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Steam Power at the WDM



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Full Steam Ahead:
Steam Power at the WDM


Museum staff with 32-110 HP American-Abell steam traction engine restored for exhibit in Saskatoon WDM centennial exhibit, Winning the Prairie Gamble - WDM photo

More than 60 years ago, the founders of Saskatchewan’s Western Development Museum were motivated by a mission to save early steam engines and gas tractors from the scrap heap. Canada’s commitment to the Second World War required vast amounts of metal for the making of warships and munitions. A nation-wide campaign to collect scrap metal for the war effort endangered the thousands of machines and implements which had transformed prairie sod to fertile fields. Museum officials combed the countryside looking for used or abandoned engines made obsolete by new technology. WDM organizers advertised in farm papers asking for the donation of equipment which they envisioned would become part of a “Smithsonian of the North.” By 1950, museums were opened in North Battleford, Saskatoon and Yorkton to showcase Saskatchewan’s agricultural pioneer history.

Over the years, steam-powered machinery has become a hallmark of the WDM collection. Not only has the WDM committed to the preservation of the artifacts, it has also actively encouraged the survival of the know-how needed to operate this equipment. Courses in antique steam operation are offered occasionally. Annual summer shows at three of the four WDM branches feature the gentle hissing and puffing of engines as they pull plows, power sawmills or operate threshing machines. Traction engines are crowd favourites as they lumber along in the shows’ parades of power. Volunteers provide many hours of engine maintenance, repair and operation to supplement the efforts of a small but dedicated staff.

The WDM claims one of the largest collections of antique steam equipment in Canada. In total, there are 85 traction,16 portable and eight stationary steam engines. Steam afficionados will appreciate the fine collection of 1880s and 1890s Canadian portable engines by Ontario makers R. Whitelaw of Woodstock, Sawyer & Massey of Hamilton, L.D. Sawyer of Hamilton, George White & Sons of London, Stevens, Turner & Burns, also of London, and Haggert Brothers and Company of Brampton. All are on exhibit at the WDM in Saskatoon. The Whitelaw has the remains of a tree trunk growing through the rear wheel spokes, a reminder of its abandonment in a prairie farmyard. The WDM in Yorkton is home to a portable made by O. Norsworthy, of St. Thomas, Ontario. Stationary steam is represented by makers like Corliss, Leonard and Vilter.

The traction engine collection represents a veritable who’s who of turn-of-the century manufacturers. From Advance, American Abell, Aultman-Taylor, Avery, Buffalo Pitts, J.I. Case, Gaar-Scott, Geiser, George White and Huber to J.I. Case, Minneapolis, New Hamburg, Nichols & Shepard, Northwest, and Port Huron, the WDM is home to them all. Other well known names include Reeves, Robert Bell, Rumely, Sawyer-Massey, Waterloo and Waterous.

The line up of giant engines include the J.I. Case 32-110 restored to operating condition at the WDM in North Battleford, Avery 40-120 HP undermount, American Abell 32-120, Geiser 40-120 and Reeves 32-110 Canadian Special.

Steam power also includes a narrow-gauge Vulcan steam locomotive which provides visitors to the Moose Jaw WDM an opportunity to ride around the museum grounds. Canadian Northern steam locomotive No.1158 is a feature exhibit at the WDM North Battleford Heritage Farm & Village. Moose Jaw boasts a 4-6-0 type Canadian Pacific Railway locomotive built in 1913 by the Montreal Locomotive Works. A 1905 Canadian Pacific Railway 0-6-0- locomotive anchors one end of Saskatoon’s 1910 Boomtown as part of the WDM exhibit, Winning the Prairie Gamble. A Loomis Clipper oil drilling rig dating to about 1915 offers another example of steam-powered equipment at the WDM.

Finally, the WDM steam collection is rounded out by the calliope, a steam-powered music machine. High pressure steam forced through varying sizes of whistles, controlled by a piano-type keyboard, creates an unforgettable sound. The WDM calliope attracts a following whenever it is played at WDM special events and local parades.

The WDM steam collection is distributed throughout its four museums and Curatorial Centre in Saskatchewan. Many examples are on exhibit, others are operated annually in summer shows, while others are currently in storage. The collection is enhanced by a library collection of original manuals, parts lists and machine company catalogues dating to the 1880s.

Unfortunately, years of use and aging materials combine forces to take their toll on antique boilers. The WDM successfully completed the replacement of an old rivetted boiler with a new welded boiler on a 1911 J.I. Case 12-36 hp steam traction engine. The calliope has also been outfitted with a new boiler. In 2011 the Vulcan, Saskatchewan’s only operating steam locomotive, was returned to service at the Moose Jaw WDM complete with a new boiler and extensive restoration carried out at the Curatorial Centre.

The WDM welcomes you to enjoy a visit to Museums in Moose Jaw, North Battleford, Saskatoon and Yorkton. Come during one of our special events and chances are we’ll be steamed up and waiting for you.



You might also like:

- Artifact Articles: New for the 19th Century: Steam Power

- About the WDM Collection

- How to donate an artifact