Friday, January 17, 2014

Monitor Steam Engine: EXPLOSION!

The steam engine has not yet been restored in this photograph and the
seat is visible. [An unrelated piece of machinery is in the background.]

In 1893, when steam was king down on the farm, an engine exploded, killing both man and animal.  This happened across the river from St. Vincent not far outside Pembina.

After the original incident, the damaged engine was buried on the spot of the accident - a field on the Frank Moris farm near Pembina. Seventy-four years later, the late Ben Fisher of Bowesmont, ND, dug up the steam engine in 1967 and restored it to its present condition.

After the restoration in 1967...

The engine is now owned by Dr. Roland Larter of Hallock, MN and is on loan to the Pembina County Historical Museum, Cavalier, N.D.

An excellent engraving of the Canton Monitor portable steam 
engine, made by C. Aultman & Company,  Canton, Ohio...

The Pembina engine is more accurately described as a Canton Monitor portable steam engine. Describing the Canton Monitor, an Album (aka industrial encyclopedia) published back during the 1890s says it is 'cheaper and better than any power operated by horses.' It continues . . .

'Five sizes of these engines are made: 6, 8, 10, 12 and 16 horsepower; and no better engine of similar sizes, or designed for similar purposes, was ever made. Primarily the Canton Monitor was intended for a threshing machine, but it is really adapted to any work requiring power within its limits.

'It is a complete engine and boiler, and both boiler and engine are of admirable construction. Mounted on truck, as shown, it is very portable, or without the truck, it becomes a stationary engine. It is complete in all its parts and attachments. It has a steam gauge, glass water gauge, whistle, spring balance for safety valve, locomotive blower, etc.'

The company made various other pieces of equipment. Founded in 1851, it was succeeded by Aultman-Taylor Machinery Company, which later became a part of Allis-Chalmers.

Source: Recollections of C. Aultman & Company,

Mr. Ben Fisher of Bowesmont, North Dakota has just written me that he is unearthing a fine archaeological discovery near home that consists of a Canton Monitor, presumably, that has lain buried in the soil for 74 years after a boiler explosion which killed several people.

Source:  Coffee Time with Kitty,

by Ben Fischer
November/December 1969

I'm sending you a picture of an old Canton steam engine made by C. A. & Co. of Canton, Ohio Engine No. 2193 which blew up approximately) of a century ago. It was buried in a wheat field right where it blew up, about five miles west of Pembina, North Dakota and about two miles from the Canadian border.

One day they were getting ready to thresh and were getting up steam and someone noticed the steam pressure was getting rather high. So, they told a man to start the engine so it would use steam to release the pressure. As the engine was on dead center, just as the man was ready to turn it over, it exploded; no doubt killing that man for one man was killed and the owner of the rig was standing between the water tank and the engine and it sent him flying through the air landing fifty feet from where the engine stood. He was not hurt too much. It also sent a five gallon oil can right in the mouth of the separator. For some unknown reason, the remains of the engine was buried right in the wheat field where it blew up. Probably it was the easiest way to dispose of the engine at that time.

Now, about a year and a half ago, I heard about this engine and where it was buried. So, I went out to see the man on whose land it was to get permission to get it out. Somehow, some of the boiler part wasn't buried too deep and the farmer would get his plow hooked into it. He was glad to get it out of the wheat field, as it was a nuisance to him. By making some rods and driving them into the ground, we soon located the engine for the farmer knew approximately where it was buried. By doing a little digging, we soon located the engine proper and later on my neighbor, Melvin Juhl, with a bulldozer, uncovered some more.

Melvin Juhl onsite with his bulldozer, digging up the Monitor engine

We got most of the boiler out, but it was so blown to pieces, it was hard to tell how the boiler was built. Some of it must have been square, from the looks of the pieces we dug out. It was a wood burner and I think the firebox was made square. It was horse drawn and the engine only ran one way.

The owner of the engine was a man by the name of Morris, don't know his first name but he has a son by the name of Walter Morris that still lives at Pembina, N. D. and still farms some of his father's land. He was 72 years old when I dug out the engine and the engine was buried for 74 years so he never saw his father's/ engine until I dug it up. Boy, was he glad to see the old engine!

Now, there were parts broken and missing. The flywheel was broken and I practically had to make a complete new crank shaft. Re-bored the cylinder on my 13" lathe and got a true and accurate job which saved me quite a bit. Made new piston and rings using stainless steel for piston rod. So, I now have the engine proper in running order and steam it up occasionally to see it run by taking steam from another boiler. It runs smooth and nice.

I was able to pick up a good boiler 40' diameter and a neighbor gave me some good wheels quite similar to the original old ones. I hope this summer I'll be able to mount the engine on the boiler and get it to look like the original old engine.

Only known photo of actual Monitor engine that exploded
near Pembina, ND
[circa early 1890s]

A relative of Walter Morris, a real old farm lady happened to have a picture of this old engine and I was able to get some reprints made. It's not very clear but was the only picture I could find of this engine,  no doubt the only one in existence. Also, am sending a picture of Melvin Juhl on the bulldozer.

Source:  Dig That Engine!,

Dr. Larter posted this on an online forum in 2006:
I have a canton monitor portable steam engine thought to be one of about four known to exist. It is a single cylinder simple engine with the cylinder in the vertical plane and below the crankshaft. It has a vertical boiler. It is possibly about 20hp. This engine is of 1890s' vintage. The boiler blew up in the 1890s while threshing near Pembina , North Dakota, destroying the engine, killing two horses and one of the men in the threshing crew. The crew dug a large pit in the field and buried the engine to get rid of it and it laid buried there until the early 1970s when Ben Fischer of Bowesmont, North Dakota dug it up and restored it. He had to pour many new castings to reconstruct the engine to running condition. The engine is on loan to the museum at Icelandic Park at Cavalier, North Dakota...