Grooming the Great Iron Beast

Rescuing a 20,000-pound Buckeye engine from Louisiana gators.

| July 2005

My brother, Ernest, was telling me about the big Buckeye engine across Bayou Teche from Verdunville, La. It seems some of the members of the Bayou Antique Engine and Power Assn. had been looking at it for a couple of years, but the logistics of recovering the machine were quite formidable.

For starters, about five miles of dirt road leading to the location had to be traversed, so good, dry weather was a must. Then, after reaching the scene, a 30-foot canal on the southern edge of the vast Atchafalaya Basin stood between the engine and the dirt road. And yes, there were alligators in the canal. Additionally, the engine was on a concrete foundation on the far end of a shed where it had powered a 20-inch centrifugal pump used to drain the sugar cane fields. The plantation owner, Shadyside Co. Ltd., had given us permission to remove and restore it, and Ernest and I decided it was a doable project and we would give it a try.

First, the two of us, with the help of my son, Danny, began the task of cleaning out a huge swamp rat nest in the engine base that had apparently been started many years ago, and added to each year since. Next, we began freeing the engine from all service lines, the 10-inch exhaust, the big sailing clutch and the eight 1-1/4-inch foundation bolts. We jacked, blocked and wedged it up in preparation for rolling and sliding it closer to the canal.

In mid-May 2003, we hired a crane service from Broussard, La., to provide equipment to lift and haul the engine and pump to our shop in Patterson, La. The move date was set for June 3. It had not rained in two months, but guess what happened? Yep, before daylight it came down in buckets. The big crane arrived along with an 18-wheeler, only to find the dirt road impassable. We paid the $3,000 mobilization/demobilization fee, licked our wounds and renewed our determination to get that big sucker out of the swamp one way or another.

Moving Day

It continued to rain enough to render the dirt road impassable throughout the summer. Then our break came on Oct. 8, 2003 - General Crane Service provided equipment to accomplish our task. Danny worked with us again and provided invaluable assistance due to his experience with heavy lifting. The engine weighs 20,200 pounds and we had to reach out about 80 feet to get it. My other sons, Lee and Jody, along with Ernest's son, Michael, pitched in to get the job done.

Removal of the back wall and part of the roof of the old pump building was the first order of business. This old structure had been standing for many years, dating back to the Civil War when steam was the power source for the drainage pump. It was with a tinge of sadness that we watched it being wrenched apart.


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