44,000 Pounds of Steel
American-Abell Steam Traction Engine
By Collections Curator Ruth Bitner
The G.A. Kendall threshing outfit posing with the
American-Abell steam traction engine, Estevan area, 1920s.
- WDM Archives
The giant American-Abell “Cock of the North” 32-120 HP steam traction
engine dominates the railway and machinery line-up scene in
Prairie Gamble: Farm Life in Saskatchewan at the Saskatoon WDM.
The engine began its working life in southeast Saskatchewan near Macoun in 1913. It was used for breaking land, pulling a 12-bottom plow. The mammoth engine, which burned up to 5000 pounds of coal a day, could reportedly turn over four acres of prairie sod in an hour. It was also used to supply power for a threshing machine. A crew of 22 men operated the outfit. Two cooks were kept busy preparing meals for the men.
In 1913, a Mr. Benson from the Midale or Macoun area purchased the engine and a Rumely Ideal threshing machine from the Rumely company for about $7000, a huge sum of money at the time. Apparently Benson ran into financial difficulty and sold the engine to J.A. Smith and J.W. Ball also of the Macoun area. When Benson died in 1916, the new owners inherited some of the debt to the Rumely Company.
In 1923, Glenn A. Kendall from the Estevan area bought the engine from Smith and Ball. His outfit travelled from farm to farm at harvest time. "I have threshed 1300 bushels an hour of oats," he reported to the WDM. "There wasn't a much better machine for threshing." Kendall used the machine until 1929.
But the mammoth engine still had work to do. In 1942, the Porcupine Lumber Company at Pelly, SK bought it from Kendall and shipped it north for use in a sawmill. The sawmill manager told the WDM that it supplied the power to cut millions of feet of Saskatchewan spruce. In 1950, the company donated the engine to the Western Development Museum.
The 44,000 pound machine was restored for the exhibit by WDM staff over a six month period. A huge hole in the boiler was repaired. New cleats were made and mounted on the rear wheels. New channel beams were fabricated and installed to support the new tenders. Numerous other repairs were made, including replacement of the water and small steam lines, restoration of the steam pump and spark arrester. Almost eight gallons of paint provided finishing touches.
On May 29, 2003 the American-Abell rolled out of the restoration shop at the WDM Curatorial Centre in Saskatoon, bound for 1910 Boomtown, Saskatoon's WDM.
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WDM staff with the American-Abell at the Western Development Museum Curatorial Centre in Saskatoon, May 29, 2003.
Mark MacKenzie, WDM