Where Did You Get All This Stuff?


| June/July 1998



7 HP Witte engine

7 HP Witte with rebar and chain to add more weight for a buoy anchor in Flathead Lake off Wild Horse Island.

Pres. . Miracle of America Museum 58176 Highway 93 Poison, Montana 59860

In the heart of God's country in northwest Montana, lies beautiful Flathead Lake. Poison is at its foot and Glacier Park is just 40 miles from its head. Its claim to fame, other than its purity, is that it is the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi. Its other claim to fame is that it is situated only one mile north of the Miracle of America Museum, which has the largest and most diversified permanent public display of artifacts in the state. At the museum, which is nicknamed 'The Smithsonian of the West,' the most frequently asked question is, 'Where did you get all this stuff?'

Gil Mangels, founder and president of the Board of Directors of this nonprofit museum, responds, 'It wasn't sitting around watching TV, drinking suds or eating chocolates!'

Flathead Lake was a key to the acquisition of some very nice 'stuff and old iron that would be of interest to Gas Engine Magazine readers. Wild Horse Island at 2200 acres is the largest island in the lake. To make a long story short (for the long story, visit the area, the museum, and take a boat tour around the island), a Dr. Burnett purchased the island during World War II. His wife was Cora Timken, heiress to the Timken Roller Bearing fortune.

He wanted to breed an improved strain of western saddle horses on the island and live a self-sufficient life style as well. It was common for him to go into a hardware store and buy a case of identical tools or a whole shelf of supplies. Among the larger new items he purchased and had ferried over to his island were an Ottawa log saw, a 7 HP Witte engine, a 1910 Oliver two-way sulky plow, a large Buffalo forge, a Case stationary baler, and tons of other new tools. Poor Dr. Burnett didn't get to realize his dream; his wife died a short time later and he just lost interest. Over the years, the island changed hands and some of it reverted to the state.

I grew up in Poison, but had never been to the island, although I had heard some rumors of old machinery there. About eight years ago, as I met a summer visitor at church, I learned he was a forest ranger assigned to Wild Horse Island. I remembered the rumors and asked him if there was any truth in them. He asserted that they were true and that he would let the MacDonald family, who now owned part of the island, know of my interest. About the middle of the week, a family member called and said, 'Your interest in the machinery was very timely, as the family has been discussing what to do with it.' After accepting an invitation to visit the museum and then inviting me to visit the island, they agreed to donate the items if I would pay the ferrying charges to get the machinery back to the mainland and haul some items for them, too.