mietz & Weiss, which will be belted to the Sullivan air compressor (as it originally was). Use this to fill the original receiving tank. With this air, run the Erie 8 x 12-inch horizontal steam engine (s/n 16690) and also a C & B.C. 6-inch bore vertical steam engine (s/n 37), built 1900.

The Erie only needs two drip oilers, and the C & B.C. needs the flyball governor and three drip oilers. I think this would make a great display, and I hope I can pull it off. I tried to organize an engine and machinery show last summer, but I guess we all got too busy mining or trying to mine to get it off the ground. But I'll try again this summer.

Because of the mining in the Klondike there were hundreds upon hundreds of steam engines and a lot of machinery brought in. Then, as technology evolved, a great many gas engines made it to these parts. It's pretty slim pickings now, a lot having been buried by unconcerned miners as junk, and much of the remaining equipment relocated down south.

I feel privileged to have recovered and purchased some that have survived, and they all have a personality of their own. If any of you are up this way you are more than welcome to come up and visit my humble collection. GEM is great, and I hope people keep writing in to keep the wheels turning.

Contact engine enthusiast Jerry Bryde, Rabbit CR Mining, at: Box 469, Dawson City, Yukon, Canada Y0B 1G0.