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The mighty steam engine

Shown is a paddlewheel boat on the Kankakee River.

In my last column I told you the story of the first steamboats on the Kankakee built by Del Kellogg and Sol Gordon. In this column I will tell you the tale of the rest of the life of the mighty steam engine that drove the second steamboat.

Adelbert "Del" Kellogg was born in 1856 in Valparaiso. He was the son of Denis and Lucelia (Norton) Kellogg. He operated the Kellogg Foundry in Valparaiso until the foundry was sold to McGill Manufacturing in 1905. The foundry built machinery for mowing machines, saw mills and the engine for the steamboat Kellogg and Gordon ran from Baum's Bridge to Momence.

After the steamboat was broken up, around 1880, it was sold to the Vidette newspaper in Valparaiso and used to run its press. In a few years a more powerful motor was installed and the former steamboat engine was sold to Lew Mandeville to power a tour boat on Flint lake. Later it was then sold to Aaron Lytle to run a sawmill located on Franklin Street in Valparaiso. Then it traveled to Chesterton where it powered the Chesterton Tribune press. And finally it went to Arkansas to run water pumps. I believe that is where the engine lived out the rest of its life. Now comes the remarkable and hilarious part of this story.

By 1883, Edison had invented the electric light and dynamo to produce the electricity. Only a few cities had power plants at the time. Valparaiso citizen George Conover wanted Valparaiso to be one.

Much of the rest of this story comes from a 1934 Siftings column in the Vidette-Messenger. Conover approached Charley Talcott of the Vidette for permission to hook up his dynamo to the former Kankakee River steamboat engine for a demonstration of the "new fangled light." The engine is described as an eight horsepower upright boiler and "it was considered dangerous to carry more than 60 pounds of steam." A wire had been strung from the Vidette office to the site of the demonstration at the corner of Washington and Lincolnway in downtown Valparaiso.

Finally the night of the exhibition came! A.J. Bowser later wrote: "Steam was raised to 60 pounds, the dynamo started––not a flicker. 100 pounds––nothing doing. Talcott called for kerosene barrel staves. In those days the grocers bought their kerosene in barrels, and the staves made a very hot fire. The gauge showed 120 pounds. The smokestack turned red, then white––140 pounds. Still nothing doing. The engine was dancing on its block. And still no light. As a last resort Taclott removed the governors and for probably a few seconds, but what seemed hours to us, the light showed. How we all escaped being blown to kingdom come that night, I do not know. The spectators ridiculed the contraption and vowed they would stick to their kerosene lamps yet awhile. But Conover was not licked. The next night he got Albert Zimmerman to put his 20 horsepower threshing steam engine in the Keene alley, and we got plenty of light."

So ends the story of the little former Kankakee River steamboat engine that could!

This column solely represents the writer's opinion.


Community Coordinator

Annette is Community Coordinator for The Times. She has been with the paper for two decades. A resident of Hobart, she graduated from Purdue University with degrees in English and German.