Historic tractor makes 'steamy' homecoming
One of the past exhibits of the Runestone Museum in Alexandria has come home.
The Nichols and Shepard steam tractor, which has been on loan to the Rose City Threshing Show for about 15 years, was returned on Tuesday, August 12. Ferguson Brothers Excavating of Alexandria transported the tractor to the museum on their low-boy trailer.
Jim Bergquist, Runestone Museum manager, is excited to have it back.
“I look forward to using this tractor as an educational opportunity because there are lots of things to learn about it,” he said.
According to Bergquist, the tractor was built in about 1906 in Indiana. Equipped with a 16-horsepower, one-cylinder engine and low gears, the tractor was able to pull heavy loads, including a six-bottomed plow.
Steam tractors were also used to operate threshing machines, also called separators, to separate chaff from grain.
However, steam tractors weren’t widely used because gasoline tractors were more convenient.
About 25 to 30 years ago, an implement dealer in town procured the tractor and then donated it to the museum, Bergquist said. But weighing in at 25,000 pounds with all-steel wheels, the 16-foot-long, 12-foot-wide tractor just didn’t fit.
“For a while, we were short on space, so we loaned it out at no cost to the Rose City Threshing Show,” Bergquist said.
However, Bergquist noted that last fall, the manager of Rose City Threshers, Jim Pospisil, decided that because the tractor wasn’t in working condition, it would be better served if it were returned.
“For a museum, it’s just fine if it doesn’t run,” Bergquist said. “We can use it to teach students various principles of science and engineering. It’s also a very cool, very large, eye-catching exhibit.”
Though space is still an issue, the museum has made a home for the tractor behind the Viking ship in the outside annex in Fort Alexandria. Eventually, the museum would like to add to the display, including audio of what a running steam tractor would sound like.
Bergquist invites the public to come see the tractor in its new display and to give input on what is most interesting about it – because for now, the steam tractor is here to stay.