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Steamer comes out of retirement

By Staff | Oct 6, 2008

For nearly 60 years a garage across from the Blue Earth tennis courts has held a secret. It has been housing a 14-ton goliath — a 1919 80-horse Case steam engine.

While the behemoth was stored in the middle of town, most residents never knew it existed.

Last Tuesday the steel giant saw the light of day for the first time in many years.

“I am 76 years old, and I don’t remember it ever being out of that shed,” says Dewayne Hannaman of Mankato.

Hannaman and his wife, Noreen, recently inherited the huge engine from his uncle and aunt, Richard and Rosie Swingdoff of Blue Earth.

Last Tuesday he sold it.

“It is going to a great home,” Hannaman says.

The buyers are Tom and Nancy Vouk of St. Stephen, which is located near St. Cloud. They operate a sawmill there.

“I can’t wait to fire this engine up and see it work,” says Nancy Vouk. We will use it to run our sawmill.

This is the fourth large steam engine the couple owns. Nancy has a 110 horse engine operating at the mill.

“Sometimes while we are sawing I will hang a turkey in a pail on the steam pipe elbow in front of the engine,” Vouk says. “When we take our supper break the turkey is cooked and ready to eat. It is always delicious.

Hannaman says his Uncle Richard farmed with his brother and sister near Blue Earth, but lived in town.

“They lived a block west of the bank,” he says. “In 1949 they built this house across from the tennis courts.

Of course, when the house was built, the tennis courts were not there. In fact, it was Richard Swingdoff who sold the land to the city for the courts, Hannaman says.

The large garage was built specifically to house the steam engine, Hannaman says.

“I think my uncle built it before 1949 just to store the machine,” he recalls.

It never came out again, as far as Hannaman knows.

“My Uncle Richie loved steam engines and sawmills,” Hannaman says. “He owned part interest in one in Iowa. He had his boilers license so he knew what he was doing with the old engines.

Richard Swingdoff died in 1998. His wife Rosie passed away last year. They left the engine to their only nephew, Hannaman.

“I would like to keep it, but what would I do with it?” he asks.

So he took some pictures of the engine and printed up flyers passing them around at threshing and antique machinery shows.

One of those was in Rollag, where a cousin of the Vouks took one and later showed it to them.

“We were interested right away,” says Nancy Vouk.

They will have to replace some flutes and other items, but she says it is in great shape.

“We should be able to build a fire in it and get steam rolling without any trouble,” Vouk says. They hope to have it running the sawmill this spring.

Vouk better get the turkey ready for the pail, too, so she can hang it up in the steam engine and have supper ready that first day.