A Grain Elevator and a Runaway Stover

The story of Bill Stewart’s retrieval of a 3 HP Stover engine, Type KG, from the Bristol Grain Elevator.

| December 2012/January 2013

The elevator

This story takes place in Bristol, a small town in northern Illinois. Like most rural towns in the grain belt back in the 1950s, Bristol had an elevator that bought and sold grain, coal and other commodities. To the agricultural illiterate, the elevator had nothing to do with people riding up and down in a box. The elevator dispensed its products using gravity. There were usually tall towers or silos filled with whatever the elevator was selling. Doors in the bottom of the storage towers let the grain fall into the farmer’s wagon or the railroad’s hopper cars. Cost was based on the weight of the product delivered.

So how did they get the stuff up into the bins in the first place? In the old days there might be a ramp so a wagon could dump a load into the bin. Typically, water power was used to lift wooden buckets and sacks hanging from moving ropes or wooden troughs with chains, and paddles could be used to slide the grain up. These were the first elevators and they were around for centuries. The Machine Age brought steam engines and later gas engines to power the elevators. Rural electrification brought electric motors and that’s where we are today.

So now that we’ve had our agricultural history lesson, we can tell the rest of the story.

Down the coal chute

As a kid, Bill Stewart walked past the Bristol Grain Elevator on his way to school. The elevator was built in 1928 and closed down in 1955. When he was 13 years old, Bill had his eye on a pair of flywheels at the top of the old coal chute. The flywheels belonged to a 3 HP Stover Type KG engine that had been used to pull coal up the chute. Bill approached George Valentine in an effort to buy the engine. In the end, George gave the Stover to Bill.

So Bill and his dad, Frank, went to work getting the engine down from the elevator. I think the object was to disassemble the engine and slide it down the chute. Now, the chute was built to work with gravity so the idea was feasible but, in hindsight, the physics were a little shaky. Anyway, Bill’s dad was standing on the coal chute below the engine when the boy unbolted the crankshaft and flywheels. This turned out to be a tactical error, which Frank probably realized as he was chased down the coal chute by the flywheels. Since I didn’t have a lot of room for notes as Bill told the story, I assume his dad survived without major injury. Except maybe to his pride.

Bill restored the engine, tells the story and displays the Stover to this day.


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