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Hidden History: The steam-engine tractor in the Snake River

Editor’s note: This column first ran Aug. 9, 2012, in the Times-News and on, and has been edited to reflect George Paxton’s current age.

If you float the Snake River when the water is low, you might get a glimpse of a steam-engine tractor lying on its side in the river east of the I. B. Perrine Memorial Bridge.

But the details of how the tractor came to rest in the canyon have been as murky as the river itself – until now.

Some say the steam engine was used to build the rim-to-rim bridge, and was pushed off the bridge when the work was completed in 1927. Others say it was driven over the canyon rim when the state of Idaho purchased the bridge in 1940, to celebrate the end of the toll to cross the bridge.

As it turns out, the steam engine’s dive into the river had nothing to do with the bridge at all.

“I remember it as clear as day,” said George Paxton, whose father drove the machine to the edge of the canyon before it took the plunge. The event, Paxton said, was a publicity stunt to mark the end of the steam engine era.

Steam-engine tractors, which revolutionized farming in the late 19th century, operated much like the steam-engine locomotives of the day. Coal or wood was shoveled into a firebox under a boiler, heating water to create steam to power the machine’s engine.

The tractors were finicky, difficult to maneuver and dangerous to operate. So when the internal combustion engine began to replace the steam engine, manufacturers of farm equipment were quick to embrace the new technology.

In the early 1900s, small tractors that ran on fuel oil were developed for use on the farm. By World War II, steam-engine tractors were all but obsolete.

Paxton, who turns 90 on April 15, was about 10 years old when his father, John Paxton, and farm-equipment dealer Harley Williams, made plans to drive a steam engine over the canyon rim.

Williams, owner of Williams Tractor, had taken the steam-engine tractor in on trade for a new Case tractor.

Williams and the elder Paxton were good friends. Paxton was an expert operator of the steam-engine tractor — and Williams needed someone who could drive the tractor to the canyon rim, without going over the rim with it.

The year, to the best of the younger Paxton’s recollection, was about 1938. A large group of partiers gathered on the north side of the canyon, upstream from the bridge.

“It was a big promotion for the (Williams) dealership,” Paxton said. There was a barbecue and a band played. Finally, the steam engine was fired up and readied for its last job.

The elder Paxton tied down the steam whistle, and let ’er go. The tractor drove over the edge and its boiler exploded in midair. The tractor bounced off the canyon wall, then sank silently into the river.

“What would the environmentalists say if that were done today?” Paxton mused.

Idaho House spikes rural schools network bill

BOISE (AP) — A bill backed by Idaho’s top schools chief to develop a new rural schools network has once again failed to clear the Legislature.

For the third year in a row, state lawmakers on Wednesday blocked a proposal to form a three-year pilot project in which rural schools would collaborate and share resources. The pilot project would cost $300,000 annually, which would come out of the state superintendent’s office.

Republican Rep. Wendy Horman — who oversees writing the state’s education budget — reiterated her prior concerns that the bill created an additional layer of bureaucracy.

Republican Rep. Paul Amador, the bill’s sponsor, countered the legislation will help schools run more efficiently.

Ultimately, House members voted 48-20 to block the bill from moving forward.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra has unsuccessfully attempted to pass similar proposals since taking over the office in 2015.

Officers released from hospitals following northern Idaho shootout

SANDPOINT — Both Sandpoint police officers in northern Idaho wounded in a shootout have been released from hospitals.

Officer Eric Clark was released from Kootenai Health in Coeur d’Alene on Tuesday following surgeries to treat wounds to the hand and neck.

Officer Michael Hutter was released from Bonner County Hospital on Monday after being shot in the leg and chest.

Sandpoint Police Chief Corey Coon says the shootout happened at about 3 a.m. Monday after the officers responded to a call from a home and started talking with the person who made the call.

Coon says that while they were talking, a man came out of the home and opened fire, hitting both officers.

The officers fired back, and 28-year-old Brandon Kuhlman of Sandpoint was later found dead in the residence.

So-called 'abortion reversal' bill headed to Idaho House

BOISE — A proposal that would require doctors to inform women seeking medical abortions that drug-induced abortions may be halted halfway through is on its way to the Idaho House.

Proponents of the idea say doctors can give a woman the hormone progesterone to stop an abortion after she has taken the first of two medications needed to complete the abortion.

Critics, like the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, counter that there is no medically accepted evidence that a drug-induced abortion can be interrupted.

Utah, Arkansas and South Dakota have already enacted such requirements.

Republicans on the House State Affairs Committee agreed to send SB 1243 to the full House for debate on Wednesday with just two Democratic members opposing. The proposal has already cleared the Senate.

5th District Court News: Twin Falls County

Twin Falls County

Wednesday arraignments

Andrea Gail Coates, 31, Jerome; criminal possession of a financial transaction card, own-recognizance release, public defender appointed, preliminary hearing March 16.

Angela Francis Moore, 28, Vancouver, Wash.; prostitution, $5,000 bond, public defender appointed, pretrial May 1.

Michael Todd Linder, 42, Twin Falls; driving under the influence—second offense, failure to purchase or invalid driver’s license, $5,000 bond, private counsel, pretrial April 24.

Ruben Salazar, 58, Eden, driving under the influence, $2,500 bond, public defender appointed, pretrial May 1.

Stocks wobble as Trump's top economic adviser departs

NEW YORK (AP) — "What does it mean for trade?" That question continued to guide Wall Street Wednesday, leading stocks to a mixed finish after President Donald Trump's top economic adviser resigned after opposing the administration's planned tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum.

Stocks fell in the morning as investors reacted to the departure of Gary Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs executive who was seen as a proponent of free trade. The losses deepened after Trump suggested on Twitter that the U.S. may impose penalties on China as part of intellectual property disputes. The Dow Jones industrial average fell as much as 349 points.

Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council, was known to disagree with the tariff plan, which has also drawn criticism from Republicans in Congress as well as from much of corporate America.

"He was seen as a key proponent of free trade to balance some of the other more protectionist-type advisers in the administration," said Keith Parker, U.S. Equity Strategist for UBS. Cohn was also considered one of the architects of last year's corporate tax cut.

The market bounced back late in the afternoon after the White House said some countries, including Canada and Mexico, might be granted exemptions to the tariffs. That suggested a lighter touch that won't affect the global economy and corporate profits as much as a broader tariff would, and wouldn't result in as much retaliation from other countries.

Industrial companies like Caterpillar and Boeing whipsawed on the news. Technology and health care companies ended higher, while energy companies fell with oil prices.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell as much as 1 percent during the day but finished with a loss of just 1.32 points, less than 0.1 percent, at 2,726.80. The Dow Jones industrial average declined 82.76 points, or 0.3 percent, to 24,801.36.

The Nasdaq composite gained 24.64 points, or 0.3 percent, to 7,396.65. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks added 12.33 points, or 0.8 percent, to 1,574.53. It's fared better than the S&P and Dow over the last week as the companies on that index are far more U.S.-focused and would stand to lose less from a flare-up in global trade tensions.

In response to the planned steel and aluminum tariffs, the European Union has proposed tariffs on U.S. exports including motorcycles and bourbon. Jack Daniel's maker Brown-Forman sank after CEO Paul Varga said his company "could be an unfortunate and unintended victim" of more hostile trade. Varga said the company has been selling more lower-priced liquors in Europe, a strategy that leaves it more vulnerable to higher costs.

The company also forecast a smaller-than-expected annual profit and its stock dropped $3.15, or 5.6 percent, to $52.89. Motorcycle maker Harley-Davidson slid 43 cents, or 1 percent, to $43.90.

Discount retailer Dollar Tree's fourth quarter results disappointed investors, and so did its forecasts for the current year. It tumbled $15.11, or 14.5 percent, to $89.25. Competitor Ross Stores lost $5.11, or 6.3 percent, to $75.40 following its report.

Benchmark U.S. crude dropped $1.45, or 2.3 percent, to $61.15 a barrel in New York after the Energy Department reported that U.S. oil production rose last week. Brent crude, used to price international oils, fell $1.45, or 2.2 percent, to $64.34 a barrel in London. Exxon Mobil tumbled $1.92, or 2.5 percent, to $74.26 and Hess lost $2, or 4.1 percent, to $46.48.

On Twitter, Trump said the government is "acting swiftly on intellectual property theft." The U.S. Trade Representative is investigating whether Chinese intellectual property rules are "unreasonable or discriminatory" to American business.

Parker said the tariffs could reduce corporate profits by about $10 billion, far less than the boost corporations will get from the tax cut that was signed into law in December. However he said steps against China, and retaliation by the Chinese government, could raise the cost of items including phones, technology goods, and clothing.

"The risk is that given China policy and actions that there could be something specific placed on Chinese goods, which would potentially lead to a retaliatory action," he said.

While most investors interpreted the departure of Cohn as a loss, Parker said his resignation might keep some of the administration's protectionist plans in check when combined with criticism from Republicans in Congress and the generally negative stock market reaction.

In other energy trading, wholesale gasoline lost 2 cents to $1.91 a gallon. Heating oil declined 3 cents to $1.87 a gallon. Natural gas rose 3 cents to $2.78 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Bond prices edged higher. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.88 percent from 2.89 percent.

Metals prices gave back some of Tuesday's gains. Gold fell $7.60 to $1,327.60 an ounce. Silver slid 29 cents, or 1.7 percent, to $16.49 an ounce. Copper lost 2 cents to $3.14 a pound.

The dollar dipped to 106.07 yen from 106.21 yen. The euro edged down to $1.2403 from $1.2405.

Germany's DAX rose 1.1 percent and Britain's FTSE 100 gained 0.2 percent while the French CAC 40 added 0.3 percent. Asian markets started flat but losses widened in the afternoon. The Japanese Nikkei 225 dropped 0.8 percent while South Korea's Kospi fell 0.4 percent. The Hang Seng of Hong Kong sank 1 percent.

Local interest

AlliantEg s 1.34f 19 38.06 -.11 -10.7

Aon plc 1.44 35 142.49 +.32 +6.3

BallardPw ... ... 2.98 -.14 -32.4

BkofAm .48 21 32.18 +.07 +9.0

ConAgra .85 20 37.77 -.52 +.3

Costco 2.00 30 187.36 -4.10 +.7

Diebold .40 19 17.50 ... +7.0

DukeEngy 3.56 16 75.25 -.61 -10.5

DukeRlty .80 20 25.19 +.25 -7.4

Fastenal 1.48f 29 56.64 +.17 +3.6

HP Inc .53 15 24.04 +.09 +14.4

HomeDp 4.12f 25 178.58 -2.03 -5.8

Idacorp 2.36 20 81.36 -.50 -10.9

Keycorp .40f 17 21.97 +.27 +8.9

Lee Ent ... 5 2.35 ... ...

MicronT ... 11 53.97 +.23 +31.3

OrbitATK 1.28 23 132.28 -.34 +.6

Sensient 1.32 22 73.64 +.44 +.7

SkyWest .40f 18 56.15 +.05 +5.7

Teradyn .36f 36 47.92 +.53 +14.4

Tuppwre 2.72 ... 49.95 -.77 -20.3

US Bancrp 1.20 15 53.66 -.51 +.1

Valhi .08 59 6.44 +.03 +4.4

WalMart 2.08f 20 87.74 -1.32 -11.1

WashFed .68f 18 35.85 +.45 +4.7

WellsFargo 1.56 13 56.60 -.47 -6.7

WestRck 1.72 19 66.20 -.20 +4.7

ZionsBcp .80f 21 56.93 +.39 +12.0


Valley BeansPrices are net to growers, 100 pounds, U.S. No. 1 beans, less Idaho bean tax and storage charges. Prices subject to change without notice. Producers desiring more recent price information should contact dealers.

Open market prices established by Kelley Bean’s Idaho locations: pintos, $21; great northerns, $21; small reds, $28; blacks, $27; pinks, ask. Quotes current March 5.

Valley Grains

Prices for wheat per bushel mixed grain, oats, corn and beans per hundredweight. Prices subject to change without notice.

Wheat, $3.45, new barley, $6.00 (cwt) corn, $7.00 (cwt) oats, $5.45 (cwt). Prices are given by Rangen in Buhl. Prices current March 5.

Corn, $7.67 (cwt) barley, $5.30 (cwt) wheat, $4.10 (bushel). Prices quoted by JD Heiskell. Prices current March 5.


Barrels $1.51 +0.5 Blocks $1.5600 -4.25 Prices current March 7.

Snow pack

Today’s Median

Salmon 106%

Big Wood 87%

Little Wood 85%

Big Lost 92%

Little Lost 114%

Henrys Fork/Teton 115%

Upper Snake Basin 113%

Goose Creek 65%

Salmon Falls 65%

Today’s median peak compares water content with what is normally seen on this day.

As of Mar. 7

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Idaho secretary of state named to national position


BOISE— Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney has been chosen as vice president for the western region of the National Association of Secretaries of State through July.

The association on Tuesday announced that Denney would complete the term of former Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Murray.

Murray resigned from his office in Wyoming in February following accusations of sexual misconduct by two women dating from decades ago.

Denney says he’s looking forward to working on the executive board and helping in areas such as election integrity, security and transparency.

In July, the National Association of Secretaries of State is scheduled to hold its summer conference and elect a new executive board.