Would You Be Interested In a Big Engine?

| September/October 1980

N. 1322 Bessie Road, Spokane, Washington 99206

I want to share with my fellow iron collectors a story that resulted from that question. It happened last fall just as the leaves were turning yellow and summer was losing its grip on northern Idaho. Todd Silk, Max Kunze and I took my old green pickup into the hills south of Bonner's Ferry, Idaho. Our purpose? To check out a story Max had heard from his fellow worker that 'ten years ago, there had been an abandoned steam shovel and other steam equipment sitting along Twenty Mile Road.' Well, if you know Max, he loves power shovels, particularly steam shovels. So there we were one Sunday charging around the hills trying to follow a set of ten-year-old directions. You've probably been on enough wild goose chases to guess the results. We saw lots of pretty country, but nary the hint of steam equipment.

On the way in on Twenty Mile Road, we passed a farmstead that had a John Deere 2 speed 'D' sitting out along the road with a 'For Sale' sign sitting on its hood. I think all of us made a mental note to check that out later! As we were coming out, it was still too early to head back to Spokane, so we did just that. The place is owned by Mr. Hansen, and yes, the John Deeres. were for sale (at a quite reasonable price, too) provided the buyer took them both. Well, we looked them both over and I agreed with Mr. Hansen that I would buy them both as soon as next payday rolled around. Then I sprang it on him. 'Do you have any other old equipment or know of any that can be bought? How about one cylinder gas farm engines?' He replied that the only engine he'd had he'd given to the neighbor fellow who was sort of interested in them. So we talked some more and I thought to myself, 'This is all he will be able to help us.' But as I was getting into the pick-up to leave, he asked, 'Would you be interested in a big engine?' Of course I quite likely would, depending upon the circumstances. What was it? He said it was a 'Harvester' engine. I thought, 'A combine engine, maybe?' 'No,' he said, 'it has two big flywheels on it. We used it to pump water out of a gold mine I used to own part of.' 'How long ago?' I asked skeptically. 'Thirty years ago.' So we talked about it some more and finally he said, 'Let's go up and see if it's still there. You haven't got anything more important, have you?' So up the hill we went. The gent was a little hard to understand, so I didn't really know what I was letting us in for. But I thought, 'What the heck!'

So back up the hill we went, right up the way we'd just come down. Bounced back up over the same rocks and washboard road till finally he said, 'Park here. Now we walk.' We got out of the pick-up and down the side of the canyon from the south side of the road we went. The first 200 yards or so were so steep we had to watch our steps to keep our feet under us. The pine needles, grass, and small stones made landing on your fanny quite likely. The ground finally leveled out so you could get your eyes up off the ground and look around. That first drop was really steep! In another 50 yards the ground dropped off again and we had to go back to watching where we put our feet. Two hundred yards of this and now we could hear a small creek in the cedar thicket below us. We were down in the canyon far enough that the late summer sun wasn't shining on us anymore and we became comfortably cool. Coming down a stony hogback, I spotted a small building dug into one side of the hogback. Mr. Hansen said, 'Well, there's the powder magazine.' That was a relief because I wasn't all that sure that he wasn't lost or leading us on a wild goose chase. From the front of the powder magazine, an outhouse-sized cedar shake covered building, we could see the creek in the bottom of the canyon. A trail led from the front of the powder shed around the hogback point to the west. We headed down that way, climbing over or around the place where part of it had slid off into the creek, till the remains of another structure came into view. From the creek bed where I was I couldn't see very well because it was above me and the only part left standing was part of the wall on the side toward me. I scrambled up the bank, over the fallen boards and other debris, and peered into it.

There in the center was the remains of the roof covering (somewhat shakily) an open, water filled shaft, and on an elevated ledge toward the north was this beautiful piece of iron and rust. The four of us 'swarmed' around it in our eagerness. It did indeed say 'Harvester' on it, preceded by 'International.' All the brass had been removed by previous scroungers: the main bearing shells, the con-rad bearing box, and the fuel pump. The mag was gone, too, but the igniter and carburetor were there. I've got to say this for the guy that took the main bearing shells; he very carefully saved the bearing caps, nuts, and bolts just as a mechanic would. I'm surprised they weren't thrown all over the place or down that handy mine shaft 3 feet ahead of the engine. But it really hurt to see that some brainchild with a hammer or a big rock had severely damaged the rocker arm, the intake valve cage, and the valves. But, what can you expect? The flywheels weren't broken and looked to be about 45' in diameter. I knew right then and there that it would be a real battle to get the engine out because it looked heavy.

I asked Mr. Hansen if the engine belonged to him now. He replied that it had belonged to his three partners and himself. Was it for sale and could he sell it? He replied that as far as they were concerned, the engine was abandoned and would belong to whomever claimed it and got it out. Well, how to get it out? It definitely was a long steep way back up the hill we'd come down. Maybe there was an old road in some other way we could clear to bring a truck in closer. Mr. Hansen said that there was only the pack trail they'd used originally to bring their supplies in. He estimated it would meet a usable road about five miles down the creek. That would mean a lot of clearing, and most likely a vehicle could not get up it anyway. He didn't know how the engine had been brought in originally; it was already installed when he bought into the mine. So it looked like we had to find a way to drag the engine back up the hill.