THE ONE THAT DIDN’T GET AWAY

By Staff
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RR 1, Box 92 Kimball, Nebraska 69145

I think collecting old iron is a lot like fishing-it seems the
best usually get away. A couple of good examples are the Waterloo
Boy tractor that sold on a farm sale a few years ago for $150. It
wasn’t advertised and nobody went out behind the barn to a weed
patch to see an old junk tractor sell. Just last winter a pair of
JD ‘B’ front steel wheels sold on a local farm sale for $6.
I wasn’t there. We all hope to catch a big one someday.

The town of Dix, Nebraska had two old wood elevators built
between 1910 and 1920. In the early ’40s, when I went with my
dad to haul wheat, we hauled to both. One was the co-op, and the
other privately owned. In the early ’50s the co-op bought the
private owned one and in the early ’60s, the co-op built a new
concrete silo type elevator. The two old elevators were used mostly
for storage from that time on.

The manager of the co-op in the mid ’70s was telling me
about an old steam engine under the floor in one of the old
elevators. He wouldn’t tell me which elevator it was in, and
said the hole you could see through was too small to tell anything
about it. I doubted it was steam, but never could get any more
information. I mentioned the engine to the two managers between
1979 and 1986 and both said no engine existed in either
elevator.

By the spring of 1986 both elevators were emptied and supposed
to be torn down. As soon as I found out who was to tear them down,
I went to see him. He told me he had poked in every nook and cranny
and there definitely was no such engine in either elevator. I told
him when he found it to let me know, as I might want to buy it.

On Thursday morning, June 13, 1986, we were pouring cement in a
grain bin about a block from the old elevator. The man showed up
and handed me the engine name tag. It was an ‘Otto’ engine,
RPM 240, serial #13425, HP 21. I couldn’t believe he would
chisel the tag off, but when we went to look he had taken the
screws out.

We made several trips during the day to look at it, and by
evening I had made him an offer. He refused my offer, but said he
would let me know Saturday morning. Friday evening he accepted my
offer on the condition that we have the engine removed by Saturday
evening.

I, my son Richard, and a good friend, Dennis Peterson, were
there early Saturday morning to start the job. The demolition crew
were also there as part of the floor, the roof and sidewalls were
still covering it. I felt real lucky that everything came loose and
nothing twisted off or had to be cut. By noon we had everything out
of the pit and loaded.  

To back up a number of years, the engine was installed in a pit
about four feet deep and sixteen feet square. It was a rope drive
system as used in many early elevators. The pit had a cement floor
and in one corner was a glavanized water tank for cooling. The top
of the tank was flush with the floor. It was about 42′ in
diameter and 72′ deep with a wood cover over it. The water pump
was missing but the pipes were there. The gasoline pipes were still
hooked up as they had an underground tank outside the pit. The
crankcase was mounted on a concrete base 26′ x 66′ x
22?’ high. The town of Dix received electricity in 1920-21 so
the engine was not used after that, except when they would plug the
leg. The old Otto had power enough to pull the plugged leg when the
electric motors wouldn’t. When they started the Otto they used
ether, which anyone could buy at the drug store. In 1926 a feed
room was built over the pit so everything was stripped down to the
4 foot level for the floor. This information was given to me by a
man who worked at the elevator in the ’20s. The flywheels and
crankshaft were lying on one flywheel beside the engine base. The
sideshaft, oilers, governor and miscellaneous parts were also lying
in the pit. We never did find the main caps or bearings. We never
found the rod cap or bearing. Some of the linkage was also missing.
The piston was free as were the valves. The piston and cylinder
were in real good shape. Along the wall of the feed room was a hole
about 10′ square in the floor. This was the only opening, so
for 60 years the old Otto had rested undisturbed. The feed room was
the office as I remember it in the ’40s.

The muffler was 15?’ x 24?’ and weighed 380 pounds. The
crank and flywheels weighed 2000 pounds. The flywheels were 64′
in diameter. The piston was 16 3/8‘ long
and 8?’ diameter and with the rod weighed 140 pounds. Total
weight of what we found was 4210 pounds.

I have too much old iron to restore, so Rodney Epping of Funk,
Nebraska, has the Otto to restore.

I felt real lucky that this one did not get away.

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