High Country Adventure

Canadian collector hunts for gas engines in abandoned mining camps in the mountains.

| February/March 2017

  • Engine in the Canadian wild.
    Photo courtesy Jordan Meeker
  • Engine in the Canadian wild.
    Photo courtesy Jordan Meeker
  • Engine in the Canadian wild.
    Photo courtesy Jordan Meeker
  • The 1897 Weber 5 hp as Jordan found it when he came around a bend in the trail. “I let out a cry like a little girl who dropped her ice cream cone, dropped my trusty Winchester and proceeded to dig like a man possessed,” he recalls. “It was just like Humphrey Bogart in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. I had to stop myself to take pictures and document it.”
    Photo courtesy Jordan Meeker
  • Retrieving the 1899 Hercules 6 hp at 7,500 feet elevation. Jordan had no option but to pack the cylinder about 1-1/2 miles to his truck.
    Photo courtesy Jordan Meeker
  • Loading a 1939 Fairbanks-Morse 150 hp diesel engine. An extensive network of logging trails over southern British Columbia provides relatively easy access to the backcountry. “The trails are everywhere,” Jordan says. “It’s a curse and a blessing.”
    Photo courtesy Jordan Meeker
  • Hauling out the 1897 Weber on an old trail: “I stuck a wheel and handles on the base and it made a handy wheelbarrow,” Jordan says.
    Photo courtesy Jordan Meeker
  • Who needs a trailer anyway? Getting a truck and trailer up a logging trail proved impossible, so this 1912 Fairbanks-Morse 60 hp Type N was loaded directly on the fifth wheel and the truck was backed down the trail to the roadway.
    Photo courtesy Jordan Meeker
  • It took about four hours to set this rigging, which was used to get Jordan’s ATV across Keene Creek. Jordan’s backcountry jaunts are conducted as day trips. Bears and high altitude cold nights rule out camping. He squeezes every minute out of every day. “I’m very cautious,” he says, “but I push myself to my limit.”
    Photo courtesy Jordan Meeker
  • Figuring if the rigging was good enough for the ATV, it was good enough for him, Jordan went airborne. “Two minutes of spine-tingling, seat-of-your-pants adventure,” he says.
    Photo courtesy Jordan Meeker
  • The tank on Jordan’s 1897 5 hp Weber is not original. “The original tank (which did not survive) was round,” he says. “I found this in a neighbor’s scrap pile and I love the rivet work.” The tank holds 60 Canadian gallons (about 72 U.S. gallons).
    Photo courtesy Jordan Meeker
  • Jordan Meeker with his Weber at the 2011 Brooks, Ore., show.
    Photo courtesy Jordan Meeker
  • The 1899 Fairbanks-Morse 22 hp, showing the crankshaft attached to the large gear wheel and remnants of governor-side flywheel. “That took three hours of backbreaking digging,” Jordan says. “My friends have given huge amounts of time and labor helping with retrievals. It really is something, the labor these guys have put in.”
    Photo courtesy Jordan Meeker
  • Jordan restored this 1919 Fairbanks-Morse Type Z. He enjoys every aspect of the hobby, including restoration, building friendships with other collectors and displaying engines at shows.
    Photo courtesy Jordan Meeker

It’s grizzlies that worry him, not snakes, and he’s armed with a Winchester, not a bullwhip – but otherwise the persona is unmistakable: Jordan Meeker is the Indiana Jones of the gas engine fraternity. Trekking through British Columbia’s Slocan Valley and West Kootenay region, Jordan is an engine archaeologist constantly on the prowl for old iron remnants of the Silvery Slocan, the silver and lead mining era in the late 1890s.

“I’m not a regular guy,” he readily admits. “I don’t follow hockey or football. I don’t want to go golfing or boating. The thrill for me is standing on top of a mountain, thinking about the last guy to see what I’m seeing. It’s the thrill of touching history. It’s knowing that the last guy to touch that engine died 70 or 80 or 90 years ago, and he’s a guy like me,” he muses. “I can stand there and think about what it was like for him on top of this mountain, all alone, thousands of miles from home, just trying to make a go of it. You start to understand that it’s not just a trinket lying on the ground.”

A passion for history drives his hobby; century-old gas engines are the tangible reward. In 23 years, he’s found five rare engines in the backcountry of British Columbia. “The history of my area is important to me,” he says. “When I’m dead and gone, everything I’ve owned will be gone, but these engines will be preserved. People will know I was a guy who cared about this place and this stuff.”

Wintertime research

In the long Canadian winter, Jordan plots his attack. Through online resources, he delves into annual mining reports and newspapers dating to the 1890s. Historic newspaper accounts were colorful and enthusiastic, meant to attract the attention of investors across North America and in the U.K.



“Those writers and editors were all boomers, promoting the town or the mine,” he says. “They actively sought information about the mine for their articles and they included every detail. Because of that, I know the name of the mechanic who set up one of my engines up the mountain.”

Packed with geological data, government and shareholders’ reports tend to be dry reading. “But they’d get into the detail at the end, tell what the camp consisted of – listing structures and machinery, even down to what size the machines were and whether they were steam or gas or diesel,” he says. “Really, it’s just about everything you could hope to know.”



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