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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.

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.

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.