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Lloyd's Steam Engine | Lloyd's Steam Tractor | Bill Roper | Frank Fox | Hal & Beth Morgan | Top of Page

Workhorse returns to its roots
Silver Star collector donates 1911 steam engine to Heritage Commission
Story and photos by Nick Gevock of The Montana Standard. 09/15/2005

Lloyd Harkins, left, and Bob Eby pose in front of the 1911 Case Steam Traction Engine that Harkins restored over the past six years. Harkins traded the engine to the Montana Heritage Commission so it can be displayed for the public. He bought the engine in 1964 from Eby's father, Ted Eby, who used the engine to power a sawmill. Nick Gevock of The Montana Standard.
NEVADA CITY - Lloyd Harkins parted with one of his favorite toys in Nevada City this week.

The 83-year-old collector of historic mining equipment traded a 1911 Case Steam Traction Engine in exchange for two Dinky steam locomotives in a deal with the Montana Heritage Commission, the agency that oversees historic Virginia and Nevada cites. Harkins has owned the engine since 1964, and it took him six years to restore the machine.

"We got a much better end of the deal," said Jeff Tiberi, commission executive director.

Harkins agreed the commission may have gotten the better end of the swap. In fact, after further checking out the two engines he received - damaged when the old engine house burned down - he got rid of them. But he has no regrets about preserving part of Montana's mining legacy.

"At least people can see it again," Harkins said Tuesday afternoon, before a ceremony at the engine house honoring his work on the engine that drew more than 40 people.

With the engine, the commission has a piece of the Alder Gulch mining history stored in the train engine house in Nevada City, where people can glance at a machine that was the workhorse of its day.

The Conrey Placer Mining Co. bought the engine in 1911 to pull massive dredging equipment and haul shipments of supplies into the Alder Gulch area from Twin Bridges, where the train line ended, said Jon Ellingsen, commission curator of history.

"They had the biggest dredges in the world," he said of Conrey.

The company went out of business in 1922 and most of its equipment was sent to scrap.

But the engine was spared that fate when logger Ted Eby bought it to power a sawmill up Hinch Creek, on the west side of the Ruby Mountains south of Nevada City.

The engine was fueled with wood and provided plenty of power to run the mill, Eby's son, Bob, said Tuesday.

After Ted Eby quit logging in 1950, the engine sat in a shed up at the mill. Exposure to the elements left its exterior badly rusted, corroding many parts beyond repair.

Harkins bought the engine from Ted Eby in 1964. It started right away with some fuel oil and water, but getting it out of Hinch Creek proved an adventure as Harkins drove through the canyon at night with only a flashlight to show the way, he recalled.

"We hit some frozen ground and it slid off into the creek," Harkins said. "We had to get a D4 Cat to get it out of there." The engine sat in Harkins' yard in Silver Star for decades, along with dozens of other relics of the bygone mining era. But officials with the commission contacted Harkins six years ago to ask if he was interested in parting with the engine.

He agreed and began restoring the engine. It was a huge undertaking.

It was completely rusted, so Harkins buffed away the rust and repainted large parts. Even more challenging is the fact that so many parts were missing, either rusted away beyond repair or just gone.

Harkins found replacement parts when possible and manufactured in his shop what couldn't be located.

"If he can't find something, he gets on his lathe and makes it," said Harkins' daughter, Marilynn Dale.

She recalled playing on the engine as a girl. On one occasion, Dale and her brother, Larry Harkins, hid a chicken they found dead in the yard down the engine's smoke stack, fearing their father would think their collie had killed it and scold the dog.

The engine is again in immaculate condition. Its main body is neatly painted black, while the trim and extra valves are green with red lettering. Brass whistles shine on the top, and the metal wheels are painted red.

Although her father has sent parts of his collection to Europe and Japan, the steam engine is his proudest achievement, Dale said.

"He restored it and brought it back to its home," she said. "You can't imagine how much work went into it."

Used with permission of the Montana Standard.

Lloyd's Steam Engine | Lloyd's Steam Tractor | Bill Roper | Frank Fox | Hal & Beth Morgan | Top of Page

Historic steam tractor goes to Nevada City
By Thad Kelling for the Montana Standard. 10/26/2004

Montana heritage Commission Curator of History John Ellingsen takes a look at the steam powered tractor being donated to the Virginia/Nevada cities collection by Lloyd Harkins of Silver Star.
SILVER STAR - An important piece of regional history is making its way back to the gold-rush town of Nevada City.

The last moving artifact from the Conrey Placer Mining Co. - a refurbished 1911 Case steam engine tractor - was hauled from Silver Star to Nevada City recently for display at the roundhouse museum by the Montana Heritage Commission.

"It's a part of the area's history and a reminder of the dredging era," said John Ellingsen, curator of history for the Montana Heritage Commission.

Conrey Placer Mining Co. was a dominant business in the area after the turn of the 20th century, and it dredged millions of dollars worth of gold from Alder Gulch, which is near Nevada City.

The tractor was custom made by Case to haul extra parts and supplies about 10 miles to the dredging operations. It operated like a front-end loader is used today, except it carried its load with a boom mounted on the front, according to Ellingsen.

After the Conrey Placer Mining Co. was through with the machine, the late Ted Eby bought it to use as the primary source of energy at his sawmill in the area, according Eby's son, Bob, who is now 73.

Lloyd Harkins is responsible for recently refurbishing the tractor.

The 82-year-old first saw it neglected and rusting while hunting about 40 years ago. He then hauled it to his home in Silver Star and added it to his enormous collection of antique industrial equipment, which spans five acres around his modest home.

"I just like the old stuff and hate to see it junked," said Harkins said.

Years ago, Harkins, of Silver Star, thought he would create a museum with all the equipment he's collected, but he scrapped that idea, although the former miner and road builder continued to add to his piles of old mining equipment, gas pumps and everything in between.

The tractor sat untouched for years until several years ago, when he approached the Montana Heritage Commission to trade the tractor, which he promised to refurbish, for several railroad steam engines that were badly scorched in a fire at the former roundhouse museum around 1990.

"I think the Heritage Commission got the best part of that deal," Harkins said, later adding, "At least they got it back where it belongs."

They made the trade in 1997, Harkins said, and between then and now he completed substantial reconstruction on a type of machine he knew next to nothing about before tackling the project.

"I got a good education without going to school, and I had a lot of fun doing it," said Harkins, who suffered a hernia on the project while adjusting an inch-thick spoke.

Used with permission of the Montana Standard.

Lloyd's Steam Engine | Lloyd's Steam Tractor | Bill Roper | Frank Fox | Hal & Beth Morgan | Top of Page

Roper learned his craft early in life
By Maryanne Davis Silve for the Montana Standard. 12/02/2003

SILVER STAR- A wisp of white hair blowing wildly in the Silver Star wind as he sprints from his house to the shop might be the only clue about bill roper's age.

The spring in his step would not give it away. The big grin on his face would not. The twinkle of mischief in his eyes as he heads out to his airplane would not. His enthusiasm for life and fun has not waned since 1930 when he was born in a farm house near Waterloo to David and Irene Roper.

His slender, agile form weaves through the tools and boxes of parts in his shop like river moss following the current in a graceful, rhythmic pattern. He is like a fish in water. His Cessna 140 waits for him in his shop, a testimony to the way he has spent much of his life; flying or getting ready to fly.

"They are a good machine and they are fun," Roper says lightly for the sake of people who are afraid to fly in a small plane.

Ropers early years were spent like a gypsy, Montana style.

"My dad followed construction," Roper said, " He helped build the highway from the junction near Silver Star up to Alder and worked on the Ruby dam. I attended every one room school house along the way and never went a full year to any of them."

"We had a little shop that was also our house," Roper said, "It had a floor that was in halves. The walls unbolted at the corners. The roof was domed and unbolted at the center. We loaded it all on a flat bed truck and away we we. Take your house with you. That was home."

As a young boy roper recalls the day the U.S. entered W.W.II .

"I remember the big to do on Dec. 7 1941. December 8th we bought a radio.

In those years a man moved where he could find work. Roper's dad was a tool and die maker. The army didn't want him because they knew his skills made him more valuable building factories than getting shot at. The family with Roper and his two sisters moved to Minnesota. David Roper tooled factories that made naval cannons and 30 caliber machine gun bullets. Near Minneapolis he worked at the airport constructing a factory that built invasion gliders. He flew back and forth to work in his 1939 Taylor Craft Plane to beat the city's traffic.

Roper smiles, remembering that first plane.

"It had a 40 horsepower engine, a neat airplane and fun to fly. Once dad learned to fly it, I would go with him. Sometimes I got sticky little fingers on the controls when I was with him. Dad started teaching me how to fly in 1942."

Those fond memories of flying with his father instilled in him a love that would last a lifetime.

"We'd land on the lakes in Minnesota in the wintertime," Roper said, "and taxi up to the ice fishermen. Oh, they were unfriendly. It seems the game warden had a red airplane like ours. We'd get the cold shoulder till they found out we weren't the game warden. That was fun."

Another special day of flying with his father brings a smile to Ropers lips.

"The wind was pretty strong that day and that airplane would fly slowly. We saw a football game on the ground and we pulled up and dad throttled back.

Pretty soon he had parked in the air where we could watch the game. We were just off to one side of the football field, about 500 up. The wind speed on our nose was equal to our air speed forward. Pretty soon everybody on the ground was watching us and no football game. Would that bother your football game?" he asks with a grin and a wink. "We finally gave up and decided they weren't going to play as long as we were there, so dad pushed the throttle ahead, and away we went."

"That's just one of the fun things you can do with the toys you get hold of," Roper adds in a playful tone.

Though Roper's smile and demeanor may come across as a life without problems, he has faced and lived through many hard times with his buddies, family and neighbors and managed to keep a smile through it all.

"I was 17 when I joined the service June 8, 1948 in the Army Air Corps and got discharged from the U.S. Air Force. I enlisted for three years and spent four. Uncle Harry Truman saw to that."

After basic training in Texas and technical school in Mississippi where the learned how to work on C-54 aircraft, Roper found himself flying on C-47's for three months at the end of the Berlin Airlift.

"I was a mechanic on air planes -- flight crew some of the time. I had some 'stick time'. That is illegal flying time in the service."

"When I got back from Germany,"Roper said, "the Korean War started and I was transferred into the 1732 Air Evac Unit. We were stationed stateside and flew the wounded from Korea all over the country."

After the war ended, Roper came home and learned the blacksmith trade. He and his dad ran a business in Silver Star where they sharpened plowshares, worked on farm machinery and had a Conoco station.

"I would have stayed in the Air Force, but they wouldn't teach me to fly," Roper said. "At that time you had to have at least two years of college or they would not send you to a flight school."

Roper took flying lessons from Andre Morris out of Dillon.

I'd been flying around and decided tit would be prudent to get a pilot's license," Roped said. "Morris said it was remarkable how quick I learned to fly."

Fred Hirschey from the Big Hole and Roper went to the Bozeman airport at the same time to take their flight test.

In 1955 Roper married June, his wife of 48 years.

About the same time, he found his way backdoor of college as he describes it... "I met June in Butte. She was in Business College. I was trying to get into college on the GI bill, but I had never graduated from high school. I took some business classes and then transferred to MSU in Bozeman. I was a transfer student. The assumption was that I had taken college entrance exams elsewhere. They were reviewing my transcript prior to graduation and started asking me some questions. Finally they said, 'Well, it's a little late for you to take entrance exams since your a graduating senior.' Shortly after that they revised their entry rules a bit," Roper adds with a sly grin. "I graduated in Industrial Arts."

Roper found his skills were valuable. He worked for the John Deere store in Whiteall and in Dillon with Ken Rolandson and for Braach Construction making friends everywhere, mostly on dirt roads.

Over the years, Roper's life has been a lot of work and a a lot of fun, but he has not ignored service to his fellow men. Plunging from the air to the water, Roper filled a special need in the Waterloo Search and Rescue.

"They needed a diver, so several of us found a diving instructor and learned to dive in the 1970s. Somebody had to do it. There aren't very many people who would do it. My dive partner would not touch a body. I told him, 'You are my safety diver. Just go with me and you don't have to do anything. I'll take care of whatever had to be done.' So that's the way we went."

Some of the rescues did not have happy endings. Roper recalls a good one he will never forget.

"Some kids got tangled up in the mountains in the wintertime. We went up with sleds and when we finally found them at 2:30 a.m., they were terrified, cold and wet. We make sure the kids were alright and then we had a party right then and there so it was not all that bad of a memory for them. We had hot cocoa and roasted marshmallows. We tried to be nice to the little people. We got them out of the mountains by morning. Those were the kind of searches I liked."

Pictures on Roper's walls tell the story of what he values; his two daughters, grand children and a large portrait of him and June and the airplanes he loves.

He unfolds the blue prints of a 'Jenny,' a biplane he'd like to build if he gets the time and money. His Cessna is waiting for him in the shop to add fabric to the wings in time for next summer's flying season. But for the winter, Roper says, "Just keeping the fire going is a full time job."

In his usual terse, straightforward manner, Roper has only a few wise words to the young people. "Don't drink." I had a half a bottle of beer in 1944 and that was it. If the breweries had depended on me, they'd be broke."

Used with permission of the Montana Standard.

Lloyd's Steam Engine | Lloyd's Steam Tractor | Bill Roper | Frank Fox | Hal & Beth Morgan | Top of Page

Frank Fox of Silver Star
shares his fantastic stories from Bear Gulch

By Maryanne Davis Silve for the Montana Standard. 03/09/2004

Frank Fox is pictured here with a painting by once local Silver Star artist, Bill Struthers.
SILVER STAR - "Just like a coyote, I came out of the hills up Bear Gulch," said Frank Fox of Silver Star. "They sent for the doctor in Twin Bridges, but he didn't get there soon enough."

Born to Charlie and Jessie Fox above Silver Star, Bear Gulch was home to Frank until he was around 11-years-old. Frank's brother Kirk has passed away but his sister, Alice Dale lives in Twin Bridges.

"There was a lake up Bear Gulch," Fox recalls, "and my father walked about four miles to work the mine that was above it. There was wolves up there and they'd follow him around the edge of the timber. They never attacked him but they would follow. He should a packed a gun, but he didn't."

Life changed for the Fox family when they moved to Argenta where Frank's father worked in the mine again.

"I went through eighth grade in Argenta," Fox said. "That teacher had her hands full - all eight grades in one room. We didn't have a playground at the Argenta School. We didn't need one. We had the whole country to play in."

Argenta was where Frank's love for horses took root and would soon grow into a lifelong career.

"I got my first horse there. I was petting this horse in the yard and this guy came along and he said to me, 'you like horses, don't you?' I said 'yes' and he gave me this pony. I had him for years and years, till he died of old age. 'Course I've had a lot of horses through the years. Had 30 head at one time. We always had some around, but now we're down to one head."

Change came again for the Fox family as they moved to Dillon and Frank attended Beaverhead High School in the 1930's. "We lived in a cabin at Dilmont Park, north of Dillon. It was sort of a tourist place. It had a big round building. People would roller-skate and dance there. Jim Jackson was the owner."

Those were the boot legging days. Fox recalls vividly how he and his brother, Kirk figured out a way to make a little money.

"We'd go up and down the streets in Dillon collecting whiskey and beer bottles. We'd get about two bits. We collected the bottles, and then the bootlegger would refill them. Then the drunkards throwed em' away. Then we picked em' up again."

"There was a bootlegger up town. Every once in a while he'd get knocked over. The law would come through and close him up. He'd hire my dad to build a new bar somewhere else. It made my mother mad because she didn't like bars. Of course, she realized it was money and those were tough times. The bootlegger had several places in Dillon where he made his booze. The place I remember was right in the alley behind Skeet's cafe."

After high school Fox joined the army and once again, his love and talent with horseflesh shined.

"I was helping them ship horses overseas. I had a really nice lieutenant who would have me try the horses out. We'd round them up and load them onto boats out of San Francisco."

After the war, Fox took a shine to the rodeo world.

"I rodeoed for about 20 years all over this area, Idaho and Washington. I rode saddle broncs. I tried a few bulls when I was really broke. I went to Billings and they'd give me five bucks for getting on these bulls. They turned them out one after another. When you got bucked off, you had about nine more bulls chasing you. I drawed this big spinning bull. He jumped out of there and fell down so they run him back in. I come out again and he throwed me so far that he couldn't hurt me. I decided I'd stick with the horses."

"Ennis had a good rodeo. It was rated pretty high. A lot of good hands come there. We had the rodeo right down next to the river at Emmett and Frances Womacks. We had a calf got away one time and jumped off into the river."

"I thought it was fun traveling from one rodeo to the next. Course I did other things too. That wasn't as steady as it is now. I worked on ranches. I worked for Carrolls in the Big Hole."

Frank Fox was part of a generation of cowboys that will never be again. He moved cattle and horses from mountains and valleys all over Beaverhead County to Armstead to be shipped out on the railroad.

"Everything went from the Big Hole to Armstead, a big shipping point there. They got most of it from Horse Prairie, Grasshopper and Bannack; all the Big Hole as far down as Wisdom. A few went to Divide from the Big Hole."

"It varied how many cattle we moved at once. One time this cattle buyer bought these steers from this rich guy that ran 10,000 cows. We trailed about 700 head to Armstead. We put 'em on the train, shipped 'em to Monida and trailed 'em into the Centennial Valley for the summer range there. But mostly it was fat cows. They went to Idaho and down that way to some packing plants."

"One time I bought 20 head of range horses for 20 dollars apiece. I borrowed the money from the State Bank. Bob Barrett was the guy that run it then, a real nice guy. That was a big deal then. I'd ride 'em and train 'em. I wound up with some good horses." Fox wound up with a good wife too. It was natural for him to marry a woman who loved horses and rodeos too.

"I knew my wife, Hilda, long before we got married," Frank said, "I knew her folks and her sister Brownie, who rodeoed too. When Hilda and I got married I was working for the Weingard ranch near Silver Star and riding in the rodeos on weekends. Hilda and I've got over 50 years in."

"One time when I was ridin' in the Dillon rodeo I got knocked cold. Hilda thought I got killed. That bronc was really kickin' high and I was spurrin' him high in the neck. Then he turned a foot right over the top of me in about eight seconds. We had to stay on 10 seconds then. If the dirty bugger would a held his feet, I would have won the money. He kicked so high he just went over."

"They took me to the Dillon Hospital and I come to. I didn't wanna stay there. I wasn't hurt that bad. Pete Novich helped me out. He brought my clothes and I got out as fast as I could. I didn't have nothin' wrong with me after I got goin'."

"Rodeo is really made into a business now. It isn't just haphazard. There's a lot of money involved. When I was doing it, it was for 25, 15 and 10 for the day money. We went and rode for whatever we could get, then we'd go back to the ranch to work. It's a full time deal now if you're good enough."

"I learned the hard way to rodeo. But it would be tough to beat the boys now. They are pretty good."

"All I can say is, do what you want to do, if you can. That's a good way to make a living. I got by. I had fun."

Used with permission of the Montana Standard.

Lloyd's Steam Engine | Lloyd's Steam Tractor | Bill Roper | Frank Fox | Hal & Beth Morgan | Top of Page


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