Old Friends Reunited

Giant Worthingtons are a Minnesotan’s Labor of Love

| February 2005

Every Thursday evening when Joe Kopp was a boy, his father went to town to get groceries. Somehow when Joe was about nine, just to pass the time, he started going down to the town's power plant, where he sat around, got to know the operators and, best of all, watch the power plant's giant 15-ton Worthington diesel engines run.

"I don't know how I got hooked up going down to the power plant," says the 51-year-old IBM electronic technician. "But I would race the block down main street to the power house and watch these things run. I was just fascinated by them, their moving parts, the noise and what they did. When dad got ready to go home, all he had to do was come down to the power house to get me, and we'd go home."

Luckily for him and other people who are privileged to see these big beasts every year at the Hastings (Minn.) Little Log House Antique Power show, Joe's love of the big engines never stopped.

Engines At Sea

These four-cylinder behemoths were originally manufactured by Worthington Pump and Machinery Corp. at the Buffalo Works in Buffalo, N.Y., to be used in U.S. ships, but in the late 1920s, some of them became surplus, and were converted to generators. In 1928, the town of Kenyon, Minn., bought a pair of them to use as the city's power plant. That's where, in 1957, 9-year-old Joe Kopp, now of Rochester, Minn., fell in love with them.

But Joe's involvement didn't stop there. "For years I went over there," he says, "even after I'd gotten my driver's license I'd sit and watch these things run. I don't know what it was. It was addicting to me." Eventually the machines got old and were taken offline, but Joe persisted, driving over to the Kenyon Power Plant. "The superintendent would say, 'You know where the light switches are, go in and turn them on,' and even though the engines weren't running, I'd still stare at those things and remember how they ran."

One day, Joe was driving by the power plant when he received a jolt. The engines, now in pieces, were being loaded on a semi flatbed. "I thought they were going to the scrap yard, these engines that I'd watched for years and years, and I was sad." A few weeks later, he discovered they had been trucked up to the Hastings Little Log House grounds, so Joe quickly got on the horn and told the people there that he was willing to help set the engines up and do other work on the big Worthingtons. "They didn't know me at the time, so they said, 'Yeah, sure, we'll give you a call,' but they never did." Still, Joe made the 60-mile trip to the show grounds to lift the plastic and gaze at the two great big engines. "I tried to find people to talk to so I could help get it back into production, but couldn't." Finally, about five years after the Worthingtons had been moved, Joe received a call from Ray Nicolai Jr., asking him to come to the Hastings grounds. He was not prepared for what happened next.


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